Monday, June 11, 2007

The Judge in the Libby Case

I need to reiterate that I don't know enough about the whole Libby gig to pass on an opinion worth hearing. But every time I look into the case, stuff stinks.

A bunch of professors sent a brief to the judge that presided over Libby's trial and sentencing, asking him to allow them to leave to file a motion. Judge Walton granted their request but dropped a footnote:

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in the Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Judge Walton appears to be wrong in his sarcastic criticism of the "luminaries" (I can think of no rule that allows courts to require a member of the bar to submit a brief under his or her own name), these words reflect a lack of concern for the judicial task.

If these scholars are right, Judge Walton should take the appropriate steps to remedy any errors and do justice. If they are wrong, Judge Walton should indicate, maybe with reasons, why the arguments advanced are incorrect or inapplicable. An ad hominem response is inappropriate for any judge, especially in an order granting leave for these people to file.

But the fact that Judge Walton has responded in the manner he did shows a toubling undercurrent in the whole affair. I suspect that these scholars submitted their brief to the court at least in part because they feel that Libby is not receiving the same treatment as other defendants. If he were a normal dude, I cannot imagine that he would have been prosecuted.

Some reassurance that justice is working apart from politics is what this case needs. Judge Walton has failed to communicate that reassurance. I hope his future actions will make up what is lacking.

At the very least, I hope he will abstain from dropping gratuitous footnotes.

The first rule of holes is that when you're in one, stop digging.

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