In 1992 an ambitious young lawyer hoping someday to become a judge signed his name to a letter to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The letter was written on behalf of Michael Ross, a man sentenced to death for rape-murder. The letter was written on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (CCDLA) seeking permission to file an amicus brief. Permission was granted.
The writer's ambitions were fulfilled. He became a federal judge, but neither he nor the CCDLA ever wrote the brief.
The author's name? Robert N. Chatigny.
This year, Chatigny got his chance to speak out on Ross. Hours after the United States Supreme Court had eliminated the final legal impediment to execution, Judge Chatigny arranged a conference call with lawyers involved in the case, including T.R. Paulding, the lawyer Ross had selected to represent him to the very end. The judge threated Paulding with the loss of his law license if the execution were not stopped.
Ross decided to waive further habeas petitions. He faced opposition from just about every intermeddling moralist in the state who tried to intervene to block the execution.
Ross's lawyer. T.R. Paulding, buckled in the face of Chatigny's threat, special counsel was appointed, new hearings on Ross' competency were held, and, in the end, Ross got his way and was executed.
A grievance against Judge Chatigny is pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, filed by state prosecutors. And the state legislature has contacted the United States Senate to ask for an impeachment inquiry. Nothing has happened to date.
Did the judge forget that he, too, had once sought to argue as an advocate on Ross' behalf? When confronted by the state's Attorney General's Office about sources of potential bias, he had this to say:
"You'll not find anything that suggests any ... [bias]," he said. "I feel fortunate to be in a situation to be able to address these issues without having to deal with a client, the public, the media, a boss or anything other than my own conscience."
Add two new categories to the things this lifetime appointee to the bench felt fortunate not to have to "deal with:" the law, and the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Does the judge think avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a mere option? Or does he honestly claim to have forgotten his prior advocacy on behalf of Michael Ross?