By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
While presiding over perhaps the most high-profile trial of his career, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton made time for his more mundane courthouse role: the scolding mentor to this city's young thugs.
So, the vice president's former top deputy, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his team of well-heeled and famous defense lawyers and a nationally known prosecutor in the CIA leak case would have to wait to argue over key evidence in Libby's perjury trial that day in February. Walton had some important yelling to do at defendants whose names would never make the papers.
"For some reason you've chosen to be a criminal, and at some point you're going to pay a price," Walton warned one defendant facing jail for fighting and violating his probation. "If you really hurt someone, we would put you away for a long time."
Today, it will be Libby standing before Walton to be sentenced for his perjury and obstruction conviction in a probe of the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame. The bad news for Libby is that Walton, a judge for a quarter-century, is known throughout the defense bar as a "long-ball hitter" -- a jurist willing to put defendants away for a long time to deter future crimes. Legal experts familiar with the judge's career say the chances are very high that Walton will give Libby a considerable sentence, probably at the high end of the range for perjury cases, as a result of Libby's lies to investigators about what he told reporters about Plame's CIA job.
While Libby's attorneys have asked for probation, the prosecutor, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has recommended 30 to 37 months in prison and federal probation officials have proposed 15 to 21 months.
Walton, 58, was first appointed to a judgeship on the D.C. Superior Court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, served as associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and then in 2001 was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush. In 2004, Bush named Walton to chair a commission investigating ways to curb inmate rape, and last month Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed him to a seat on the respected Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Despite his Republican patrons, fellow judges and lawyers who appear before him say Walton's decisions do not appear to be guided by politics but by a tough-on-crime mentality.
Scott Fredericksen, a white-collar defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said Walton's reputation, combined with his irritation at the Libby defense during the trial, is a "recipe for a very tough sentence." During the case, Walton chided the defense for leading him to believe that Libby would testify in his own defense. But Libby never took the stand.
"Judge Walton also has a reputation for giving very tough and long sentences to those defendants whom he believes have misled him and/ or the jury," Fredericksen said.
For Walton, obeying the law is a bit personal. He was on his way to becoming a dangerous thug himself while growing up in the gritty steel town of Donora, Pa. While his father was busy working two jobs, Walton landed in court three times for fights he and his friends got into with competing "crews" over territory and girls. Walton credits an ice-pick stabbing, when his friend nearly killed a rival, with steering his life away from trouble and toward the bench. He quit fighting, hit the books and won a football scholarship to college, then studied law.
In the fall of 2005, the judge showed that he still had some street skills. While driving his wife and teenage daughter to the airport for a family vacation early one morning, he came across a man beating up a cabdriver at Chevy Chase Circle. The 5-foot-9-inch Walton tackled the 6-foot attacker and subdued him until police arrived.
"God bless Judge Walton," D.C. police spokesman Kenny Bryson said at the time. "I surely wouldn't want to mess with him."