U.S. District Chief Judge Calls a Career Recess
Friday, January 4, 2008
On the wall of his chambers looking out on the U.S. Capitol, U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan has a treasured keepsake -- a framed picture of Ronald Reagan, doubled over in a laughing fit.
Fred Fielding, who was the White House counsel at the time, sent Hogan the photo of Reagan guffawing in the Oval Office with his advisers shortly after he appointed the young trial lawyer to the federal bench in 1982. A note is scribbled alongside the picture:
We all thought your judgeship was a great idea."
This past month, after about seven years as chief judge of the District's federal court, Hogan, 69, notified President Bush that he will step down in May and take semi-retirement. And 25 years after Hogan joined the federal bench, virtually every lawyer, judge and politician in Washington thinks his judgeship has been a great one.
"I think he's been a wonderful chief judge," said U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, a Clinton appointee. "You just can't overstate all that he's done."
Hogan's tenure has been an exceptionally busy one. He became chief judge in June 2001, weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of the attacks, his court was flooded with bitterly contested questions about executive power and national security. He was called upon to help referee precedent-setting arguments over the media's right to protect anonymous administration sources, criminal probes of sitting members of Congress and the military's imprisonment of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At the request of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and predecessor William H. Rehnquist, Hogan also chairs the executive committee that serves as the policymaking and leadership arm of the federal judiciary. He led the effort to build a Michael Graves-designed courthouse annex and to name it after the late U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant, a civil rights leader and legal pillar.
"We did have a lot going on," Hogan chuckled in an interview last week.
Hogan said that having the annex named after Bryant, after overcoming minor congressional opposition, and moving into the building in fall 2006 was the highlight of his tenure. A low point, he said, were the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"And the aftermath -- how it's affected our lives -- has certainly been distressing," he said.
As chief judge, he was arbiter of whether criminal probes were going too far or could reach further. His decisions to send reporter Judith Miller to jail until she revealed her administration sources in a CIA leak probe and to allow investigators to seize evidence from a congressional office led to the prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), respectively.
Colleagues said Hogan built consensus and camaraderie among his very diverse judges. "Hogan is the kind of low-key, conciliatory guy that can get along with anybody," said Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who is slated to take over Hogan's role. "It has made him the perfect fit."
Kenneth L. Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security and a former U.S. attorney for the District, credits Hogan with convincing him that he had to reassess his office's policy of prosecuting many gun possession cases in federal court. Up to 40 percent of the cases ended in mistrial or acquittal because of flimsy evidence, and Hogan told Wainstein that this not only wasted court resources but also undermined the reputation of the prosecutor's office.
"His input was really important," Wainstein said. "His sincere objective was to do what was best for the criminal justice system writ large."
Hogan has mixed feelings as he ponders his future. He figures he'll teach part time at a law school. He had planned early in life to be a teacher but ended up studying law at Georgetown. His first official job was in the District's courthouse, as a clerk to Chief Judge William B. Jones.
"It will be like a light switch being turned off," he said of taking senior status. "I got worried about a dramatic change in my work life."