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Judge in Stevens Dismissal Known for Tenacity

"He does wear his heart on his sleeve sometimes," Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said of U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, above.
"He does wear his heart on his sleeve sometimes," Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said of U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, above. (By Dominic Bracco Ii For The Washington Post)

A few days later, the judge reversed course and released the man.

During the trial of a burglary suspect in the mid-1980s, Sullivan walked off the bench in disgust after a police officer gave conflicting testimony, said Roscoe Howard, a friend and former federal prosecutor.

After calming down, Sullivan declared a mistrial because he had prejudiced the case. "He did the right thing," Howard said. "He is passionate, but he understands what he thinks is the right thing and eventually he does the right thing."

Sullivan is an avid Redskins fan and an aggressive tennis player, and also spends hours tending the flower garden at his Northwest Washington home, friends say.

The 61-year-old grew up near Howard University and proudly calls himself a "native Washingtonian." His father was a police officer, and Sullivan thought of following in his footsteps. But he turned to law instead, telling friends that he could do more good as a lawyer.

He was appointed a Superior Court judge in 1984 and even in his first years on the bench was not afraid to push the law. After hearing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall talk about using the law to right social wrongs, Sullivan issued one of the country's first rulings ordering a landlord to pay punitive damages to a tenant for what Sullivan called "wanton, willful, fraudulent and malicious conduct."

Sullivan took another rare step this week, assigning an outside lawyer to investigate six prosecutors accused of mishandling evidence and witnesses in the Stevens case.

The lawyer will recommend to Sullivan whether the judge should try the prosecutors on contempt charges. Sullivan told the courtroom that he did not have faith in the government to investigate the prosecutors.

But his outspoken criticism may also keep him from presiding over a contempt trial. Experts say the judge's words on Tuesday -- "I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct I've seen in this case" -- sound as though he has made up his mind. In the interest of fairness, they say, the judge will have to recuse himself from any trial.

"It's clear to me that he wants to keep control of this," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. "But it's also clear to me that he can't."


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