Critics of the beleaguered D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, upset about recent nominations to the local court bench, are pushing hard to increase President Reagan's powers to select local judges.
Beneath it all is a lot of grumbling about the commission's behavior. But some of the stories floating around don't withstand strict scrutiny, as they say in the courts, or even loose scrutiny.
Granted, these have not been the best of times for the seven-member commission. For starters, the commission was embarrassed, if not tarnished, when Jimmy Carter's appointee, William A. Borders, was indicted in Miami in a bribe scheme involving a federal judge. This came just months after the Republican White House lost a court battle (which it is appealing) to kick Borders off the commission and replace him with Reagan's choice.
Borders has removed himself from commission activities, but has not resigned. Critics are angry that the commission hasn't made a move to get rid of him, but the members say they are helpless, unless Borders is convicted.
One tale put out by a well-placed Justice Department official had it that the commission had no legal authority to act because so many of its members' terms had expired. The fact is that the term of one member--former Howard University Law School Dean Charles T. Duncan--expired several months ago and Mayor Marion Barry, who appointed Duncan, has done nothing about it. But the commission says that it has long been accepted that a member's appointment carries over until some action is taken.
But what really rankles the commission's critics is what they call its determination to appoint blacks, women, liberals and youngsters to the local court while rejecting highly qualified white, male candidates. And the two names the critics love to throw around as innocent victims are local attorneys Thomas Penfield Jackson and Stephen A. Trimble. But the complaints are not as clear cut as the critics want to make them seem. he word is that Trimble sought but was passed over for a D.C. Superior Court judgeship. Trimble, however, says he told the commission members that, while he would go through the interview process, he was really interested in a seat on the nine-member D.C. Court of Appeals--a big cut above the trial court. That seat, however, went to James A. Belson, an alumnus of uptown Hogan & Hartson, who was highly regarded during during his 13 years on the Superior Court.
As to Jackson, critics have bitterly accused the commission of rejecting his candidacy solely because he is a member of the Chevy Chase Club, which, according to its president, Brainard H. Warner, has no black members as far as he knows.
The issue came up, all right, when Jackson was interviewed by the commission, and Jackson said he didn't know, and hadn't checked, the club's membership policies--a response that apparently concerned some commission members. Jackson makes no secret of his membership in the club--which is reportedly frequented by other members of the bench--but he declined to discuss whether it was raised during his interview.
Commission Chairman Frederick B. Abramson declined to comment on whether the issue had been raised during Jackson's interview. Abramson did say that, while he does not speak for all the commission members, he was sure that a candidate's membership in the Chevy Chase Club was not enough to disqualify anybody for a judgeship. (Jackson, by the way, is now said to be the leading candidate for one of two long-standing vacancies on the U.S. District Court, a selection made solely by the White House.)
There's no question the commission has nominated young, inexperienced candidates to the bench, and some of them have gotten some well-deserved criticism. And commission members unabashedly concede that affirmative action has weighed heavily in the selection process. But the nominees' relative youth is no more evidence that they will be poor judges than a successful uptown practice is proof that a person will be a good judge.
The bottom line to all of this is, of course, politics. There's a new conservative Republican regime in the White House and they don't like being shut out by a group of lame duck liberal appointees on the commission.
Spectator seats at the U.S. Supreme Court are strictly first-come, first-served. No exceptions--not even if it's your own case. So learned Albert (Bandit) Ross Jr., the defendant in what promises to be a landmark case on the exclusionary rule, who cooled his heels in the marble hallway last week while his lawyer, William J. Garber, made his case to the justices.
Garber, making his first appearance in the majors in his 30-year career, is trying to persuade the Burger court not to overturn a U.S. Appeals Court opinion that ruled that paper bags are as good for some people as an American Tourister and therefore can't be searched without a warrant. For that reason, the appeals court threw out Ross' 1979 conviction on narcotics charges.
Judge turned prosecutor Stanley S. Harris, fresh on the job as U.S. attorney, recently got a taste of what it's like to be on the other side during a pre-trial hearing for John W. Hinckley Jr., who is accused of attempting to assassinate President Reagan.
"Your honor," Harris said politely as he approached the courtroom lectern, just after U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker abruptly set a March 9 trial date for the long delayed Hinckley case.
"Have a seat!" Parker snapped, shaking his finger at Harris, who obediently turned around and sat down.
Five hours later, Harris, a D.C. appeals court judge for 10 years, had the last word. The federal appeals court threw out the trial date and told Parker he had to give Harris more time to pursue some pre-trial issues.
Robert W. Ogren, who was principal deputy to former U.S. Attorney Charles F. C. Ruff, today takes over as chief of the fraud section at the Department of Justice . . . Kenneth M. Raisler, who supervised appeals for the office's civil section, has moved to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission . . . and Steven D. Gordon has become chief of the felony trial section of the prosecutor's office.
Virginia S. Carson, former partner at McKenna, Wilkinson and Kittner, has joined Anderson, Hibey, Nauheim & Blair to specialize in communications and public utility law . . . Thomas C. Lauerman and Harvey A. Levin have become parters in Freedman, Levy, Kroll & Simonds . . . Veronica A. Haggart has been nominated to the International Trade Commission to follow Catherine May Bedell. Haggart is currently a partner at Heron, Haggart, Ford, Burchette & Ruckert. . . Bennett, Deso & Greenberg is changing its name. Add oil and gas tax shelter attorney Charles B. Thomas to make Bennett, Deso, Greenberg & Thomas.
Last call for a special counsel to the D.C. commission that investigates local judges. Daniel A. Rezneck at Arnold & Porter is looking for applicants by March 15.