A black U.S. prosecutor has resigned his post after an angry courtroom confrontation in which he accused a conservative federal judge in Virginia of racially biased sentencing and showing leniency to white-collar criminals.
The outburst, by Assistant U.S. Attorney David P. Baugh, came Monday in Richmond as District Judge D. Dortch Warriner was sentencing a gold and silver investment dealer convicted of defrauding 370 clients of about $1 million.
"Interesting pattern," Baugh said, alluding to several cases in which he maintained Warriner had dealt more harshly with black defendants found guilty of lesser crimes.
"What is interesting about the pattern, counsel?" Warriner asked, according to a transcript quoted by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
"The interesting pattern to the counsel, your honor, is that very often people, including me, have gotten upset with the coddling of quote 'white-collar crimes.' But from reviewing the records, it appears the color of the collar is not the key . . . "
"Are you suggesting that the court sentences people on the basis of their race?" said Warriner.
"I am suggesting to the court, your honor . . . " Baugh said.
"Are you suggesting that, counsel? Yes or no?" Warriner interrupted.
"Yes, your honor," Baugh replied.
"You are wrong. Proceed with your argument," said Warriner.
A moment later the judge told Baugh to be seated. "I'm afraid I can't hear you anymore, counsel," he said.
Warriner sentenced the defendant, John Ross Greer, former president of the Virginia Gold and Silver Trading Co., to two consecutive five-year prison terms, but withheld sentencing on 18 other counts.
Baugh later telephoned his boss, U.S. Attorney Elsie Munsell in Alexandria, and told her he was resigning.
Munsell said yesterday that the resignation was unrelated to Monday's courtroom incident. She said Baugh had been offered a promotion in the federal prosecutor's office in East Texas and already was planning to leave. Baugh did not return a reporter's telephone call yesterday.
An assistant in Munsell's office said Baugh is expected to remain in Richmond for about 60 days.
U.S. Attorney Robert Wortham, reached at his office in Tyler, Tex., yesterday confirmed he had offered Baugh a position about three months ago as head of the criminal division there.
Baugh was an assistant prosecutor in the Texas office for three years before coming to Virginia more than a year ago.
"He called me yesterday and said he got mad at a federal judge, and I said, 'So what else is new?' " Wortham said.
Warriner said in court he found Baugh's comments "not only unfortunate" but "despicable." The judge's office said yesterday Warriner would have no further comment.
Warriner, 53, a former Republican activist from Southside Virginia, was appointed to the federal bench in 1974 to fill a vacancy left by the retirement of District Judge Oren R. Lewis in Alexandria. Despite his retirement, Lewis continues to hear cases as a senior judge.