The court’s current head, Judge Robert E. Morin, 67, announced in April he would not seek a second four-year term when his ends in September.
Whoever takes over the position will lead the courthouse during one of its most challenging periods. Hundreds of criminal and civil cases have been delayed since March, when the court dramatically scaled back operations because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the pandemic, unfilled judgeships had made it difficult for the court to handle its volume of cases. It now has 54 judges and nine judicial vacancies.
Though virtual hearings have ramped up, it is unclear when juries will again be seated and jury trials, as well as grand jury panels, will resume.
The job comes with only a $500-a-year salary increase, but the chief judge influences the direction of the court and the careers of its judges. The chief is tasked with assigning judges to divisions, deciding who hears high-profile criminal cases, landlord and tenant issues, or child custody battles.
It is the second time Josey-Herring, 59, has vied for the job, having lost to former chief judge Lee F. Satterfield in 2008. A former D.C. public defender, Josey-Herring is the most senior of the candidates, having been named to the bench in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. The Georgetown University Law School graduate oversees felony criminal cases, has handled cases in civil and family court, and held the position of presiding judge in family court.
In 2014, Josey-Herring presided over a case involving former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray’s onetime campaign chauffeur, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to conceal under-the-table campaign payments and other illegal schemes during the 2010 mayoral race.
In 2017, she was among the judges highlighted in a Washington Post investigation about the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, which allows defendants under the age of 22 to receive shorter sentences and, upon completing those sentences without rearrest, have their cases removed from the public record. The Post found numerous defendants who were convicted of violent crimes after being sentenced under the law.
One of those defendants was Tavon Pinkney, whom Josey-Herring placed on probation in 2014 after he pleaded guilty to robbery. Five months into his probation, Pinkney fatally shot a man during a daytime PCP deal. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Leibovitz, 61, was also the subject of extensive news coverage. In 2010, she presided over the trial of three men charged in connection with the death of their friend, attorney Robert Wone, who was an overnight guest in their Northwest Washington home. Wone, 32, was stabbed and sexually assaulted.
No one was charged with the killing or assault, but federal prosecutors charged the roommates — Joseph R. Price, Victor J. Zaborsky and Dylan M. Ward — with obstruction of justice by hampering the investigation. The men, who were in a three-way romantic relationship, told authorities an unknown intruder broke into their home and attacked Wone.
Following a five-week trial, Leibovitz acquitted the men. In announcing her verdict, the former federal prosecutor said that while she may have believed the men were involved in covering up evidence, prosecutors had failed to provide convincing evidence of their guilt. Wone’s killing remains unsolved.
Known for her acerbic tongue to defense attorneys and prosecutors in her courtroom, Leibovitz was appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush. Also a graduate of Georgetown’s law school, she has handled cases in the court’s family, domestic violence, criminal and civil divisions and later served as presiding judge of the criminal section.
Lee was appointed in 2010 by President Barack Obama. A graduate of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, the former D.C. public defender was named a magistrate judge in 1998. He has worked in civil, criminal and family court and served as presiding judge from 2018 to 2019.
Lee is credited with developing the teen court diversion program and spearheading the creation of Fathering Court, a program for teen fathers.
Recently, Lee, 60, used his position to scrutinize the city’s mental-health-care system. At several criminal hearings involving defendants with mental illnesses, Lee ordered leaders from St. Elizabeths, the District’s psychiatric hospital, as well from the city’s Department of Behavioral Health, to appear and explain the treatment of patients. In 2017, Lee held a contempt hearing for the agency after learning it had failed to provide numerous jailed defendants with court-ordered psychological evaluations to determine whether they should be transferred to a hospital for more extensive treatment. Supervisors at the time told Lee the agency was too understaffed to keep up with the court-ordered evaluations.