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June 14, 2011

By: Joel Cohen

A number of months ago, in a seemingly beside-the-point news story, President Barack Obama quietly removed District Judge Robert Chatigny—currently of the District of Connecticut—from the list of nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. As with many presidential nominations that are withdrawn during the Senate confirmation process, it seemed as though party politics was at play. After all, Judge Chatigny has enjoyed a distinguished career, both in private practice and as a district court judge. But it appears that his opinions in an extremely high-profile death penalty case may have cost him the promotion. The case involved the execution of Michael Ross, a convicted serial murderer and rapist who was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murders of four young women. At some point following conviction, sentence and appeals, Mr. Ross' lawyer, at his client's insistence, ceased further challenges to the death sentence, preparing to proceed to execution. Mr. Ross' lawyer believed he was ethically obligated to carry out his client's wishes.  

Judge Chatigny vehemently disagreed. In two companion federal actions filed a few days prior to the scheduled execution, Judge Chatigny chastised Mr. Ross' attorney for violating his ethical obligations to Mr. Ross. Judge Chatigny felt that new evidence—including a letter from a prisoner indicating that Mr. Ross suffered from "death-row syndrome depression"—obligated the attorney to investigate Mr. Ross' competence before following instructions to waive all challenges to his execution.


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