Robert N. Chatigny

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Robert N. Chatigny
Chief Judge of United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
In office
February 4, 2003 – September 2009
Preceded by Alfred V. Covello
Succeeded by Alvin W. Thompson
Judge of United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
Assumed office
September 29, 1994
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Warren W. Eginton
Personal details
Born 1952 (age 62–63)
Taunton, Massachusetts
Alma mater Brown University
Georgetown University

Robert Neil Chatigny (born 1952, Taunton, MA) is a Federal Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, having served on the court from 1994 to the present. Judge Chatigny was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton on August 5, 1994, to a seat vacated by Warren W. Eginton, confirmed by the United States Senate on September 28, 1994, and received his commission on September 29, 1994. He has served as chief judge of the court from 2003 to September 2009. Judge Chatigny received an A.B. from Brown University in 1973 and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1978, where he was Case and Note Editor of the Georgetown Law Journal. He served as a law clerk to three different judges: Samuel Conti of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (1979–1980); Jose Cabranes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut (1980); and Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (1980–1981).

Judge Chatigny was elected to the House of Delegates of the Connecticut Bar Association and has served on the Executive Committee of the Federal Practice Section. He advised the Federal Courts Study Committee tasked with developing long-range plans for the federal judiciary. The University of Connecticut School of Law awarded him the Center for Children's Advocacy Children’s Justice Award in 2008.

He gained national attention in 2005 when he delayed the execution of Michael Bruce Ross in order to determine if he was competent to waive challenges to his death sentence and potentially prevent a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Ross was subsequently found competent to waive his rights and was executed. The prosecution filed a complaint against Judge Chatigny that was dismissed by the Second Circuit Judicial Council in a 24-page decision on July 26, 2006.

Judge Chatigny has been nominated by President Barack Obama to a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.[1] The nomination received a unanimous rating of "well qualified" from the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, and the U.S. Judiciary Committee approved the nomination on June 10, 2010, on an 11-7 party-line vote. No date was set for full Senate consideration.

Opposition to the nomination has centered upon judicial restraint and attitude toward sexual offenders.[2] On March 5, 2010, one of the prosecutors in the Ross case, Michael E. O'Hara, Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney for the State of Connecticut, wrote a 12-page letter to the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee to elaborate upon the complaint that was filed and dismissed in 2005/2006, stating that Judge Chatigny's actions "certainly call into questions [sic] Judge Chatigny's fitness to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit."[3] A May 26, 2010 Washington Times editorial enumerated 1) that Chatigny served as co-counsel for director Woody Allen when he unsuccessfully complained against a prosecutor who had publicly stated he had probable cause grounds for Allen's reportedly abusing a minor stepchild; 2) that Judge Chatigny was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 "when the judge tried to rule against one aspect of his state's version of a Megan's Law sex-offender registry"; 3) that the sentences imposed by Judge Chatigny in 12 child-pornography cases were "either at or more lenient than the recommended minimum - with most downward departures involving sentences less than half as long"; and 4) that, in the Ross case, Judge Chatigny "threatened to take away an attorney's law license if the lawyer failed to appeal the death sentence of an eight-time murderer of girls and young women. The judge claimed the killer's 'sexual sadism' was a mental disorder that made the murderer himself a victim."[4]

Support for the nomination includes three Republican former appointees as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut who said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee in April 2010 that they "support, without any reservation," this nomination. They wrote: "While each of us has dealt with Judge Chatigny under different circumstances, we have found him to be even tempered, thorough and without agenda. We believe that he is a fair minded and impartial judge, who has appropriate fitness and temperament for the appellate court.... We believe that a close examination of Judge Chatigny's record in sentencing federal criminal defendants shows that he is appropriately sensitive to the facts of the person before him and the rights of victims of the crimes that have been committed. Indeed, it is our understanding that the government has never filed an appeal from Judge Chatigny's sentencings and that there has only been one defendant who has appealed from an upward departure. We are of the strong opinion that Judge Chatigny's record on the bench makes him an outstanding and very qualified candidate."[5] Seventeen former Federal prosecutors who have worked with Judge Chatigny wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee that "in criminal as well as civil matters Judge Chatigny has proven himself over the course of 15 years on the bench to be unbiased, compassionate and temperate."[6]

In its 2006 dismissal of charges in the Ross case, the Second Circuit Judicial Council found that Judge Chatigny's actions "were not motivated by any bias in favor of Ross [the prisoner] or against the death penalty, but only by the judge's reasonable perception that the discharge of his own judicial duty...required that he take forceful steps on Ross's behalf.... While the judge used strong language, there was no misconduct....[I]n the judge's reasonable view, the circumstances thrust on him called for unusual action in discharge of judicial duty to ensure the fair resolution of the important proceeding before him."[7]

Chatigny has yet to rule on the appeal of former Yale professor James Van de Velde, who had sued the city of New Haven in 2001,[8] then Yale in 2003, for allowing his name to be leaked at the inception of the investigation into the death of Yale student Suzanne Jovin in December, 1998.[9] Chatigny dismissed the federal fourth amendment claims in March 2004, but left alone the state claims relating to the ruination of Van de Velde's career.[10] By not allowing the case to proceed, Van de Velde claims his efforts to "shed light on the cold case and pressure the authorities try to solve the case" have been stonewalled.[11]

Of the 440-some opinions Judge Chatigny has issued as a federal court judge since 1994, 16 have been reversed. An analysis by the Sentencing Commission for Fiscal Years 2005-9, provided by Judge Chatigny, place his departure rate "in line with the average for the District of Connecticut as a whole." [12]

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Preceded by
Alfred V. Covello
Chief Judge of United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Alvin W. Thompson
Preceded by
Warren W. Eginton
Judge of United States District Court for the District of Connecticut