Ricardo M. Urbina

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Ricardo M. Urbina
Ricardo M. Urbina.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
January 31, 2011 – May 31, 2012
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
June 16, 1994 – January 31, 2011
Appointed byBill Clinton
Preceded byAubrey Eugene Robinson Jr.
Succeeded byRudolph Contreras
Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
In office
Nominated byRonald Reagan
Preceded byNorma Holloway Johnson
Succeeded byEric T. Washington[1]
Personal details
Ricardo M. Urbina

1946 (age 72–73)
New York City, New York
EducationGeorgetown University (B.A.)
Georgetown University Law Center (J.D.)

Ricardo M. Urbina (/ɜːrˈbnə/; born 1946) is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Education and career[edit]

Urbina earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University in 1967. He received his Juris Doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1970. He began his legal career as a public defender. He worked for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia from 1970 to 1972 and was in private practice in Washington, D.C., from 1972 to 1974. He was on the faculty of Howard University Law School from 1974 to 1981. In 1981, he became an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, serving until his appointment to the United States District Court.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Urbina was nominated by President Bill Clinton on March 22, 1994, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated by Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. He was confirmed by the Senate on June 15, 1994, and received commission on June 16, 1994. He assumed senior status on January 31, 2011 and retired on May 31, 2012.[2]

Notable cases[edit]

Omar v. Harvey[edit]

Omar v. Harvey dealt with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of Shawqi Ahmad Omar, an American citizen, captured and detained in Iraq by United States military forces operating as part of the Multi-National Force-Iraq. Omar has been held under the control of United States forces for over two years, allegedly without legal process and with no meaningful access to counsel. When the district court learned of Omar's imminent transfer to Iraqi authorities for trial on terrorism charges, it issued a preliminary injunction barring transfer in order to preserve its jurisdiction to entertain the habeas petition.

In late October 2004, United States military forces operating in Iraq arrested appellee Shawqi Ahmad Omar, a dual American/Jordanian citizen, at his Baghdad home. Born in Kuwait, Omar became a naturalized American citizen following his marriage to the former Sandra Kay Sulzle. According to Omar, after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein government, he traveled to Iraq seeking reconstruction-related work and would have left by November 2004 but for his arrest and detention. The government paints a very different picture of Omar's presence in Iraq. According to the government, U.S. military forces, operating in Iraq pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1546 (2003) and 1637 (2004) as part of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), captured Omar during a raid on associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The government concluded that Omar was part of Zarqawi's network and that he facilitated terrorist activities both in and outside of Iraq. Four Jordanian foreign fighters and an Iraqi insurgent were captured along with Omar, and that weapons and improvised explosive device making materials were found in Omar's home.

Following Omar's arrest, an MNF-I panel of three American military officers conducted a hearing to resolve his status. According to the government, the process employed by the panel exceeded the requirements of Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention. The record, however, reveals little about the panel's operation. We know only that the panel permitted Omar to see the evidence against him, to make a statement, and to call "immediately available" witnesses. After the hearing, the panel declared Omar to be a "security internee under the law of war" and an "`enemy combatant' in the war on terrorism." The panel also found that Omar was not a prisoner of war for purposes of the Third Geneva Convention. Since the panel's decision, American MNF-I officials have held Omar at various detention facilities in Iraq. According to Omar, the military has transferred him between Camp Cropper, the Abu Ghraib prison, and Camp Bucca. Omar has been in custody for over six years.

In August 2005, the MNF-I decided to refer Omar to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) for trial. The record indicates neither who made this decision nor what procedures were followed. The CCCI, a Baghdad-based Iraqi court, has national jurisdiction over an array of criminal offenses, including terrorism. According to the government, during the CCCI investigation and trial phases, the MNF-I maintains physical custody of detainees like Omar, turning them over to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice only after conviction.

On December 12, 2005, Omar's wife, Sandra, and son, Ahmed, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus as Omar's next friends. Brought in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the petition named as respondents Francis J. Harvey, Secretary of the Army; Major General William H. Brandenburg, then-Deputy Commanding General of Detainee Operations and Commanding General of Task Force 134, MNF-I; and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Houser of the 105th Military Police Battalion, commanding officer at Camp Bucca. The petition claimed that Omar's detention by the United States military violates numerous constitutional provisions, chief among them the right to due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The petition asked the district court to "[i]ssue a Writ of Habeas Corpus requiring Respondents to release Shawqi Omar from detention, and/or requiring Respondents to bring Shawqi Ahmad Omar before a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States to show just cause for his continued detention." Also alleging that "the United States military may turn Mr. Omar over to the custody of Iraqi authorities in an effort to evade the strictures of United States law," the petition asked the district court to "[e]njoin Respondents from transferring Mr. Omar to the authority of any other government, sovereign, country, or agency until [the district court] has an opportunity to consider and decide the merits of this Petition."

Approximately two months after filing the petition, Omar's attorney received an e-mail from the Department of Justice informing her of the MNF-I's earlier decision to refer Omar to the CCCI. Believing that CCCI proceedings could interrupt American custody of Omar, thereby stripping the district court of jurisdiction, that transfer would amount to an illegal extradition, and that Omar would likely face torture by Iraqi authorities, the attorney sought and received from Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the District Court an ex parte temporary restraining order requiring that Omar "not be removed from United States custody."

In a memorandum filed shortly after entry of the TRO, the government challenged the district court's jurisdiction to entertain the petition. The government relied principally on Hirota v. MacArthur, in which the Supreme Court held that World War II Japanese officials could not invoke habeas to challenge their conviction by a multinational military tribunal. The government also argued that the district court had no authority to issue injunctive relief because doing so would "inject [the court] into an exclusive Executive function" and because adjudication of Omar's potential referral to the CCCI "raises non-justiciable political questions."

Following briefing, Judge Urbina converted the TRO into a preliminary injunction ordering that "the respondents . . . and any persons acting in concert or participation with them, or having actual or implicit knowledge of this Order . . . shall not remove [Omar] from United States or MNF-I custody, or take any other action inconsistent with this court's memorandum opinion." In the accompanying memorandum opinion, the court explained that the jurisdictional issues in the case presented questions "so serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful, as to make them fair ground for litigation and thus for more deliberative investigation." Fearing imminent referral to the CCCI would forever preclude a more deliberative investigation of the weighty jurisdictional questions, the court issued the injunction to freeze the status quo. In doing so, the court credited Omar's contention that transfer could irreparably deprive him of this investigation by "undo[ing the] court's jurisdiction." This, the court concluded, "would abuse the process now put in place for the purpose of adjudicating matters on their merits."

The government appealed, arguing (as it did in the district court) that Hirota controlled and that Omar's challenge presented non-justiciable political questions. The government also pointed out that even if the district court did have jurisdiction, its injunction was improper because, by prohibiting Omar's removal from American or MNF-I custody, it barred the government from providing Omar "all of the relief to which he is entitled through a writ of habeas corpus."[12] In practice, by preventing his transfer to Iraqi judicial custody to stand trial, the petition on Omar's behalf has prolonged his detention and prevented him from having the opportunity to have his case heard on its merits in Iraqi court.

The Supreme Court heard this matter together with Munaf v. Geren, 553 U.S. 674 (2008). The Court unanimously affirmed Judge Urbina's conclusion that the habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(1), extends to U.S. citizens held overseas by American forces subject to an American chain of command, even if acting as part of a multinational coalition, but also found that habeas corpus provided the petitioners with no relief holding that "Habeas corpus does not require the United States to shelter such fugitives from the criminal justice system of the sovereign with authority to prosecute them."

Guantanamo Bay detainees[edit]

Urbina presided over a number of habeas corpus petitions submitted on behalf of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[3] In October 2008, he ordered the release of a small group of Uighur detainees from Guantanamo into the United States because they are no longer regarded as enemy combatants.[4]

Saeed Hatim v. Barack Obama[edit]

On December 16, 2009, Urbina ordered Guantanamo captive "Saeed Hatim" to be released.[5] According to Carol Rosenberg, writing in the Miami Herald Urbina's release order was sealed, and it "brought the so-called habeas corpus scorecard to 32 losses and nine victories by the Pentagon of detainee challenges from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." Dean Boyd, a Department of Justice spokesman, told Rosenberg the Government was reviewing its options in how to react to the ruling.

Blackwater Baghdad shootings prosecution[edit]

On December 31, 2009, a month before five Blackwater Worldwide security guards implicated in the September 2007, Nisour Square, Baghdad, shooting incident were to go on trial, Urbina dismissed the case. Urbina said that the prosecutors improperly relied upon statements the guards gave to State Department investigators. The guards were required to make the statements if they wanted to keep their jobs—thus making them inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment. The immunity issue was a problem that lawyers for the government anticipated as long as a year ago when they briefed Congress on the matter. Judge Urbina dismissed the indictment of the five men who pleaded not guilty to voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten.[6]

In 2011, a federal appeals court overruled Urbina, reinstated the charges against four out of the five men.[7] In 2014, all four were convicted.[8]

Dozens of Iraqis, including the estates of some of the victims allegedly killed by Blackwater employees, filed a separate lawsuit last year alleging that Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The civil case is still before a Virginia court. Blackwater contractors had been hired to guard US diplomats in Iraq. The guards said insurgents ambushed them in a traffic circle. Prosecutors said the men unleashed an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades. The shooting led to the unraveling of the North Carolina-based company, which since has replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.[9]

Heller v. District of Columbia[edit]

A District of Columbia resident, Dick Anthony Heller filed suit against the District challenging the constitutionality of its laws regulating gun registration and gun restriction. Urbina dismissed Heller v. District of Columbia on Mar 26, 2010, relying on the findings of a D.C. City Council committee report.[10][11] The dismissal was appealed and overturned in a 2-1 vote. The case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court where the Court would side with Heller and declare the District's regulations unconstitutional.

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security[edit]

The Transportation Security Administration has taken several thousand images of individuals passing through the Full Body Scanner to demonstrate its effectiveness to TSA employees. The EPIC sued the DHS for the release of the images. Urbina sided with the TSA, arguing that a release of the images would threaten national security.[12]


  1. ^ Report of District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission
  2. ^ "Ricardo M. Urbina". US District Court for the District of Columbia. Archived from the original on June 17, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2008.
  3. ^ "Respondents' response to Court's August 7, 2006 order" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. August 15, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 27, 2008. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  4. ^ "Judge: Let Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo into US". Yahoo!. October 7, 2008. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved October 7, 2008.
  5. ^ Carol Rosenberg (December 16, 2009). "Federal judge orders 32nd detainee freed from Guantánamo". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on December 24, 2009.
  6. ^ Liz Robbins (December 31, 2009). "Judge Drops Charges From Blackwater Deaths in Iraq". The New York Times. Retrieved December 31, 2009.
  7. ^ Risen, James (April 22, 2011). "Ex-Blackwater Guards Face Renewed Charges". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  8. ^ APUZZO, MATT (22 October 2014). "Former Blackwater Guards Convicted in Iraq Shooting". New York Times.
  9. ^ "US security firm mired in Iraq controversy changes its name". The Guardian. February 13, 2009. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  10. ^ NRA-ILA. "NRA-ILA - Page Not Found".
  11. ^ "District's Post-Heller Gun Laws Are OK, Judge Says".
  12. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/01/12/airport.scanner.images/index.html From CNN. accessed 1/12/11

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Aubrey Eugene Robinson Jr.
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Rudolph Contreras