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A Faerie's Farthing

Flitting through the internets looking for sparkly bits. All content mine and not to be reproduced without permission.

Location: All Material Copyrighted, United States

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Libby's Arraignment Judge: Reggie Walton

Libby's Arraignment Judge: Reggie Walton

Like any good Plameaholic, I was poring over the various news reports of Scooter's indictment and discovered that Judge Reggie Walton will be presiding over the arraignment. So, who is Reggie Walton? Well, I couldn't get to his bio page, but the cached copy informs us that

Judge Reggie B. Walton assumed his position as a United States District Judge for the District of Columbia on October 29, 2001, after being nominated to the position by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate. Judge Walton previously served as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia from 1981 to 1989 and 1991 to 2001, having been appointed to that position by Presidents Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George H. W. Bush in 1991. While serving on the Superior Court, Judge Walton was the court's Presiding Judge of the Family Division, Presiding Judge of the Domestic Violence Unit and Deputy Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division. Between 1989 and 1991, Judge Walton served as President George H. W. Bush's Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President and as President Bush's Senior White House Advisor for Crime.

Don't throw your monitor out the window just yet; Walton seems to be quite a mixed bag. Yes, he was appointed by shrubya, but he's also old-school - he was building a career of government service long before chimpy hit the radar. And if Poppy's myriad disagreements with shrubya are any indicator, Walton's close work with him could be encouraging.

So could this curious little case, in which he ruled against BATFE in favor of hobby rocketeers.

On April 22, 2004, Judge Reggie Walton agreed with NAR/TRA's interpretation of his recent order our court case. Judge Walton said that the 1994 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) exemption granted to hobby rockets as "propellant actuated devices" (PADs) remains valid.

This means that unless and until BATFE properly promulgates a rule rescinding the 1994 PADs exemption, fully assembled rocket motors (regardless of weight) are propellant actuated devices under the law and are exempt from regulation by BATFE.

We are free to fly, at least for the time being.

Judge Walton further said that if BATFE agents take any enforcement action in the field that are not consistent with this ruling, NAR and TRA should come back to his court immediately and seek an injunction against BATFE.

So he seems to be a letter-of-the-law kind of guy and we know he has no qualms ruling against government agencies. Especially encouraging is the knowledge that in a case involving FOIA requests, he ruled that the Bush administration had no right to withold the pertinent information.

Last Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Bush Administration has violated the Freedom of Information Act by concealing documents related to a deal cut in secret that makes development possible on millions of acres of America’s last wild lands. The deal prohibits government identification and protection of wilderness-quality lands on more than 150 million acres of lands belonging to all Americans. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Utah Governor (now EPA Administrator) Mike Leavitt defied more than a quarter century of precedent in managing public lands when they agreed to a new policy that blindfolds land managers when it comes to identifying and protecting wilderness.

...“The Bush Administration and Gov. Leavitt worked in secret to end consideration of wilderness protection for millions of acres of public lands in Utah, and tens of millions more across the country,” said Leslie Jones, an attorney for The Wilderness Society, the group that is seeking the public records. “The Federal court’s ruling says that the government’s can’t use bogus excuses to hide how the deal was reached.”

...On Friday, Federal District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered the Interior Department to release the redacted documents within 30 days or come up with a legal explanation for withholding them. Judge Walton found that none of the reasons provided by the agency for hiding documents met the law’s strict limits on when the government can keep information from the public.

He's also the judge who ordered USA Next to stop using the unlicensed photograph of AARP infamy:

A federal judge on Thursday prohibited a conservative group supporting President Bush's Social Security plan from using a photo of a gay couple in its online ads attacking AARP…. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton issued a temporary restraining order forbidding use of the photograph by USA Next.

And even though he ultimately sided with the government in this ruling, his comments hold out some hope for due process and civil rights.

The government asked a federal judge Monday to dismiss a lawsuit by Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, a bioterrorism expert who claims his reputation was ruined when law enforcement officials called him a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he would rule later, but did agree to a government request to further delay most trial preparations until October.

...Hatfill, who has denied any role in the attacks, seeks to clear his name and recover unspecified monetary damages. His lawsuit claims the Justice Department got him fired from a job directing bioterrorism research at Louisiana State University, and that he has been unable to find another position in his field.

Judge Walton was skeptical Hatfill could find work in his field after being publicly linked to the anthrax investigation.

"At least by implication, he's disbarred," Walton said. "The information is now out there. The man's a pariah. Nobody's going to hire him."

This CNN article has some more details:

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled "with reluctance" that the government would have until at least early October to pursue unimpeded what he called "a highly complicated process."

..."At some point I'm going to say enough is enough, but I don't think that point has occurred yet," Walton told lawyers at the conclusion of the hearing.

The judge said he would issue his formal written ruling "as soon as possible" on the government's motion to dismiss the suit.

Walton signaled he would tentatively allow the case to proceed in a limited fashion, granting Hatfill's attorneys the right to pursue evidence from third parties to the case, such as news organizations.

...The firing came after a Justice Department official sent an e-mail to the program director directing him not to use Hatfill on any Justice Department-funded programs; the program Hatfill was working on was one such program.

Walton told the lawyers he is concerned about the impact of the government's involvement in Hatfill's dismissal.

"I'm not unsympathetic to Mr. Hatfill's situation," Walton said. He noted the limited field of bioweapons research and the predominance of government funding for such projects.

"At least by implication, he's disbarred," the judge said. "Nobody's going to hire him," he suggested.

Eventually, the DoJ relented and agreed to allow some witnesses to testify in Hatfill's case.

Earlier this week, in a significant shift, the government notified Walton that it was willing to permit the questioning of some witnesses on Hatfill's claim that the leaks violated the Privacy Act. Yesterday, Walton ordered government lawyers to immediately start laying the groundwork to set up the depositions.

...The government, in its written submission to the court and in its statement yesterday, sought to preclude Ashcroft and other individual defendants from being deposed because the judge is still considering their claims of immunity.

But Hatfill's attorney, Thomas G. Connolly, objected, saying the exclusion of such key witnesses would further delay the case. Walton agreed and ordered the process to go forward, with some limitations.

Walton also had some strong words regarding the aforementioned leaks:

Continuing leaks from within the Justice Department describing former Army biologist Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the FBI's investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks must be halted, a federal judge has demanded.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Thursday he was troubled by recent news stories citing anonymous law enforcement sources as saying the FBI was still interested in Hatfill, the Washington Post reported. Walton is presiding over a civil defamation lawsuit filed by Hatfill against the Justice Department.

"They're undermining what this country is supposed to be about - that is, that we treat people fairly," Walton said of the anonymous sources. "If you don't have enough to indict this man, then it's wrong to drag his name through the mud."

"That's not a government I want to be a part of. It's wrong, and you all need to do something about it," he added.

All pretty encouraging so far; we'll call these "the good." Now, for the bad:

For nearly 30 years, the D.C. government has conducted a public policy experiment based on the theory that if you deprive citizens of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, you'll reduce crime. Two weeks ago, federal district court judge Reggie Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that that experiment should continue. In his decision in Seegars v. Ashcroft, et al., Judge Walton rejected a Second Amendment challenge to the District's comprehensive gun ban.

Of course, Judge Walton is under no illusions that depriving citizens of their right to keep and bear arms actually results in a safer city. Nor, interestingly enough, is the D.C. government attorney defending the ban in Seegars. During oral argument in the case last October, Walton and D.C. Corporation Counsel Daniel Rezneck had the following exchange:

Walton: These laws don't stop the bad guys from getting the guns.

Rezneck: No.

Walton: The bad guys are going to get the guns regardless.

Rezneck: I agree with that your honor.

As Rezneck and Walton admit, the D.C. government has done little or nothing to disarm violent criminals. It has, however, done a marvelous job of disarming law-abiding citizens who "work hard and play by the rules," as a certain Southerner used to put it. And, as a result, the District is the most dangerous large city in America, edging out Detroit for the 2003 murder capital of the U.S.

...One might suppose that such a regulatory scheme constitutes an infringement on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, if anything does. But Judge Walton disagrees, declaring in the Seegars opinion that "the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right to possess firearms" but rather grants some vague, unenforceable collective right.

Walton's interpretation is, of course, at odds with the fairly clear text of the Constitution. The Framers were careful enough with language not to confuse the "right of the people" with the rights of a state. Just as in the First and Fourth Amendments, "the right of the people" in the Second Amendment is an individual right.

And the ugly? Walton is the judge who upheld the government's right to state secrets in the Sibel Edmonds case.

Information she provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee several years ago was recently deemed classified under the state secrets privilege.

And lawyers filing a lawsuit stemming from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks wanted to depose her, but their request was quashed for the same reason.

Edmonds has testified in closed session to the 9/11 commission and has made claims that the FBI possessed some information prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon which could have proved helpful in preventing the terrorist strikes.

...U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton agreed with the government's position.

"The Court finds that the plaintiff is unable to establish her First Amendment, Fifth Amendment and Privacy Act claims without the disclosure of privileged information, nor would the defendants be able to defend against these claims without the same disclosures ... the plaintiff's case must be dismissed, albeit with great consternation, in the interests of national security," Walton wrote in the opinion.

Just how great is that consternation? Who knows. IANAL and I won't pretend to know the intricacies of how his various positions translate legally. Like I said, Walton seems to be rather a mixed bag. Needless to say, I'm troubled by the ruling in the Edmonds case. It is incomprehensible to me that a violation of individual rights can be so cavalierly dismissed, state secrets or no. I just hope that his "consternation" was more than lip service. And with any luck, we'll find out soon; Libby's arraignment is in a few weeks.


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