Judge's focus 'odd,' 'inappropriate' for Circuit's taste

September 14, 2010
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The post was written by IL managing editor Elizabeth Brockett.

Sometimes a case makes the news not because of the merits, but for some other reason. Such a case came from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday. Writing for the panel, Judge Diane P. Wood noted there was “little out of the ordinary” in Jose Figueroa’s trial and conviction. He was charged with heading a multimillion-dollar drug conspiracy in Wisconsin. A jury convicted him of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine.

Judge Wood wrote that his evidentiary decision challenge had no merit; however, it was comments made during sentencing by Wisconsin Eastern District Judge Rudolph T. Randa that raised questions. The appellate panel remanded, noting that Judge Randa’s “process was so far out of bounds that Figueroa is entitled to resentencing.”

In United State of America v. Jose Figueroa, also known as Jose Figueroa-Maldanado, No. 09-3333, Judge Wood noted the sentence of 235 months was unremarkable, but “the process the district court used to get there – in particular, its extraneous and inflammatory comments during the sentencing hearing – cast doubt on the validity of the sentence.”

Judge Wood wrote, “The sentencing transcript reveals an odd focus on nation-states and national characteristics. The district court linked the drug trade to Mexico, then to Colombia and Venezuela, and then to Iranian terrorists through the person of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. … Turning to punishment, he remarked that Figueroa should be happy that he was headed to an American – rather than a Mexican or Turkish – prison, and that Figueroa’s conduct could have resulted in execution had it occurred in Malaysia or Thailand.”

“The transcript also reveals the district court judge’s use of colorful – and inappropriate – analogies to dispense with arguments that he did not appreciate. Rejecting Figueroa’s wife’s comment that the sentence was unfair, he said that ‘[i]t reminds me of … the person who killed his parents . . . asking [the judge] to have sympathy for him because he’s an orphan.’”

“Later, the judge discounted Figueroa’s claim that he was a good family man: ‘even Adolf Hitler was admired by his family. Adolf Hitler loved his dog. Yet he killed six million Jews.’”

Is Judge Randa one who’s tough on drug dealers and got a little overzealous in his rebuke? For the record, Judge Randa is no rookie. He served as chief judge of that district from 2002 to 2009. He also previously served on the U.S. Judicial Conference Code of Conduct Committee.

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