Thursday, August 01, 2013


Another careful non-activist judicial ruling from one of our right-wing betters:
A federal judge in Wisconsin handed down an opinion yesterday granting the Catholic Church -- and indeed, potentially all religious institutions -- such sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy law that it is not clear that it would permit any plaintiff to successfully sue any church in any court. While the ostensible issue in this case is whether over $50 million in church funds are shielded from a bankruptcy proceeding triggered largely by a flood of clerical sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Judge Rudolph Randa reads the church's constitutional and legal right to religious liberty so broadly as to render religious institutions immune from much of the law.

The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now a cardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to "an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability." ...
Judge Randa ruled that religious liberty means the church has the unilateral right to shelter money in a separate fund -- in this case, a fund for Catholic cemeteries -- if the church deems that the right thing to do. Plaintiffs who've sued and won monetary damages are out of luck. Religious liberty, according to Judge Randa, forbids the government from intervening.

Except that the relevant law says just the opposite:
The same federal law that protects religious liberty also permits substantial burdens on religion when such a burden is "in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest." Randa largely glosses over this exception, however, holding that the "interests advanced by the bankruptcy system are not compelling."
Yeah -- it's not a "compelling government interest" to compensate victims in this case:
At least 45 Milwaukee priests face sex abuse accusations. One priest in particular was accused of personally molesting close to 200 deaf boys.
Judge Randa -- who was appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by president George H.W. Bush, in part, perhaps, because of his penchant as a city and state judge for extremely harsh sentences -- was known prior to this as the judge who found the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act unconstitutional. (A higher court overturned this ruling on the law that protects abortion clinics from obstructive picketing.)

Randa is also known for some rather embarrassing behavior in a 2010 case in which he sentenced a defendant named Jose Figueroa in a drug case. Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit, reviewing the case on appeal, wrote:
During the hearing, the district court [i.e., Judge Randa] digressed to discuss Figueroa's native Mexico, the immigration status of Figueroa and his sisters, and the conditions and laws in half a dozen other countries -- not to mention unnecessary references to Hugo Chavez, Iranian terrorists, and Adolf Hitler's dog....

Figueroa is of Mexican descent, and the district court made a number of comments about Mexico and its perception of Mexico's contribution to drug and immigration issues in the United States. "The southwest is being overwhelmed," the judge remarked, and he went on to lament the factors that he believes motivate immigration to the United States....

The judge also commented on the immigration status of Figueroa, his wife, and his three sisters. At various points, he lashed out at illegal immigration, occasionally referring to "you people" or "those people." ...

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 Chavez. The judge commented that respect for the rule of law differentiates the United States from Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, and Pakistan.

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....

[T]he 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."
Nice guy, this judge.


Victor said...

He's a Judge?

He sounds more like some clown even Archie Bunker would have thrown out of his bar!

Oh, and who could have imagined 40 years ago, that Archie would have been more sympathetic to the plight of women and minorities, than 4 to 5 members our SCOTUS, and who knows how many members of the Federal Court, and US House and Senate?

We are Germany in the early 1930's. More so than I even thought during W's mis-administration.

Joseph Nobles said...

Jesus wept.

Superfluous Man said...

If this judge was ever sane, he's now senile. We can hope he gets overruled again (and again and again).

Is there a mandatory retirement age for federal judges?