- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

A Republican congressman yesterday asked a federal appeals court to investigate rare case assignments made by the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington.

North Carolina Rep. Howard Coble, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the courts and intellectual property, questioned the propriety of Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's decision to bypass the court's traditional random assignment of cases and allow five cases involving friends of President Clinton to be heard by four Clinton-appointed judges.

Mr. Coble, whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over the courts, said the judge's actions "may have been prejudicial to the effective and impartial administration" of the court's business.

"Judge Johnson bypassed the random case-assignmment process in four campaign-finance cases potentially embarrassing to the president, the [Democratic National Committee] and Democrats generally, and one case involving President Clinton's close personal friend, Webster Hubbell," Mr. Coble said.

"Did Chief Judge Johnson abuse her discretion under the rule and should she have allowed the normal random case assignment to occur?" he said in a seven-page letter to Mark Langer, clerk of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The inquiry focuses on cases involving Mr. Hubbell, former associate attorney general; Arkansas businessman Charles Yah Lin Trie; Democratic fund-raiser Howard Glicken; Thai lobbyist Pauline Kanchanalak; and Miami fund-raiser Mark B. Jimenez.

The judges are Paul L. Friedman, James Robertson and Emmet G. Sullivan, all of whom were named to the bench by Mr. Clinton in 1994; and Henry H. Kennedy Jr., appointed by Mr. Clinton in 1997.

Judge Johnson has declined to talk to the media.

In his letter, Mr. Coble challenged a decision last year by the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia to dismiss a complaint against Judge Johnson in her assignment of the judges in the Hubbell and Trie cases. He said the subcommittee had "additional information" that would "justify" a new investigation.

The new information included Judge Johnson's assignment to Clinton-appointed judges of three other cases those involving Glicken, Mrs. Kanchanalak and Jimenez that "again bypassed the random case-assignment system," he said.

"The Judicial Council … did not attempt to determine whether there was an abuse of discretion," he said. "Rather, the Judicial Council simply accepted Judge Johnson's justification in support of her action and concluded that in the circumstances presented, a purely conclusionary allegation … is not enough to justify a search for [evidence of misconduct].

"How much evidence would be enough to justify an investigation?" he asked.

In August, Mr. Coble asked Judge Johnson why the Hubbell and Trie cases were assigned to judges appointed by Mr. Clinton. He said at the time he had "concerns" about reports the judge had bypassed the computerized system that randomly assigns cases.

His inquiry came after two federal appeals court panels reinstated the Hubbell case that Judge Robertson had thrown out and reversed Judge Friedman's ruling in the Trie case, resulting in his guilty plea several days later. Another panel reinstated charges against Mrs. Kanchanalak of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission about money she contributed to the DNC.

Mr. Coble also said "no rationalization can possibly justify" the assignment of the Glicken case to Judge Kennedy, adding there was "nothing complicated or protracted about this case" and Glicken's attorney announced on the day he was charged he would plead guilty.

Glicken was fined $80,000 in 1998 for illegally soliciting a $20,000 foreign contribution in 1993 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Judge Kennedy ordered the fine along with 18 months probation and 500 hours of community service in response to Glicken's guilty plea on charges he requested a $20,000 donation from a foreign national.

Mr. Coble noted that Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. asked in a letter that Judge Kennedy be lenient.

With regard to the assignment of the Jimenez case, Mr. Coble said it was assigned by Judge Johnson to Judge Sullivan at his request, although it was later reassigned to Judge Friedman. Mr. Coble questioned how Judge Sullivan was able to request the case and get it and why was it transferred to Judge Friedman after he claimed it was related to the Trie case.

"How is the Jimenez case related to the Trie case," Mr. Coble asked, noting there was no provision for transferring the case under District Court rules.

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