- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

Senior judges at the federal court in Washington, D.C., have rescinded a long-standing policy for the assignment of high-profile cases after accusations of political bias arose involving officials and friends of the Clinton administration.
The judges, during a closed-door session, abolished the policy that let the court's chief judge bypass a traditional random assignment system to send sensitive criminal cases involving key Democrats to judges appointed by President Clinton.
Instead, they created a new system in which high-profile or lengthy cases will be assigned on a random basis to a separate pool that will include all the judges.
The matter had been under review since August, when it was first reported that U.S. District Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson bypassed the random computer assignments to send pending criminal cases against Webster L. Hubbell and Charles Yah Lin Trie to judges appointed by Mr. Clinton.
The assignments angered several judges and caused concern on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican and chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, asked a federal appeals court to investigate Judge Johnson's rulings.
Mr. Coble said the judge's actions "may have been prejudicial to the effective and impartial administration" of justice.
He said an investigation by his committee found that Judge Johnson also had bypassed the random assignment process in other cases that were "potentially embarrassing to the president, the Democratic National Committee and Democrats generally."
"Did Chief Judge Johnson abuse her discretion under the rule, and should she have allowed the normal random case assignment to occur?" he asked in a seven-page letter to Mark Langer, clerk of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Mr. Coble's request is still pending.
Mr. Coble's concerns focused on cases involving Mr. Hubbell, a former associate attorney general; Trie, an Arkansas businessman; Democratic fund-raiser Howard Glicken; Thai lobbyist Pauline Kanchanalak; and Miami fund-raiser Mark B. Jimenez.
Judge Johnson has declined to comment.
The court traditionally has relied on a random computer-assignment process for high-profile cases. The assignment of the Trie and Hubbell cases raised concerns among a number of judges of a possible conflict of interest because the two judges handed down rulings that handicapped prosecutors.
One veteran judge told The Washington Times at the time that it struck him as "rare that cases involving Hubbell and Trie would have been assigned to Bill Clinton's appointees." He said similar cases were "normally assigned at random just to avoid the kind of discussions we're now having."
U.S. District Judges Paul L. Friedman and James Robertson, both appointed by Mr. Clinton, were assigned the Trie and Hubbell cases. Both have declined requests for interviews but were involved in several controversial decisions in cases brought against friends and associates of Mr. Clinton.
Judge Friedman threw out several charges against Trie brought by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force. After one of his rulings was overturned by a federal appeals court panel, Trie pleaded guilty.
In January, Judge Friedman dealt the task force another setback by dismissing much of the case against Mrs. Kanchanalak, a key figure in the investigation of foreign money raised in the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign for re-election. The judge threw out 11 counts against her, leaving just seven of the original 24 counts.
Mrs. Kanchanalak was indicted last year on charges of illegally channeling $659,000 to the Democratic Party. She was accused of conspiring to direct illegal donations to the Democratic Party from 1992 to 1996.
Judge Robertson was overturned in June when a federal appeals court reinstated a felony charge against Mr. Hubbell for making false statements to conceal his work on a fraudulent Arkansas land development.
The appeals court said the judge erred when he dismissed the first count of a 15-count indictment brought by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
In May, in a separate case, a federal appeals court also reinstated charges against Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia, saying Judge Friedman erred in dismissing five felony counts accusing her of hiding illegal campaign donations for a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple attended by Vice President Al Gore. Mrs. Hsia's rescheduled trial begins Monday.

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