- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

BALTIMORE A federal appeals judge harshly criticized the reversal of police convictions in the Abner Louima torture case during a speech yesterday that compared the ruling to official indifference toward 1940s lynchings in the South.

Senior Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of Cincinnati a 23-year veteran of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who also served 10 years as general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People directly violated the federal judges' code of conduct in the key speech before an American Bar Association conference about the impact of race and ethnicity on the justice system.

"When the courts default, as happened in the 2nd Circuit in the Louima case, persons sometimes wonder what is the answer," Judge Jones said in criticizing the three-judge appeals panel in New York.

He called "a sister court's" Feb. 28 reversal of three officers' convictions for secondary roles in the assault and conspiracy an example of why minorities distrust government.

Judge Jones, 75, then recited details about lynchings of black soldiers who returned to a hostile South after World War II and likened the court decision to acts of jailers and sheriffs who failed to protect lynching victims.

"The way the offending officers committed torture on Mr. Louima a person of color points up why we must relive history," Judge Jones said.

Asked later by a reporter how a court decision compared to lynchings, Judge Jones said, "The degree is different but the lynchings involved willfulness on the part of officials."

He brushed off his criticism as an "academic exercise" for a good cause.

"The human rights of Mr. Louima were clearly subordinated to the rights of these police officers," he said in the speech and interview.

The 3-0 decision he criticized was not final because it remained subject to options ranging from rehearing by the full 2nd Circuit to a government request for Supreme Court review.

Commenting on a live case violates Canon 3(A)(6) of the U.S. Judicial Conference Code of Conduct. Enforcement is left to the offending judge's circuit conference. The likelihood of punitive action is slight for a judge who plans to retire to private practice by April.

"A judge should avoid public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action," the Code's relevant portion says. It goes on to say the admonition applies to cases in the judge's court as well as other courts "until completion of the appellate process."

All four officers convicted in the 1997 case are white. Mr. Louima is a black Haitian to whom the city and a police union have paid $7 million in an out-of-court settlement for the attack, a fact not mentioned when Judge Jones said "the system failed Mr. Louima."

The 2nd Circuit decision did not affect conviction of the main assailant, Justin A. Volpe, who pleaded guilty to sodomizing Mr. Louima with a broom handle at the 70th Precinct station in Flatbush.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Officer Charles Schwarz lacked effective counsel because his attorney had a conflict as a result of links with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The court also ruled the conspiracy convictions of Officers Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder were based on insufficient evidence.

Judge Jones said those issues paled in light of Mr. Louima's suffering of "one of the most bestial acts of torture committed by police officers in modern times."

When asked for specific objections to the ruling, the judge said he could not spell them out because his judgments were based on news reports.

"I have not read the full opinion," he said.

His thesis for the three-day conference proposes greater control on police use of force, including written reports whenever a gun is drawn from a holster.

"We're not in a perfect world with this friction, this tension, these deaths [and] there is lack of confidence in the police departments," he said, mentioning FBI investigations of police in Prince George's County, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.


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