Critiques of the Judiciary
“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ... or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
Having failed to elicit any response from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee with whom she corresponded concerning her opposition to the confirmation of Judge Richard Wesley to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Elena Ruth Sassower journeyed to Washington to attend the Committee's hearings on May 22, 2003. The Committee was ready for her. Denied the opportunity to participate in the "public hearing," Sassower rose from her seat upon adjournment and requested permission to make a statement, whereupon she was handcuffed, jailed, and eventually put on trial for "Disruption of Congress." Her trial commenced on April 14, 2004 in D.C. Superior Court in front of a jury, Judge Brian F. Holeman presiding. Sassower's prepared opening statement to the jury is reprinted below. My name is Elena Ruth Sassower, and I am the criminal defendant charged with "Disruption of Congress." As you know, I am acting pro se, which means I am representing myself. Since I am not a lawyer, Mr. Goldstone is assisting me as my attorney-advisor. The reason I am representing myself is because this is a case about fundamental citizen rights and, in such a case, I felt it appropriate that one citizen speak directly to other citizens. You are not here because you have nothing else to do. You all have busy lives, and you have taken time from your work responsibilities and family obligations to be here. It is, after all, your civic responsibility, living in a country whose founding document our U.S. Constitution begins with words which our Founding Fathers wrote large, "We the People." So, too, I am here because of my civic responsibility. Not because I had nothing else to do on May 22, 2003 or because it was easy for me to travel from New York to Washington to be at the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date. Nothing that is said in these opening statements is evidence. The evidence comes from the witness stand. I promise you that this criminal defendant will be embracing her right to take the stand in her own defense. Therefore, it would be wasteful and disrespectful of your time and that of the Court to make a lengthy opening statement which is not evidence. Better to reserve it to when I can speak under oath. However, I will tell you and will prove to you over the course of the next few days that the criminal charge against me is not just bogus, but malicious. Apart from everything else, the evidence will show that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s public hearing to confirm New York Court of Appeals Judge Richard Wesley to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was already over when, as coordinator and co-founder of the Center for Judicial Accountability, I rose on behalf of the citizens of New York State and the Second Circuit to respectfully request to testify with "citizen opposition" to Judge Wesley’s confirmation to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. This, based on his documented corruption as a judge on New York’s highest state court our New York Court of Appeals. The evidence will also show that at the Senate Judiciary Committee if not at every other committee of the Senate and House it is unprecedented to arrest a citizen for respectfully requesting to testify at a public committee hearing, even when it is not over. Indeed, on June 25, 1996 the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to confirm another judicial nominee was not adjourned before I rose to respectfully request to testify with "citizen opposition." The evidence will show that the response of Capitol Police in 1996 was not to arrest me when the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Presiding Chairman called for order, but to instruct me that if I said another word, I would be removed. I remained in the hearing room. Obviously, Capitol Police have guidelines, rules, and procedures for responding to "disorderly conduct." That is how it should be. You don’t take extreme steps to restore order unless lesser measures are inadequate. The evidence will show that here, the Police knew that there was no reason to arrest me, that I was a "cooperative, conscientious, law-abiding person" and that I would, as in 1996, obey a direction not to say another word. The evidence will show that the Capitol Police not only proceeded to arrest me in face of the 1996 precedent and its knowledge that I was "cooperative, conscientious, and law-abiding," but with knowledge that, unlike 1996, when prior to the hearing and in response to my telephone and written requests to testify I had received a letter signed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch that I would not be permitted to testify, I had received no such letter from Chairman Hatch in connection with my repeated telephone and written requests to testify in opposition to Judge Wesley’s confirmation. In arresting me, Capitol Police knew that I had received no verification whatever that Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Leahy or any other Senators of the Senate Judiciary Committee were personally aware of the Center for Judicial Accountability’s "citizen opposition" to Judge Wesley and requests to testify, as opposed to staff underlings and that the only way for me to ensure that awareness was at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Capitol Police also knew that it was my contention that they had no authority to arrest me for respectfully requesting to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, unless so-directed to arrest me by the Presiding Chairman. The evidence will show that this was effectively conceded by Capitol Police by their putting the name of Senator Saxby Chambliss as the complainant in their arrest reports. Yet, the evidence will show that when Capitol Police removed me from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room on May 22, 2003, I asked Presiding Chairman Chambliss if he was directing that I be arrested. He wouldn’t respond just as seconds earlier, he hadn’t responded to my respectful question whether I might be permitted to testify. The evidence will also show that minutes later when Senator Chambliss exited the back exit of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was in handcuffs and asked him again, as he passed me, "Are you directing that I be arrested? Do you wish me to be arrested?" The answer to that question was either "yes" or "no" but he wouldn’t respond. Why not? If he believed I should be arrested and was directing me to be arrested, there was no reason for him not to have responded. That he did not do so reflects his guilty knowledge that there was no justification for my arrest. During the trial, you will not hear from Senator Chambliss the supposed complainant for my arrest because the prosecution has not seen fit to call him as a witness in support of the charge against me. And my subpoena to have him testify has been quashed notwithstanding my Sixth Amendment right to confront my accusers. There are several pieces of evidence that I wish to highlight before concluding. (1) Precisely what happened at the hearing is not "he said, she said." There is a videotape and what it establishes is that the arrest documents underlying this prosecution are materially false and misleading. This, because my innocent acts, as captured by the videotape, cannot themselves support a "Disruption of Congress" charge. (2) As to these prosecution documents, they represent that the "arresting officer" is Roderick Jennings. The evidence will show that this is false. Rookie Officer Jennings had nothing to do with the decision to arrest me. The true "arresting officer" was Sergeant Kathleen Bignotti, who had a single-minded fixation on arresting me notwithstanding the precedent of the 1996 hearing of which she was personally aware because she was there at that time. The evidence will show Sergeant Bignotti’s own malicious motive to arrest me quite apart from any direction she received from the Senate Judiciary Committee and Capitol Police as I had filed a serious and substantial police misconduct complaint against her in 1996, arising from her role in my arrest by Capitol Police in the hall outside the Senate Judiciary Committee, approximately half an hour after the June 25, 1996 hearing ended, on a trumped-up disorderly conduct charge. You will see the police misconduct complaint and my contemporaneous written protests in 2003 that it was Sergeant Bignotti who arrested me. (3) My extraordinary correspondence with Capitol Police, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Leahy, New York Home-State Senators Schumer and Clinton on May 21st establishing, resoundingly, that I had no intent whatever to disrupt the Senate Judiciary Committee’s May 22nd hearing and the equally extraordinary prior correspondence with Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Leahy and encompassing the recitation in my May 22nd memo reveal a scandalous state of affairs at the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the offices of New York Home-State Senators Schumer and Clinton with regard to federal judicial nominations, namely, a complete abandonment of their duties to review and investigate documentary evidence of the unfitness of federal judicial nominees and of fraudulent bar association ratings. Before concluding my opening statement, I must pause to draw this jury’s attention to the care and precision with which you were selected to ensure that each and every one of you would be fair and impartial and unconflicted by any interests. It was a voir dire process that took hours and the reason it was done was because a biased, self-interested tribunal cannot render justice. Our judges are also required to be fair, impartial, and unconflicted by interests litigants can make motions to disqualify judges who, for example, have interests in the cases that would prevent them from being fair and impartial and can call upon them to make disclosure of relevant disqualifying facts. The documentary evidence which, prior to the May 22, 2003 hearing, had been provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senators Schumer and Clinton concerned what Judge Wesley did, as a judge on New York’s Court of Appeals, in two public interest lawsuits involving issues of government integrity and the rights and welfare of New Yorkers. In each lawsuit, formal motions were made for the disqualification of judges of the Court of Appeals on which he sat. What the evidence shows is that Judge Wesley lied on each of those disqualification motions, failed to make requisite disclosure, and then went on to manifest his disqualifying actual bias and self-interest by fraudulent, insupportable decisions that disregarded mandatory law and rules designed to ensure the integrity of the judicial process. The elementary proposition which I am championing in my defense in this case is that a citizen’s respectful request to testify at a congressional committee’s public hearing is not and must never be deemed to be "Disruption of Congress." Yet because the evidence is so scandalous in exposing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s cover-up of documentary proof of Judge Wesley’s corruption in office and of fraudulent bar association ratings, this case is a powerful catalyst for sweeping good-government reform for the benefit and protection of all this nation’s citizens. I thank each of you for discharging your civic responsibilities in serving on this jury and can assure you that I not only am presumed innocent, but am innocent in fact. END
On April 20, 2004, following a week-long trial, Elena Ruth Sassower was found "guilty of Disruption of Congress." According to George McDermott, a courtroom observer, the Sassower trial was anything but fair. Judge Holeman appeared to grant all of the prosecutor's requests, even before they were fully stated. In contrast, Sassower's requests and/or objections were met with: "Denied, move along." Moreover, Government witnesses under subpoena arrived empty-handed, i.e., without the subpoenaed exculpatory evidence ("We thought that it will be not necessary"), and even audiotapes (exculpatory evidence) were purportedly destroyed by the Government. Judge Holeman also barred Sassower under threat of being immediately imprisoned from asking any question relating to the events leading to the indictment, i.e., the process of judicial nominations in the U.S. Senate. One of the marshals, who asked not to be identified, exclaimed: "I had never witnessed anything like this!" On June 28, 2004, Sassower was sentenced by Judge Holeman and immediately taken into custody and imprisoned. She was released December 23, 2004 after 179 days of incarceration. A contrived technicality deprived her of an early release. Prior to the Senate hearing of May 22, 2003, Sassower visited the Washington D.C. office of New York Senator Hillary Clinton to request that she withdraw her support for Richard Wesley's judicial nomination. Sassower furnished Clinton with documents that substantiated Wesley's corruption of the appellate court, but instead of probing those serious charges further, Clinton had a staff member contact the Secret Service. Subsequently, the D.C. Capitol Police warned Sassower that she would be arrested if she attempted to testify against the Wesley nomination at the Public Confirmation Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Convinced of her right to testify at a public hearing, Sassower took the risk, aware that only 15 days earlier eight protesters who had interrupted a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee with a banner and shouts of "Fire Rumsfeld for war crimes!" were neither arrested nor charged with "Disruption of Congress."
- From: Center for Judicial Accountability [Press Release] December 23, 2007, http://www.judgewatch.org, accessed 12/26/07.
Elena R. Sassower is Coordinator of the Center for Judicial Accountability, Inc. (http://www.judgewatch.org), a national nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens' organization that is working to reform the way federal, state, and local judges are selected and disciplined. She is the author of "Without Merit: The Empty Promise of Judicial Discipline," a 1997 essay on the more insidious aspects of judicial misconduct. The Center for Judicial Accountability is the source of Sassower's prepared opening statement to the jury on April 14, 2004, which should be consulted for additional information. The stenographic record of her statement would include the interruptions of Judge Holeman.
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