Federal judges are brilliant people. But they aren’t always the best, or the safest, of drivers. We’ve had the privilege of riding in cars with federal judges, so we know this firsthand. Let’s just say that the reasoning in their opinions is often tighter than their left-hand turns.
Rumor has it that Justice Antonin Scalia can be rather aggressive when behind the wheel of his BMW 525. Some pedestrians fear Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “like a Floridian driver.” And it has been alleged that Judge Robert W. Gettleman (N.D. Ill.), the highly regarded Chicago judge, drives his vintage Porsche “like a cabbie.”
On a more serious note, sometimes placing a federal judge behind the wheel gives rise to tragic consequences. From the New Haven Register:
The motorist who struck and critically injured a city police officer working a traffic detail Tuesday is a senior federal judge in New Haven. John M. Walker Jr., who is in his mid-60s, had been chief judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for six years until Sept. 30, when he assumed senior status.
Police sources said Walker was the driver of the sport utility vehicle that struck Officer Dan Picagli, a 17-year veteran, on Chapel Street in the Wooster Square neighborhood. Picagli, 38, remains in critical condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Police are investigating the accident, which happened during a steady rain at 6:30 p.m. No charges have been filed.
Officer Picagli, who works in a youth-oriented policing unit and runs the Police Athletic League, a program for city youths, is well-loved by both his colleagues and the kids he works with.
More about this accident, after the jump.
A Connecticut reader had this to say:
[T]wo nights ago in New Haven, a police officer (and father of four) was directing traffic, when he was run over. The police officer is in critical condition…. This made the top local nightly news in Connecticut on Tuesday.
Last night, one local news station revealed they had found out who the driver was: former Chief Judge Walker (Second Circuit). Besides the local news, who credits the New Haven newspaper as breaking the story, and that paper, no national news outlet has ran this story.
Is this a cover-up? When any other person in the world hits a cop, it’s all over the local news with a mug shot of the guy. But it takes a full day to announce it’s Walker?
Our reader, in viewing this incident like the Dick Cheney / Harry Whittington shooting accident, may be jumping to conclusions. We need to learn more details about what happened (and the police are still investigating). What were road conditions and visibility like at the time? In what state was Judge Walker? How did Judge Walker react after hitting Officer Picagli?
Update: The most recent AP report indicates that Judge Walker did stop after the accident. He is “very much distraught over what occurred,” and he’s cooperating fully with authorities. As for road conditions, it was raining, and the street was poorly lit. For more details, see this comment.
Conspiracy theorists would point out that Judge Walker is exceptionally well-connected — even by the lofty standards of the federal judiciary. From the Hartford Courant:
A Yale graduate, Walker is part of the Bush dynasty whose ties to the Ivy League school span four generations. Walker’s uncle is George Herbert Walker Jr., co-founder of the New York Mets, and his cousin is former President Bush. While Bush was serving as vice president under President Reagan, Walker was appointed an assistant secretary of the Treasury. After becoming president, the elder Bush appointed Walker to the federal appeals court. For six years, Walker served as chief judge.
We will be following this story closely; check back for updates.
Further Update: More information available here.
(Disclosure: We argued before Judge Walker in the moot court finals at Yale, and he ruled against us. But we would have too, if we had been in his robes.)
Judge Was Behind The Wheel [Hartford Courant]
Cop Fights for His Life [New Haven Register]
Reports: Federal judge was motorist who struck officer [Associated Press]
John Mercer Walker, Jr. bio [FJC]
John M. Walker, Jr. bio [Yale Law School]