7th Circuit, Benchslaps, Cocaine / Crack, Crime, Diane Wood, Drugs, Judge of the Day, Racism, Sentencing Law

Judge of the Day: Rudolph Randa

It’s hard out here for an immigrant. Arizona has immigrants in the crosshairs, as we all know. Immigrants might also be unable to clerk for federal judges (or at least get paid for it).

And when they commit crimes and get sentenced, immigrants are sometimes subjected to snide remarks by judges. The Seventh Circuit recently vacated a sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge, after trial judge Rudolph Randa (E.D. Wis.) made some unfortunate comments in sentencing defendant Jose Figueroa. From the Seventh Circuit opinion, by the fabulous Judge Diane Wood:

During the hearing, the district court digressed to discuss Figueroa’s native Mexico, the immigration status of Figueroa and his sisters, and the conditions and laws in half a dozen other countries—not to mention unnecessary references to Hugo Chávez, Iranian terrorists, and Adolf Hitler’s dog.

Chávez, Iranian terrorists, and Hitler’s dog. Those are all § 3553(a) factors, right?

So how exactly did Judge Randa achieve the impressive feat of working all of these topics into a routine sentencing?

Defendant Jose Figueroa, was convicted of cocaine-related charges after a jury trial. Judge Randa sentenced him to 235 months’ imprisonment, at the low end of the advisory guidelines range. If Judge Randa had handed down that same sentence, along with a few benign remarks about the history and characteristics of the defendant, and the nature of the offense, the sentence would have been bulletproof on appeal.

Alas, at the sentencing hearing, Judge Randa went a little off the rails. From Judge Wood’s opinion:

Figueroa is of Mexican descent, and the district court made a number of comments about Mexico and its perception of Mexico’s contribution to drug and immigration issues in the United States. “The southwest is being overwhelmed,” the judge remarked, and he went on to lament the factors that he believes motivate immigration to the United States.

Hmm… like the allure of federal judicial clerkships? Drafting opinions is much more fun than mowing Mitt Romney’s lawn.

The judge also commented on the immigration status of Figueroa, his wife, and his three sisters. At various points, he lashed out at illegal immigration, occasionally referring to “you people” or “those people.”

The fair-minded Judge Wood acknowledges the possibility that “you people” was a reference “to illegal immigrants or immigrants more generally.” Still, we advise any judges reading ATL — and yes, they are out there — to avoid using the phrase “you people.” No good can come of it.

The opinion continues:

The sentencing transcript reveals an odd focus on nation-states and national characteristics. The district court linked the drug trade to Mexico, then to Colombia and Venezuela, and then to Iranian terrorists through the person of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The judge commented that respect for the rule of law differentiates the United States from Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, and Pakistan.

Turning to punishment, he remarked that Figueroa should be happy that he was headed to an American—rather than a Mexican or Turkish—prison, and that Figueroa’s conduct could have resulted in execution had it occurred in Malaysia or Thailand.

It sounds like Judge Randa has been reading too much Samuel Huntington. Or maybe His Honor has taken one ride too many on It’s A Small World After All.

Then we get to the best part, the sentencing judge’s mention of the beloved Fascistic pooch:

[T]he judge discounted Figueroa’s claim that he was a good family man:

“Even Adolf Hitler was admired by his family. Adolf Hitler loved his dog. Yet he killed six million Jews.”

C’mon, Judge Randa, haven’t you heard of Godwin’s law? This seems like a Reductio ad Hitlerum. Even the staunchest opponent of illegal drugs doesn’t view the drug problem as comparable to the Holocaust.

In fairness to Judge Randa, his remarks, which the Seventh Circuit characterized as “extraneous and inflammatory,” might amount to a case of aberrant behavior. According to his write-up in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (via Wikipedia), Judge Randa is “courteous and professional,” with “an excellent demeanor.” See also the comment of “Larry D” over at Proof and Hearsay (“Rudy Randa is an outstanding jurist. It’s difficult to judge his comments when not placed in the appropriate context. He is a man that is passionate about his work and regularly endeavors to speak words that resonate with offenders. He will not sit back and be conned.”).

In his AFJ evaluation, Judge Randa earns praise for how he “brings a little humor into the courtroom.” But making remarks amounting to laughably reversible error is probably not what these lawyers had in mind.

“Hitler’s dog” comment voids drug dealer sentence [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
7th Circuit Blasts Sentencing Judge for Comments on Hitler’s Dog, Illegal Aliens [ABA Journal]
Rudolph T. Randa [Wikipedia]
United States v. Figueroa [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit]

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