Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Court Watch

Keep you eye on the Washington, D.C. Federal District Court, where Judge James Robertson sits. Judge Robertson, you'll recall, resigned last week from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities (FISA) Court, in protest over the recently-disclosed NSA domestic spying program. However, Judge Robertson elected to retain his seat on the district court, so his resignation was, er...only "half" a resignation.

But perhaps Judge Robertson had other reasons for removing himself from the FISA bench. A.J. Strata was one of the first in the blogosphere to deduce that Judge Robertson (along with West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller) may have been sources for the original NYT story, and may be under investigation for leaking classified material to the press. As Strata and Mac Ranger have noted, Senator Rockefeller has suddenly gone quiet on the NSA program, and there are some suggestions that Judge Robertson may be clearing his docket for a possible hiatus from the bench. By law, Robertson cannot hear cases if he is under investigation for a possible crime.

Another possible indicator of an investigation is silence from the White House and the Justice Department. After initially criticizing the disclosure of the NSA program, the administration has had little to say on the subject, and the Justice Department has refused comment, a posture consistent with a criminal investigation in its early stages.

If Robertson is the target of a criminal probe, we can expect him to take a hiatus from the court at some point in the near future. Strata discovered that Robertson is on tap to hear "emergency cases" for the District Court over New Year's weekend (January 1-2), and has been assigned to the D.C. circuit's Motions Court in February. Additionally, he has a status conference for a case scheduled for next week, along with a jury trial (USA v. Brown, 1-2005-cr-00002-JR). I'm not an attorney, so I can't say whether Robertson's calendar represents a full schedule for a federal judge. However, if Robertson is being probed for leaking the NSA program to the press, his duties could be easily reassigned to another judge on the circuit.

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