Newsbrief: House Republicans Hold Off on Subpoena of Federal Judge 3/21/03

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DRCNet reported last week that Republicans on the House Judiciary Committtee were about to subpoena Minnesota federal court Chief Judge James Rosenbaum in an effort to punish him for speaking out against harsh federal drug sentences and for allegedly sentencing at least two drug defendants to less time than the law required. But the Wall Street Journal, the only major media outlet to cover the story, reported on March 13 that committee Republicans have agreed to hold off on the subpoena after Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the committee, offered to mediate the dispute.

The tussle between Rosenbaum and the committee Republicans had simmered for months before being brought to a head two weeks ago, when Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) said in a letter seeking the subpoena that Judge Rosenbaum had "imposed illegal sentences in at least two cases" and that he was seeking a subpoena to "reveal further illegality on his part in sentencing additional criminal defendants."

The judge's attorney, former US Attorney Victoria Toensing, argued that he neither misled the committee in his testimony last year -- in which he argued that federal law required him to impose harsh and unfair sentences on defendants with minor roles in drug cases -- nor violated sentencing laws. Rosenbaum had indeed sentenced some defendants to less time that required by federal sentencing guidelines, Toensing told the Journal, but those were lawful "downward departures." Toensing also said that the committee's move to subpoena Judge Rosenbaum's sealed transcripts and other court records overstepped congressional authority.

Federal judges are watching with interest and concern. "The judiciary takes very seriously any potential threat to judicial independence," a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the US Courts told the Journal.

Rosenbaum is a former US Attorney appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987.

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