Judge Lynn Takes Ownership
The first indication that a new judge with a new way of doing things has taken the reins of the Wone case occurred just before the gavel fell on Friday. As always, we grabbed our seats early just as the bailiff unlocked the courtroom doors and waited for the customary “All rise,” that heralds the judge’s entrance.
But not last Friday. “Please stay seated,” we were told.
An early Bush 43 appointee, DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz was sworn in less than two weeks after September 11. It’s not easy finding much that’s been written about her although one case stands out. And if her sentencing remarks are any indication of her style, the Swann Street defendants might be in for a bumpy ride:
“You profess to despise rich people. You profess to despise the faceless, nameless forms of government that oppress. That’s what you’ve become. That’s what you are. You’re a rich kid who comes into Washington and defaces property because you feel like it. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
The poor sucker on the receiving end of that tongue lashing goes by the name of Borf. In 2006, prolific 18 year old DC graffiti “artist” John Tsombikos’ luck ran out. He was arrested for property damage and drew a pretty tough judge.
She gave him 30 days in jail, 200 hours of community service and ordered him to pay $12,000 in restitution. Tough stuff. We hope whoever is responsible for these tags never finds themselves in front of her.
While little is in the databases on Leibovitz, we’ve gathered several anecdotes that may help us chart her course with the Wone trial.
One case insider with intimate knowledge of the crime and principals draws two key distinctions between her and the case’s previous steward, Judge Frederick Weisberg: the 48 year old Leibovitz may have an eye on a higher bench and, unlike Weisberg who could care less about the publicity surrounding a trial, she is of a different generation with a far different appreciation of the media.
That’s only the start of the differences in style.
In the defense’s motion to keep Weisberg attached to the case, they made the argument of judicial economy. The Wone case was so complex and Weisberg was so involved after 13 months shepherding the case, he had a:
“…depth and breadth of knowledge that cannot be readily acquired by a judge new to the matter. It would be a difficult and time consuming task for a new judge to obtain even a measure of the mastery of the facts and legal issues which Judge Weisberg has acquired over the last year.”
Leibovitz clearly had done her homework ahead of taking this assignment. She’s certainly read all the motions including that one. May she have felt slightly put off that the defense was insinuating she wasn’t up to the task to take over and get up to speed, and that she couldn’t match Weisberg’s skills that he’s honed from 30 years on the bench? If so, last Friday she proved the defense wrong.
Leibovitz was not only up to speed, she was flying. Without notes or a clerk whispering in her ear, she rattled off specifics that impressed even the case’s most ardent observers. She’d heard the 9-1-1 call and knew of its content and import down to the exact time Victor Zaborsky dialed, 11:49pm. An impressive attention to detail.
This Brown/Georgetown Law grad came prepared and made it clear that she’s really sunk her teeth into this case. Whereas Weisberg often asked the government and defense to work out their differences before they came to him, Leibovitz indicated she’s running this show, imposing her own scheduling order on them with her eye clearly fixed on the scheduled trial start date of May 10.
As to how she has presided over past hearings, longtime wmrw.com reader/contributor and “distant acquaintance” of the defendants, SheKnowsSomething sat on one of her jurys (as foreperson) and offered these comments last week:
“In the trial on which I served, the judge was all business, as our editors observed. She is plain-spoken and low-drama, swift and efficient, and exercised great restraint… as long as the lawyers all played nice together.
…the judge’s swift application of justice, couple with her sharp and cutting wit, will be a joy to witness.
Her Honor was respectful of the defense position, but very matter-of-fact about denying the validity of the position. During the jury selection process, I begged to be excused because a lengthy trial (one lasting more than a 4 days) would have interfered with a new job…
The judge assured me that the proceedings would be very orderly and should not last very long. The case was handed to the jury for deliberations after one day of argument. On the third day of deliberations (!) I sent a note into the judge concerning the objectivity of two jurors who lived in the same neighborhood where the arrest was made and where the defendant also lived. After interviewing the jurors in chambers, the judge dismissed them from service, replaced them with the alternates and in thirty minutes we arrived at a unanimous guilty verdict.
She thanked us for our service and we were dismissed. No navel-gazing … no constitutional skittishness … no giving either side enough rope to hang themselves … all business … clean, neat and simple.”
Judicial economy indeed.
Although this former Assistant US Attorney and Deputy Chief of the Homicide Division (and daughter of a NY State Supreme Court judge) has a long way to go as we move closer to the trial, she has taken clear ownership of it. “Heaven knows what we’ll see in this case,” she said on Friday. She’s probably right.
In the next week or so we hope to have the transcript from last Friday’s status hearing. In the past, Weisberg’s easy-going style yielded about 40 pages for the hour-long hearings. This transcript, also running an hour, could be a bit bulkier. The “Borf” one could be a good read too; she boxed his ears. This mother of two even dictated how he was to pay the restitution:
“In other words, not the bogus jobs that your father gives you in New York, a real job, going to work like the people you demean, earning it with paychecks and the sweat of your own brow.
“I want (you) to see what the inside of the D.C. jail looks like because unlike every other person you’ve seen in my courtroom this morning, who have a ninth-grade education, who are drug-addicted, who have had childhoods the likes of which you could not conceive, you come from privilege and opportunity and seem to think that the whole world is just like McLean and just like East 68th Street. Well, it’s not.”
A last glimpse into Leibovitz’s history and judical philosophy comes from the transcript of her July 26, 2001 confirmation hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Senator Dick Durbin asked her to reflect on her tenure in the Homicide Division and in working with victims’ families:
“My experience in the homicide practice has been the most exciting and most valuable thing I think I have ever done… and what I have learned from it… is a degree of personal humility in interacting with other people, no matter who they are.
“We come into contact with a lot of people who come from very challenging personal circumstances, families who have lost loved ones through unspeakable events, and witnesses who themselves have criminal backgrounds, substance abuse problems, limited education and every other possible kind of difficulty. I have learned that every one of them brings something to the process that I am a part of, and learned that showing respect for them and allowing them to show me what they can do is the most important thing that I bring to the process.
“I think that the courts can, first of all, become more effective at managing the calendars. I think that the families of homicide victims are very much affected by how long the process takes, and I often find myself wishing that I could explain to them why things take so long, other than just to keep on saying court congestion.
“So I do think that basic management of the calendar is something that the courts can look to, and I also think that the same humanity… is important to remember, that the victims look to the court for some degree of solace and resolution, and that a few minutes or a few words by a judge can make a big difference to them.”
Anyone wish to reconsider just one small element of the Bush 43 legacy?
-posted by Craig