Washington Merry-Go-Round

12/17/2010
By Craig

“Who’s on First?  What’s on Second?”

It’s a feature of DC Superior Court, and perhaps with other jurisdictions for all we know, that judicial calendars rotate annually.  Stick around these parts long enough and you get to see this play out more than once.

A year ago at this time, defense counsel and the government were filing motions and responses over whether to keep Judge Frederick Weisberg attached to the criminal case, ahead of that impending flip. 

Judge Michael L. Rankin: Front row on right

In November 2009, defense filed a Joint Motion for Special Assignment to keep Carter appointee, Weisberg on the case.  A few weeks later, AUSA Glenn Kirschner responded and opposed, basically telling Weisberg, “We’re just not that into you.” 

The decision rested with Chief Judge Lee Satterfield and on December 15, 2009, he denied the defense motion, clearing the way for Judge Lynn Leibovitz to take the spotlight and center stage.  Wasting no time, she presided over her first status hearing a month later.

Yesterday it became official.  DC Superior Court published the new list of 2011 assignments and taking over Judge Brook Hedge’s Civil 2, Calendar 7, upon her (semi?) retirement is one her colleagues  But it’s not as simple as it looks.

Hedge has had the reins on this case from the earliest days.  On the same day the complaint was filed, November 25, 2008, the case was assigned to her.  For the most part, the Wone wrongful death case has been an easy lift for her.  The first scheduling status hearing set for February 2009 was vacated in conjunction with the stay she granted the defense.

Nothing transpired until September 2009, when at another status she set a loose schedule going forward – discovery and deposition deadlines upon the criminal verdict.  It wasn’t until a year later that she again turned her attention to the case, lifting the stay just days after the verdict and presiding over the September 16, 2010 status.  She managed another procedural hearing last week, and while making no mention of her possible departure, it appears she will transition to senior status on the Moultrie bench, a ‘backup’ judge in the Civil Division.

"Screaming (Legal) Eagles"

Now the portfolio of her cases on the 2010 Civil 2 calendar goes to Associate Judge Michael L. Rankin.  After graduating Howard Law in 1970, Rankin served in Vietnam with the Amry’s 101st Airborne JAG. 

He was an AUSA for DC and was Deputy Chief of the Felony Trial Division before being appointed to Superior Court by Reagan in 1986.

Rankin looks likely, but not so fast.  There remains a slim chance that the complex Wone case may end up in the lap of another set of robes. 

Superior Court’s civil cases are divvied up as follows:

Civil 1 cases are asbestos cases, toxic mass torts and other more complex civil cases (added to the civil 1 calendar by motion). [Emphasis ours].

Civil 2 cases are all other civil cases, except for those under $5000 which go to the small claims court.

The Hedge – Rankin swap is for a Civil 2 calendar and while the Wone case hasn’t up until now been exceedingly complicated, it’s possible that due to the expected number of motions, extensive discovery and 4-6 week trial length, it could be considered ‘complex’ as it moves forward, and given to a Civil 1 judge.  Let’s go to the rulebook, the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure:

Rule 40-II. Certification and assignment of cases to Civil I Calendars.

(a) Designation of Civil I cases. — All cases involving claims for relief based upon exposure to asbestos or asbestos products shall be designated to a Civil I calendar.  All other cases, if assigned to a specific calendar or a single judge pursuant to Rule 40-I(a), may be designated to a Civil I calendar upon motion by any party or joint motion of the parties, subject to approval by the judge assigned to the case and by the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division, or cases may be so designated upon recommendation of the assigned judge sua sponte if the designation is approved by the Presiding Judge.

(b) Factors considered. — In certifying a case to a Civil I calendar, the Presiding Judge may consider the estimated length of trial, the number of witnesses that may appear, the number of exhibits that may be introduced, the nature of the factual and legal issues involved, the extent to which discovery may require supervision by the Court, the number of motions that may be filed in the case, or any other relevant factors.

(c) Distribution of Civil I cases. — The Presiding Judge shall assign cases designated to a Civil I calendar on a rotational basis.

(d) Assignment to judge. — All proceedings in a case after its assignment to a Civil I calendar shall be scheduled and conducted by the judge to whom the case is assigned, except as otherwise provided in these Rules. Upon the termination of an assignment of a judge to a Civil I calendar, the Chief Judge or the Presiding Judge shall designate the judge or judges to whom the cases on the calendar of the former Civil I judge shall be reassigned.

Judge Burgess, on left

It’s possible that attorneys could file a motion to have the case transferred to one of the two Civil 1 calendars, but that requires Rankin to sign off, granting that motion.  Rankin too, has the option to suggest the Wone case gets kicked up to Civil 1. 

That could once again require Satterfield to step up and give it the thumbs up or down.  It’s unclear that if Rankin requests the case transfer to Civil 1, what say either the plaintiff or defense counsel have in the matter.

Judge Greene

If the case moves to Civil 1, two Superior Court Associate Judges could inherit it: the veteran A. Franklin Burgess (Exeter, Princeton, Harvard Law – A 1983 Reagan appointee) or the younger Natalia Combs Greene (Los Angeles High School, UC Santa Cruz, Howard Law - a 1998 Clinton appointee).  

There’s time to work this all out, but not that much time.  Voir Dire starts exactly ten month from this morning,

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19 Responses to “ Washington Merry-Go-Round ”

  1. denton on 12/17/2010 at 11:06 PM

    While Washington is shuffling the Judgeship designation, I hope Cat (from Cleveland) is not too heavily shuffling snow up near the lake. Are you alright, Cat? The “new list of 2011 assignments” that has Judge Hedge in italics as a “senior judge” to cover as a “Civil backup” in “domestic violence,” is it possible that Hedge has already “submitted” and waiting to be “considered, but not approved yet” the “senior judge” status?

    • denton on 12/17/2010 at 11:44 PM

      Calculating within one (1) year of her retirement to “submit” a request for a recommendation for appointment as a senior judge to the Commission, plus within 180 days of receipt of the application to be reviewed and to be submitted a written report by the Commission to Chief Judge, plus within thirty (30) days for Chief Judge to make a “final decision” to her senior judge appointment — that was fast that Hedge has become a “senior judge” according to the 2011 assignments. OR, perhaps, the italics meant to propose her new “pending” status.

  2. susan on 12/17/2010 at 11:16 PM

    The names of senior judges are in italics (see note at the bottom):

    http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/docs/DCSC_Assignment_list_2011.pdf

  3. Clio on 12/18/2010 at 12:27 PM

    From the unflattering photo above, Judge Burgess seems like he’s ready for the grave, but I do love Judge Greene’s smart hair-do. So, on visuals alone, it must be Judge Greene, if there is to be a change.

    • Craig on 12/18/2010 at 10:14 PM

      Clio: In fairness to Judge Burgess, we didn’t have the best photos to work with. This one was from a DC Bar Association reception and those sort of party snapshots never turn out good. The Greene pic is from our old pal, sketch artist William Hennessey.

      • Clio on 12/18/2010 at 11:36 PM

        Understood, Craig. The talented Mr. Hennessey made even the defendants look good. Yet, Judge Rankin looks handsome above, without the air brushes of a sketch artist.

        BTW, Dyl must be spreading holiday cheer in the gateway to Latin America this season: he just recently received another rave review on MasseurFinder. Go figure!

        • Craig on 12/19/2010 at 1:15 PM

          Thanks for the heads up Clio. Rave review is right: “This was my best massage experience ever. I was drawn to this therapist firstly by his handsome pictures, but more so by his description of the experience. He is truly a gifted and caring man who gives his all to provide a healing touch. This was clear to me from the moment he touched me. His technique is awesome, and shows that he is well trained.

          I was in Miami for work, and I am so glad that I found him. Thank you for a PERFECT massage!”

          • Clio on 12/19/2010 at 2:22 PM

            Yes, Craig, the stress of the scandal and trials has not adversely affected the quality of Mr. Ward’s work. Multilingual Dylan seems poised to be a shaman of some sorts for the weary business traveler. His possession of “a healing touch” may make Needham proud after all!

            In what ways, though, is there a relationship between the knowledge of anatomy needed by first-rate masseurs, and this murder and cover-up? Inquiring minds still want to know!

        • susan on 12/19/2010 at 10:01 PM

          Season’s Greetings, Clio. What is the link for LD’s page? Have to wonder if the reviewer is named “Joe” or “Dylan.” Mean, isn’t that? It’s just too “PERFECT” a review. Then again, maybe if this is his only work gig he can put his all into it. But if he really is “a caring man who gives his all to provide a healing touch” then he should be giving his all to Ms. Wone and family and cut the pleading of the 5th for basic answers they are entitled too. Maybe cooperate with police a bit more and make up for all this time that it appears he hasn’t done so.

          • Clio on 12/21/2010 at 8:38 AM

            Susan, was the disengaged boarder of the Anacostia dialogues “a caring man who gives his all to provide a healing touch?” Sitting paralyzed on the couch that night may not have expressed (in the most accessible manner) Dyl’s deep kindness to a family friend stabbed to death in an adjoining bedroom.

            Then again, perhaps, Mr. Ward may have learned his shamanic arts in Thailand after the murder in part to atone for any sins of commission (or omission) that night.

  4. denton on 12/18/2010 at 1:24 PM

    Clio,

    The system failed to accept my post after you in “Murder Room.” Therefore, I start a new (my 3rd attempt) thread.

    There are appx. 100 “Cold Cases” in 2006 alone that were unresolved [the site did not accpet the link that I provided earlier]. There are, however, procedures that [again, another link] MPDC would have to follow according to its standard operating procedures.

    Also [the 3rd link that didn't go in], there is a “Patrol Service Area (PSA) 208 that is assigned to 1509 Swann Street geographic area to handle activities that occur around the blocks.

    There are also “PSA 208 Community Meeting” on every third Tuesday every month that the Chief (currently same Cathy Lanier) encourages public to sit down with officers and detectives on one-on-one to discuss anything.

    One of the purposes of this “community policing” is to get to know your officers and to work together to resolving crime in your own neighborhood. It has been a very effective program, and it still is.

    I, too, live in PSA 208 and it has been quite interesting to meet and greet my patrol officers and detectives in my own neighborhood. They also recognize me in a grocery store.

    • Clio on 12/18/2010 at 2:13 PM

      Thanks, Denton, for that valuable context.

      Then, Cathy with a C is bringing a caring, committed, and consensual to community policing: it’s just too bad that there are still a backlog of cold cases out there that need more than just greet-and-meet therapy sessions.

      • Clio on 12/18/2010 at 2:14 PM

        Oops, the above post should read “caring, committed, and consensual approach to community …”

  5. Doug on 12/19/2010 at 3:37 PM

    Craig: I just have to say how much I appreciate the title. “Washington Merry-Go-Round” by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson – hazy memories of a different time and different city.
    -Doug, co-ed

    • Clio on 12/19/2010 at 4:19 PM

      Amen, Doug.

      This post’s nostalgic and allusive title does raise the unanswerable question: What would Kay Graham and/or the Alsop brothers, let alone J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, think about this case and its trials?

      The merry-go-round of detectives, prosecutors, lawyers, police chiefs, judges, and mayors that have come and gone in reference to this murder since August 2, 2006 has been quite dizzying and distracting. Yet the switch from Fred to Lynn remains the only thread that managed to keep the Three Unwise “Men” out of the clink this Christmas. I do hope that they sent her a holiday card at the very least.

  6. susan on 12/19/2010 at 11:13 PM

    Is this nuevo? An espanol linkedIn page for Mr. Z? Isn’t he focusing on Milk in Latin America or somewhere? http://www.linkedin.com/pub/victor-zaborsky/0/618/7b1

    • Clio on 12/20/2010 at 9:23 AM

      Great find, Susan.

      Is this yet more evidence of the trouple’s desire to become cosmopolitan Floridians? Is it part of their attempt to stage a comeback from social disgrace? Redemption without confession, though, will probably not make one “come to Jesus,” Victor.

  7. Bruce on 12/20/2010 at 11:28 AM

    “Redemption without confession,” indeed, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, I mean Sister Clio.

    To actually see you channelling directly to Victor, has a holiness feel unsurpassed in our snuggly little blog, and may cause me to convert. But from what to what, is the question, is it not, Sister Clio?

    Where is my devilish minx, cara mia, Morticia, I mean Sister Clio? Ah, Mon cher.

    At the least, you do owe it to the congregation, please provide us all your preaching schedule, Sister Tammy Faye, I mean Siser Clio, so that we can go to your next pup tent “meeting.”

    • Clio on 12/20/2010 at 9:33 PM

      Brucina, darling, there is no need to flip your proverbial wig over my use of religious imagery and language, verbiage that may be more familiar to a Southern (to, say, even someone who once lived on Tulsa time) and thus less secular audience.

      Your allusion to the dreadful Aimee Semple McPherson is really a bridge too far, but I always loved Tammy Faye and her campy (and surprisingly gay-friendly) manner. So, per your last fleeting compliment, I’ll do up my face tomorrow in her special way.

      Absolutist defense attorneys also have their perverse faith of “every cop a criminal, every sinner a saint.” Of course, that’s not you, though. XO, Clio.

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Purpose of this Site

On August 2nd, 2006, Washington attorney Robert E. Wone was murdered at 1509 Swann Street. Over two years passed before any criminal charges were filed - and then only conspiracy, obstruction of justice and crime scene tampering charges were brought against the Swann Street housemates, all present in the home on the night of the murder: Joe Price, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky.

On May 17, 2010, a DC Superior Court trial got underway and all three defendants were all acquitted in that bench trial on those pending charges.

Nearly four years later, very little seems clear about what happened that night and who murdered Robert Wone. A cloud of suspicion remains over the Swann Street defendants who have denied any involvement in the murder of their friend or in the alleged cover up.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz found a moral certainty in their collective guilt, but not evidentiary certainty. Civil proceedings in a wrongful death suit filed by Robert's family is the next chapter in this tragic story.

We continue to work together seeking answers to the mystery of Robert Wone's murder and in finding justice for his memory and legacy.

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