The Right Stuff...
“I’m interested in your thoughts on Judge Walton,” I said. He just smiled and walked away. Two years ago, Libby was a master of the universe, helping to run the government as Vice President Dick Cheney’s top assistant; now he’s in the dock in Courtroom 16 on charges of lying under oath to a grand jury investigating who might have leaked the name of a spy.
But I wasn’t all that interested in Libby or the leak case we have come to know as Plamegate, or the roster of Washington media celebrities who have been called to the witness stand in the past few weeks. I came to see presiding U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in action.
How would he handle high-powered prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and high-priced defense attorney Ted Wells? Would he favor Bush officials? He was chief crime adviser in the first Bush White House in 1991; President George Bush appointed him to the federal bench in 2001. Would he let Libby slide? Would he become our version of Judge Lance Ito, who allowed the O.J. Simpson trial to become a media circus?
No way. Walton has ruled against Libby on numerous occasions. He has run the case with patience, precision, fairness and even warmth. As for the Ito example, Walton denied a motion to allow reporters not directly involved in the case to testify because it might bring in “O.J.-type of evidence.”
Walton qualifies as a Washingtonian. Born in 1949 in the steel town of Donora, Pa., Walton came up tough and survived teenaged brushes with the law. He first came to Washington in 1971 to take classes at Howard Law School and got a law degree at American University. Except for a short stint as a prosecutor in Philadelphia, he’s been here ever since, as a prosecutor, appointee and judge on the Superior Court and federal benches.
“He’s a tough sentencer,” NPR legal reporter Nina Totenberg told me. “He doesn’t put up with a lot of claptrap.” For instance, Libby’s lawyers led the judge and prosecutors to believe Libby would take the stand. They changed course. They then asked Walton to let others testify about how busy Libby had been during the time of the leak, to show how he might have forgotten what he said, rather than having lied.
You can’t “play coy,” Walton said, by offering Libby then pulling him. “It’s become too much of a game now; it’s supposed to be finding the truth. It’s not fair. I won’t permit it.”
Libby’s lawyer suggested Walton was violating his client’s constitutional rights.
“If I get reversed on that one,” Walton said, “I guess I’ll have to hang up my spurs.”
That would be a shame. Washington would lose the one hero in the sordid Libby affair.
Labels: Judge Reggie Walton