Given the stakes involved, a judge’s criminal docket should always be a top priority. Someone’s liberty hangs in the balance. At the very least.
So how far behind can a federal judge get? According to a team of investigative journalists in Cincinnati, Judge Timothy Black of the Southern District of Ohio is so backed up he’s still got a dead guy on his docket and he’s just now ruling on inmate COVID release petitions filed in 2020.
One client, Frank Frazier, waited more than five years for a sentencing hearing.
And another, Abdullah Luqman, died nearly a year ago but his criminal charge for selling fake luxury sneakers and sunglasses still appears as an open and active case on Black’s docket. This despite an attorney filing his death certificate and notice with the court in November.
While that’s pretty extreme, at least the deceased isn’t necessarily suffering by lingering on the docket. Unlike the inmates who petitioned for early release during the pandemic, citing existing health issues. Judge Black let those motions sit on the docket until December 2023. In fact, of the 15 release motions Black ruled on in December, “all but one had been outstanding for at least 22 months and most for three years or longer.”
One motion concluded with “Moreover, COVID-19 appears to be well-controlled at defendant’s current facility … as of December 20, 2023, there were no active cases.” This motion was filed in December 2020. This language was repeated on other tardy denials.
Some of the denials issued in December 2023 dealt with prisons that “had already released inmates months or years prior.”
One inmate moved to replace his attorney in June 2023, believing that only inadequate representation could cause such a delay:
“It was so bad that the gentleman couldn’t believe it was the judge’s fault,” [Ohio Innocence Project Co-Founder Bill] Gallagher said. “In fact, he blamed the lawyer and threatened to have the lawyer disciplined because the only thing in this inmate’s mind was – ‘no judge acts like this, it has to be the lawyer’s fault.’ And it wasn’t.”
And, obviously, the crisis level of the pandemic has passed at this point, but judges can’t just sit on motions until they’re moot.
The Federal Circuit has — probably illegally — pocket impeached Judge Newman for falling behind on work and she’s deciding infringement spats over non-nutritive cereal varnishes, not whether or not people die in prison. If the Federal Circuit thinks it can do that, the Sixth Circuit can at least have Judge Black’s delinquent matters reassigned until he can catch up.
‘I simply cannot wait any longer. I am dying’: Inmate waits 3+ years for judge to rule on COVID early release [WCPO]
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.