Judge Faces Sanctions
by Melissa Bailey | Jul 31, 2012 8:27 am
Posted to: Legal Writes, State
“Admit,” Judge William Holden said three times.
He wasn’t coaxing a plea from a defendant. He was entering his own plea for tardy decision-writing that held up a prisoner’s appeal for years.
Holden made the admission in an appearance before the Judicial Review Council earlier this month. Holden admitted to three charges of judicial misconduct stemming from a two-year delay in writing a decision.
Holden, who’s 63, is a 16-year veteran judge currently sitting in state Superior Court in New Haven. He now faces sentencing on Sept. 5 at 11 a.m., when the panel can admonish, censure, suspend or fire him.
The charges came in response to a handwritten letter from Christopher Shaw, who was convicted of sex assault before Judge Holden in Superior Court on Church Street in New Haven. Shaw is serving 15 years in prison at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown. The Judicial Review Council, a 14-member panel of attorneys, judges and members of the public, received his letter on March 28 and launched an investigation. The panel held a probable cause hearing on May 16 and found Holden guilty on three charges related to “failing to answer in a timely manner” a motion Shaw filed in court.
Click here to read Shaw’s complaint as well as the charges the committee came up with.
Holden showed up on July 18 at the Legislative Office Building at the state Capitol for a disciplinary hearing. It was a rare occasion: Since 1989, only 10 judges have been sanctioned after hearings before the state Judicial Review Council, according to Thomas Scheffey at the Connecticut Law Tribune, who covered Holden’s hearing.
“Admit,” said Holden three times, as Scott Murphy, executive director of the Judicial Review Council, read the charges against him.
Holden declined comment for this story and his lawyer, Willie Dow III, is away on vacation until Aug. 20 and was not available for comment.
CT-N captured the hearing on video: Click on the play arrow for highlights, and click here for the full, 22-minute segment.
Holden admitted to violating Section 51-51i(a)(4) of the Connecticut General Statutes; Canon 3(a)(5) of the Code of Judicial Conduct; and Rule 2.5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, all for his tardy response to a motion filed by Shaw.
Shaw, who was born in 1980, pleaded not guilty to sex assault charges stemming from a 2006 arrest. Judge Holden heard his case in 2008, ending with a guilty verdict on June 6, 2008. Shaw appealed the conviction in August of that year. On June 26, 2009, Shaw’s attorney filed a “motion for articulation” asking Judge Holden to clarify the basis for the conviction, thereby preserving the record for the appeal.
Until Holden responded to the motion, Shaw could not proceed with an appeal. Despite three reminders, Holden failed to respond to the motion until July 7, 2011, over two years after the initial request.
“To my [detriment] the court has unfairly delayed my appeal by 2 years,” Shaw wrote in the handwritten letter received by the Judicial Review Council on March 28. Shaw remains in jail and his appeal is still pending.
The Judicial Review Council investigated the claims and found Holden guilty of “failing to answer in a timely manner” the motion for articulation, thereby “neglectfully performing the duties of a judge”; “failing to dispose promptly of the business of the court”; and “failing to perform his judicial duties competently and diligently.”
Through its probe, the council determined that Shaw wasn’t the only one complaining of Holden’s tardiness.
“Once we opened our investigation,” the council found three instances “of other defendants who found themselves in the same situation,” said Chairman Wayne Keeney in an interview last week. Those instances did not result in charges but may be a factor in Holden’s sentencing, Keeney said.
Director Murphy sent a letter to Holden on May 16 outlining three charges against him. He picked up the letter on May 25, according to Murphy.
When Holden showed up to his July 18 disciplinary hearing before the council, he faced another tardiness-related problem: His lawyer was not ready to defend the case.
Holden arrived with a top New Haven criminal defense attorney, Willie Dow III, by his side. Dow (pictured), who had apparently been retained shortly before that hearing, asked the council to delay resolving the case while he took the time to investigate.
Dow acknowledged his request for more time was a long shot, given the fact that the whole case centers on tardiness.
“The instinct is going to be, ‘Where was Holden May 17? He should have picked up Dow then’” instead of waiting until the last minute, Dow conceded.
The council refused to grant the delay. Holden agreed to proceed. He admitted to all three charges.
Nominated by former Gov. John Rowland, Holden became a Superior Court judge in 1996. Born in Arkansas, he grew up in Connecticut from the age of 2, graduated from West Haven High School, and earned a law degree at Southern University in 1979. He returned to Connecticut after law school and served as a public defender for over a decade, according to a transcript of his confirmation hearing.
In the hearing room before the Judicial Review Council, Holden found himself on the other side of the questions he has asked defendants for years.
“Have you been forced or threatened in any manner to make these admissions?” Chairman Keeney asked him.
“Forced, threatened in any manner? No, I haven’t,” Judge Holden replied.
Keeney, a Bridgeport-based criminal defense attorney, said that the council has made no promises about the disposition of the case in return for the judge’s plea.
Judge Holden will get the chance to make his case for mitigating factors at his Sept. 5 sentencing. The panel will then choose a sanction from a wide range of options: It can admonish, censure, or suspend the judge or remove him from office.
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Judge Holden is a nice man and very knowledgeable about criminal law, but he is famous for his total inability to meet deadlines. If you think that Mr. Shaw’s appeal problem is the only one, try getting a civil case opinion from the man. It is guaranteed to be released on the last day he is allowed, or, at least as likely, well past then. Somebody needs to tell Judge Holden to start managing his calendar better, especially when a person’s potential liberty is at stake.