Review finds judge showed no bias

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ATLANTA — Prosecutors say they have found no evidence that mental impairment or racial bias affected any cases handled by a disgraced judge who was sent to prison for buying drugs with a stripper, ending the U.S. Attorney office’s review of the ex-jurist’s legal decisions.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said her office reached that conclusion after examining the cases of 29 defendants who asked for the review after former U.S. District Judge Jack Camp was arrested in October 2010. Camp, who resigned from the bench, was sentenced to 30 days in prison in March 2011 after pleading guilty to drug-related charges.

Yates called for the review after witnesses interviewed as part of the federal investigation into Camp suggested he had a racial bias, and Camp admitted in court
filings that a 2000 bicycling accident caused brain damage and led him to use drugs.

“I hope that this demonstrates to citizens we serve that we are committed to justice, not to convictions,” Yates said this week. “When you have a situation that strikes at the heart of our justice system, we have to do everything we can to assure that the public has confidence in the system.”

Camp, who has been out of prison for about a year, said in a statement to
The Associated Press that he felt vindicated by the review.

“Today, the U.S. Attorney has publicly confirmed what I never doubted throughout this ordeal,” he said. “I am pleased the report vindicates that my decisions were fair, impartial, and true to the law. Just as drug tests by the government had already shown no controlled substances, the report further confirms the fact that my work as a judge was never affected by drugs.”

Camp was 67 when he was arrested in a suburban Atlanta parking lot on Oct. 1 after he handed the stripper $160 to buy drugs from an undercover officer, according to court documents. The stripper was secretly cooperating with authorities.

The married judge, who has two grown children, pleaded guilty soon after his arrest to buying drugs for the stripper, possessing illegal drugs and giving the woman his $825 government-issued laptop. The former judge apologized at the March 2011 sentencing, saying he wanted to pay the debt he owed to society and rebuild his reputation.

Yates recused her office from the criminal case against Camp, but knew her office would need to deal with appeals filed by defendants who believed they were unfairly treated by the judge.

Yates said she decided her office would not object to any requests by any defendant sentenced by Camp between March 2010 and September 2010 — when Camp was believed to have been using drugs — for a new sentencing hearing with a different judge.

Of the 12 defendants who did so, six received the same sentence Camp had imposed, and five others’ sentences were reduced. Two of those were reduced when the new judge accepted a request from prosecutors that Camp had rejected to reduce the sentence because the defendants cooperated with authorities. One case is still pending.

It’s not unusual for a sentence to be reduced when the details of the case are heard by another judge.

In one case, U.S. District Judge Owen Forrester reduced Harold Wardlaw’s sentence for bank fraud from 145 months to 120 months. Wardlaw’s attorneys argued that his original sentence was “distorted” and failed to account for charitable giving in his past.

Another case involved former professional wrestler “Hardbody” Harrison Norris, who was initially sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of leading a sex trafficking ring. His sentence was reduced to 35 years behind bars in December 2010 by another judge, after he argued the sentence was “grossly disproportionate” to those convicted of other crimes.

As more details of the Camp investigation surfaced, Yates had to consider expanding her office’s review.

Court filings in the case outlined Camp’s decades-long battle with depression and he blamed brain damage he suffered after the 2000 accident for his eventual dalliance with the stripper. Yates also said the investigation uncovered evidence of a possible bias: One witness told investigators Camp said it was difficult sentencing black men because they reminded him of someone he didn’t like, and another witness said Camp once used a racial slur to describe the same man.

Because of those two factors, Yates decided her office would consider reviews for the hundreds of cases that Camp heard during his 22-year career on the bench.

“We recognize that feelings of racial bias don’t arise overnight,” she said. “We felt it was important to tell any defendant who went before Camp that we would hear their case regardless of when it happened.”

Twenty-nine defendants made the request, and Yates assigned a team of 25 attorneys to review the cases. They spent hundreds of hours reading the trial transcripts, vetting motions and reviewing court filings. Each filled out a nine-page form with details about the case, detailing any potential problems with Camp’s decisions and issues regarding the “fairness or integrity of the judicial process.”

The attorneys went to great lengths to document anything out of the ordinary involving each case, even noting when Camp, who was known as a temperamental jurist, became cranky, lost his train of thought or forgot the name of an attorney trying the case.

“We wanted to go beyond that to see if something had gone amiss here — was there anything that would reflect a racial bias or that he was impaired?” Yates said. “Did anything look out of whack to us, even if it was legally defensible?”

Prosecutors found that of the 23 black defendants who requested the review, 10 received sentences at the lower end of the guideline range, eight were near the middle to high end and three more defendants were actually sentenced below what the range suggested. One other defendant was given life in prison because the law required it based on his prior convictions. The last case, involving a 1993 bank robbery conviction, fell within the guideline range but records didn’t indicate where.

Of the six remaining cases, five involved white defendants and one involved a Hispanic defendant. The review found that Camp sentenced two of those defendants to stiffer sentences than the guidelines suggested, one was sentenced near the middle of the guideline range, one was sentenced below the range and one is still pending. The records from the final case, which took place in 1996, haven’t arrived at the office yet.

Yates said the review brings an end to her office’s vetting of the case.

“This closes this chapter. It’s been a very difficult and troubling chapter for everyone,” she said. “But it’s something for us to be mindful of to make sure that the public be treated fairly.”

Meanwhile, other cases involving Camp are still pending.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering an appeal by Rolando Martinez. He wants the court to review his drug trafficking conviction on grounds that prosecutors shouldn’t have allowed his case to be tried before Camp because they knew he was using illegal drugs. Camp declared a mistrial in Martinez’s case a day before his arrest because of a hung jury, and the defendant was later convicted in a trial before another judge.

And several civil cases are pending, too, including a lawsuit filed by attorneys from a now-shuttered strip club. They contend Camp should have recused himself from the club’s case because his personal experience put him too close to the debate.

But it won’t be easy to persuade the judges to overturn Camp’s decisions. At the March hearing involving the strip club’s challenge, a veteran judge suggested Camp’s out-of-court activities don’t necessarily merit a do-over.

“We have an unusual circumstance and we are very concerned,” said Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson. “But we haven’t just canceled out what Judge Camp has done for months and months nor do we see a reason to do so.”

Camp, for his part, said he’s moving on from the “dark chapter” in his life.

“I deeply appreciate the encouragement offered by friends both near and far as I have come to terms with my mistakes, learned to manage my condition, and begun to forge a meaningful path toward the future,” he said in the statement.


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