By Andrellos Mitchell
I have been a lawyer for nearly 29 years and a member of the Washington, D.C. Bar for 22 years. I have also been an active member of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 1996. I have practiced law in that court in the Bankruptcy and Civil Divisions. If memory serves me correctly, I was also an intern at the D.C. Public Defender Service when Judge Tanya S. Chutkan – the judge presiding over the 45th president, Donald Trump’s trial – was an attorney there.
Recently, Judge Chutkan has been attacked by my fellow conservatives. As usual, when White and/or secular Jewish critics on both sides of the aisle don’t like a Black person they attack their intelligence, experience or qualifications. While the judge has made some missteps, I don’t like this one bit and feel a need to call it out.
On Sept. 11, 2023, Trump filed a motion asking Chutkan to recuse herself from his federal election obstruction case. The motion essentially argues that prior statements made by Judge Chutkan are evidence that she is biased and will not treat Trump fairly in his case.
Trump supporters have been making the case for bias for some time. On Sept. 10, 2023, on Mark Levin’s Fox News show “Life, Liberty, and Levin” he states: “I am here to make the case that Judge Tanya Chutkan is unqualified as a federal judge to handle the Jan. 6th case and is, in fact, unqualified to be a judge of any kind.”
Levin, another lawyer who isn’t a lawyer but a talking head, attacks a Black woman who is highly qualified to be a judge. Unlike many of former president Barack Obama’s judicial appointees, Chutkan had practiced law for a good number of years. Attacks on her experience, education and qualifications are offensive and smell like racism—and that’s coming from a two-time Donald Trump voter.
Even before TV commentators started openly attacking Chutkan, politicians expressed their concerns about the judge’s ability to be fair.
As reported by Newsweek Congressman Matt Gaetz recently accused Chutkan of political bias. Gaetz said, “Judge Tanya Chutkan’s extreme sentencing of Jan. 6th defendants, while openly supporting the violent Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, showcases a complete disregard for her duty of impartiality and the rule of law. Justice may be blind, but the American people are not—we see Judge Chutkan for her actions, and we rebuke them in the greatest possible sense,” he said.
Chutkan has rejected a comparison of the rioters involved in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol to demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020.
“People gathered all over the country last year to protest the violent murder by the police of an unarmed man. Some of those protesters became violent,” Chutkan wrote in October 2021, according to Newsweek.
“But to compare the actions of people protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights, to those of a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government is a false equivalency and ignores a very real danger that the Jan. 6 riot posed to the foundation of our democracy,” she added.
Chutkan’s statement comparing the Jan. 6 rioters to the George Floyd rioters was unnecessary and, arguably, is cause for concern. She recognizes that people protesting Floyd’s death were “mostly peaceful.” However, this statement suggests that everyone or mostly everyone protesting at the Capitol was engaged in violent criminal activity. There were many people at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, who did not attack police officers, did not enter the U.S. Capitol; and many who entered the Capitol were peaceful.
Another point Gaetz alludes to are reports that Chutkan has given harsher sentences to defendants convicted for their actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 unrest than prosecutors have requested. When I read this, I thought, how could a former Public Defender Services (PDS) lawyer do this? Going beyond the punishment that the government seeks arguably shows that she has some bias against Jan. 6 protesters, rioters, or whatever you want to call them.
Reports that Chutkan is being unfair to Donald Trump is cause for concern. This is especially true since the judge is a former public defender. If I remember correctly, Chutkan was at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia when I was in my last semester of law school working as an intern. She was a tall, smart, attractive woman, with a quick smile.
At PDS, when my supervisor and mentor, Sharon Styles wasn’t lecturing me about how to cut and paste motions to save time, she was lecturing me about fairness in the legal process and how prosecutors always overcharged and had almost unlimited resources, while defense lawyers had to fight just to get a fair conviction. At the Defense Bar, it’s about fairness to the defendant. Is Donald Trump going to be treated fairly in the legal process?
The jury selection process is the most critical thing in Trump’s case, but even if the jury selected isn’t fair, the judge has got to be fair. Hopefully, Chutkan will remember the virtues she had as a defense attorney. It’s not about who the defendant is. It’s about fairness to the defendant in the legal process.
While Congressman Gaetz does give some very good anecdotal references to potential bias against Donald Trump, based on Chutkan’s own comments, I don’t think it means the judge won’t treat Donald Trump fairly in his case before her.
From what I’ve read, Chutkan had practiced law for at least 20 years and was very qualified when nominated to the bench. I think she can be fair, and apparently the United States Senate thought so too. That’s why she was unanimously confirmed to her judgeship in a 95-0 vote by the Senate 2014.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is not a place for theatrics or cameras. It has a very solemn feel about it. The judges usually go out of their way to seem impartial. I think Judge Chutkan would do well to remember this.
Finally, there is much debate in legal circles about limiting Trump’s freedom of speech during the process of his trial. No doubt, Trump needs to stop talking so much. However, just so there won’t be any further allegations of bias against the former president, perhaps Chutkan should also follow her own advice on limiting discussions about the case before her.