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Judge Hogan Resigns from Simon Trinidad Case
Paul Wolf / Monday 26 March 2007

In an astonishing, and somewhat puzzling development, Thomas Hogan, Chief Judge of the District Court for the District of Columbia ( Washington , DC ) recused himself today from the trial of Simon Trinidad, under pressure from Trinidad ’s attorneys. The move came after it was revealed that Judge Hogan had had ex parte dealings with the prosecutors in the case, something forbidden in the American legal system.

In our system, if one party to a case communicates with the judge, the other side has a right to know about the communication, and also to present its side of the story at the same time. What happened here was that after Trinidad’s first trial, the prosecutors wrote a sealed (secret) motion to the Judge, requesting the judge’s permission to interview jurors to find out their reasons for not convicting Trinidad . The judge approved the motion, and the prosecutors called the jury foreman to find out what had occurred behind closed doors.

Calling the lead juror was not the problem. The problem was that neither the prosecutor nor the judge told the defense what was going on. While the actual benefit to the prosecutor from this phone call may have been insignificant, the legal issue was that the prosecutor and judge were working together behind the back of the defense attorneys. In our adversarial system, the prosecutor and judge are supposed to be independent, and this is not supposed to occur.

Judge Hogan was careful to explain that he had done nothing wrong, and other cases involving ex parte communications were far more serious that what he had done. Nevertheless, he said, he was resigning because of the intense public interest in the case. He said that he did not want the Colombian people to think that Simon Trinidad was not getting a fair trial, so for the sake of preserving the reputation of the US justice system, he had decided to resign.

Or course, this is not the only interpretation of what just happened.

Another is that there was so much cheating going on, the prosecutor was simply unable to keep track of it. Last week, while arguing that the defense was trying to "politicize" the case, Ken Kohl, the lead prosecutor in the case, referred to the ex parte interview of the jury foreman. For Kohl, this was a fatal mistake. Not only Mr. Kohl, but the judge himself was caught breaking the rules.

Yet this was only an example. Far more significant, in my opinion, were the false witnesses presented in the first trial (Maryanne Arango the reinsertado, for example) and Judge Hogan’s evidentiary rulings limiting Simon Trinidad’s defense. There was every indication, from the pre-trial conference, that Simon Trinidad’s testimony would have been leven more limited in his next trial, and witnesses like Imelda Daza Cotes wouldn’t have been permitted to testify.

So, it’s another dramatic victory for Simon Trinidad. I have no doubt that the prosecutors will continue to pursue him, prosecuting him over and over again for a crime he did not commit. At least until something breaks loose on the prisoner exchange front. When the US government finally agrees to it, Simon Trinidad will be the key to rescuing the 3 northamericans, as well as the others. The way things are going, it seems only a matter of time.

And I think Simon Trinidad would make an excellent negotiator for a prisoner exchange, and whatever may come next. I hope he can be restored to that role. With all of this fame he has acquired, he would have a unique ability to make it happen.

One final note. The police did not bother the protesters after all. Four members of the MPD were there, sheepishly doing their duty. Whoever the five threatening agencies were, they were nowhere in sight. Today was a great day for justice, and even the FARC’s worst enemies should agree that any Colombian deserves a fair trial, free from the corruption all too familiar in the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Republica.