Federal Judges are chosen by the turn of a wheel, literally. After an individual is indicted or charged with a crime, they are arraigned in the magistrate court. At the arraignment, they enter a plea of not guilty to the criminal charges. The magistrate judge or his clerk then spin a wheel (or look through a stack of cards or do something on their computer) and a judge is “randomly” selected. Although sometimes it is curious that the same judge ends up being “randomly” assigned to all of the complex cases involving certain issues. One Judge in our court seems to get all of the large gang cases in that court because he has a special expertise in dealing with these cases and the individuals involved.
The New York Times recently reported that this very same “turn of the wheel” will determine which judge will preside over the highly controversial trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of the alleged terrorists involved with the attacks of September 11, 2001. This trial will last years and will require the judge to have security around the clock, most likely for the rest of his life. It is actuallly quite common for any judge presiding over any case involving cases with allegations of extreme violence and life or death sentences.
This “turn of the wheel” changes the course of the judges life as well as the lives of the individuals whose cases are assigned to the particular judge. There is a moment in every federal arraignment when the defense attorney holds his or her breath while waiting to learn which judge has been assigned to their case. The whole ethos of the case is determined why which judge will preside not to mention the rulings on bail issues, motions involving the defendants’ constitutional rights, and the potential sentences imposed. This flies in the face of what we are taught to expect about equal protection. That fundamental right does not just deal with civil rights but the administration of justice as well. Should this “random” act have so much weight in the lives of those affected?