Thousands of Defendants Get Short Shrift Where Justice Is Swift
It should come as no real surprise that courtrooms along the border of the U.S. and Mexico are bustling environments. But a new report sheds light on the zeal and speed with which some judges wield their gavels, convicting defendants at the rate of 20 times the average U.S. federal district judge in some cases.
Out of 917 federal district criminal court judges across the country with workloads at minimum of at least 50 defendants, the new report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, shows that the average judge convicted a few hundred cases over the past five years, while that busy bunch on the bench down south—47 justices, to be exact—convicted more than 1,000 each.
The busiest justice of them all, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack from Las Cruces in the District of New Mexico, topped the list with 6,858 convictions, 85% of which were for immigration offenses, according to TRAC. Brack has earned the distinction as the nation’s busiest jurist, by The Wall Street Journal, which did a profile on him in 2015. At that point, Brack had convicted just over 7,000 defendants at an average of 100 a month, from October 2006 to July 2012. So, he’s been this busy for more than a decade at least.
Brack is retiring in July after 15 years on the bench, mostly dealing with illegal migrant workers, not violent criminals. Here’s a quote from his local paper when he was awarded the first-ever Distinguished Resident in 2015, when the Las Cruces Sun-News wanted to “recognize somebody whose work made a significant impact in its community.:”
“Brack said the defendants he sees are no different than the immigrants who have come to America for generations—‘and they’re doing what we’ve allowed, and at times encouraged, and at times asked them to come here and do—which is to help us with our labor needs. I really do have a lot of empathy for the people that I see because I’m a husband and a dad myself. I’d like to think that I have the same courage and determination that they display in coming here to provide a better life for their families’.”
And yet he still split up families, sometimes sending mothers back across the border leaving their children behind here in the U.S.
In second place on this list is U.S. District Judge Alia Moses of the Western District of Texas from the Fifth Circuit Court in Del Rio. In the past five years, she sentenced 5,135 defendants. Moses—with 16 years on the bench—has dealt with a variety of cases, including murder and other violent crimes, in her court, but it’s still difficult to explain her rapid sentencing rate.
To see how she and Brack reach these staggering figures, let’s do some math. Going back to that write-up on Brack by his hometown paper, it said that on average, a U.S. district judge hears about 100 cases a year, while Brack was able to squeeze in 18 before lunch and another 18 after lunch. So, he would have heard, and assumingly sentenced in one day, about one-third of the cases a typical U.S. district judge hears annually.
In third place on the list was U.S. District Judge Kenneth John Gonzales, who sits with Judge Brack in the Las Cruces courthouse. Gonzales sentenced 4,668 defendants. Together, the duo convicted more than 11,500 people in five years.
There was one geographic outlier on the list, a judge from Iowa. U.S. District Judge Linda R. Reade sentenced a total of 1,070 defendants from her courthouse in Cedar Rapids in the Northern District of Iowa. She served as chief judge until she retired last October.
But she also has a reputation for infamously turning an Iowa fairground into a courthouse so she could put hundreds of immigrants behind bars over the course of just nine days in 2008 in what was the biggest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history at the time. Her husband, who owned stock in two private prison companies, purchased additional private prison stock five days before the raid happened.