I never expected to write anything like this, but the federal judge in the Alex Sanchez case, Manuel Real, is even worse than Judge Julius Hoffman, who presided over the 1969 Chicago conspiracy trial in which I was a defendant.
Such a judgment, I realize, disqualifies me from being taken seriously as a reporter in some circles, but somebody has to say it. Alex Sanchez simply has zero chance of either bail or a fair trial as long as his case is before Judge Real. The evidence follows.
The comparisons between the two cases are instructive. Judge Hoffman was known as Chicago’s “hanging judge” among trial lawyers who feared his wrath if they dared to complain. Hoffman was protected by the silence of the bar until the Chicago conspiracy trial, when East Coast lawyers like William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, came to town. The conspiracy defendants and their lawyers stood up, incurring 159 contempt citations from the irascible judge during an eleven-month trial. In the end, however, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found the judge and prosecutors guilty of prejudicial misconduct, and rejected the verdicts.
There are enormous differences between the Chicago defendants and Alex Sanchez, the 37-year-old former gang member and founder of Homies Unidos, indicted in a federal racketeering conspiracy in Los Angeles. Sanchez is a Salvadoran immigrant with a gang background. The Chicago defendants included one Black Panther and seven antiwar activists with a mass following around the country. The Sanchez trial has attracted little press coverage. The Chicago trial made the nightly television news with regularity. Alex Sanchez is an indigent defendant with a court-appointed lawyer, while the Chicago lawyers and defendants became rock stars.
The background of the two cases is equally significant. In Chicago, the government wanted to curtail freedom of militant dissent against the Vietnam War, racism and repression; the Los Angeles case is about the federal government’s global war on gangs which, despite its failures, has left America with a gulag of more inmates than any country in the world.
Enter Judge Manuel Real, the contemporary Judge Hoffman. Both judges are of similar age (Real is 85; Hoffman was 74 in 1969), but their advanced years are irrelevant. It is the insulated tenure that ossifies with the passage of decades. Real has overseen at least 35,000 cases during a forty-year period. Virtually every lawyer in the Los Angeles federal courts is aware of his often bizarre and imperious behavior, but few if any ever speak out.
Researchers calculate that that Real’s reversal rate on appeal is often ten times the average among his federal counterparts.
On at least ten occasions, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reinstated jury verdicts against Real and ordered different judges to take over the proceedings, an unprecedented record. The judicial council of the Ninth Circuit last year examined eighty-nine cases in which Real’s conduct was protested, concluding that his behavior was problematic but not “willful” enough to be sanctioned. The panel instead warned Real to be “especially vigilant” in the future, a warning that many defendants would appreciate.