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In the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, tradition requires that the outgoing chief judge hand over to the incoming chief judge a wooden plaque with the inscription “Illegitimi Non Carborundum.” It’s bad Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Last week, during a private dinner attended by the court’s judges and their spouses, Judge Thomas Hogan bequeathed the plaque to Judge Royce Lamberth, who, by all accounts, had been abiding its wisdom long before the plaque came to be in his possession. The no-nonsense Texan, who was appointed to the bench in 1987, officially took over as the court’s chief on May 1 in a brief but well-attended ceremony marking the event. In the more formal setting, Hogan presented Lamberth with the famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign that once sat atop President Harry Truman’s desk. (The Truman Presidential Library loaned it to him, Hogan said.) Commemorating the moment, Hogan declared: “I shall pass the buck.” As chief, Lamberth presides over all grand jury matters in the court. He has administrative authority over a $16 million budget and a staff of about 225, including the clerk’s office and the probation office. By statute, he also shares control of the court building — that is, the court opens and closes when he says so — with his friend David Sentelle, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who replaced Judge Douglas Ginsberg as chief in February. Incidentally, both courts are now headed by men who wear cowboy boots to work every day. �EYES OF TEXAS’ Whereas former prosecutors and lawyers describe Hogan as a soft-touch, Lamberth is euphemistically — but fondly — said to have a “strong personality.” Hogan, when asked about the men’s differences in style, points to previous chief judges like the late Aubrey Robinson Jr., who, needless to say, did not let the bastards grind him down. “He had a very strong personality, and he was a terrific chief judge,” Hogan says. “I think Royce is going to do a great job.” Some former prosecutors say Lamberth could rein in some of the more independent judges on the court, a plus for lawyers who practice in the court regularly. “Hogan has a gentle, quiet persuasion that is very effective in some situations,” says one former prosecutor now at a major law firm. “But each of the judges has their own procedural quirks that create problems for repeat players. A more controlling personality can really help move things along.” Lamberth says he plans to follow Hogan’s lights. That means everything from holding monthly meetings with U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer to drawing speakers to lunch with the judges. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Lamberth’s longtime friend, met with the judges in February, and Hogan says they’re trying to get Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip, a former federal judge himself, to come over once he’s settled into the Justice Department. Most recently, the judges heard from D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Richard Goldstone, a former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan snatched up Lamberth from the District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he was the chief of the civil division. He was the first assistant U.S. attorney here to be appointed directly to the bench. “He was a great civil division chief,” says Joseph diGenova, who was the District’s U.S. attorney from 1983 to 1988. “Royce knew how to run an administrative system. He was really superb at managing all the relationships.” Taylor says he expects no change in the office’s grand jury operations or its relationship with the chief judge. “He’ll run his courtroom as he always has, and when we are right about the law and the facts we will prevail,” Taylor says, “and when we aren’t, we know we will get a fair shake.” Just to be sure, Taylor says he’s encouraging his lawyers to memorize the lyrics to “Eyes of Texas,” the fight song of the University of Texas at Austin, Lamberth’s alma mater. LEAKY PIPES AND VACANCIES Lamberth, who turns 65 next month, could serve as chief until his 70th birthday. (Lamberth jokes that his wife is already lobbying him to cut his term short.) If he stuck it out, the next in line would be U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, who joined the court in 1998. Hogan’s nearly seven-year term was suffused with legal questions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Guant�namo Bay detainees’ habeas rights foremost among them. Another chunk of his time was spent working through the legal problems presented in the first-ever executive raid on a member of the legislative branch’s office. Hogan oversaw the construction of the courthouse annex, naming it after the late civil rights leader U.S. District Judge William Bryant. But his term was also pocked by a flood and a fire that chewed through three judges’ chambers in 2004. “It was like the plague,” Hogan says. No one can divine the legal issues that will define Lamberth’s tenure, but Hogan says the new chief will have to contend with four vacancies and a courthouse in need of improvements. Hogan, who turns 70 later this month, took senior status last week, though he says he plans on taking a near-full calendar now that he’s essentially lopped two jobs — his duties as chief and his post as the chairman of the Judicial Conference’s Executive Committee — off his schedule. But he says that it’s unlikely President George W. Bush will have the opportunity to fill the four vacancies before leaving, and the new president will need a period of adjustment before starting to fill the gaps. “You’re talking next summer, at the earliest,” he predicts. “That puts pressure on the other judges.” Lamberth says the issue is too political for him to attack frontally. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” he says. The E. Barrett Prettyman building suffers from 1950s-era steam pipes, which burst easily, and asbestos insulation. Currently, the old grand jury rooms on the third floor are being renovated to house the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The costs of modernizing the building have not been calculated, but Hogan puts the range at $100 million to $400 million. Despite the work ahead, Lamberth strikes virtually no one as the kind of judge who will lose himself in the administrative humdrum. Lamberth has a trial starting this week, and just before he was yanked from the case assignment rotation, as chief judges are, he “pulled a real dog,” he says. And like Hogan, he’ll pick up work from the other judges when they start falling behind. He told the crowd at his ceremony that he was looking forward to being announced in court as “Chief Judge Royce Lamberth.” “It’s got a new ring to it that I kind of like.”
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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