An unusual bid by attorneys for parents charged in the college admissions scandal to have their case removed from a judge with a reputation for tough sentences was rejected Thursday.
The chief judge of the US District Court of Massachusetts told defense lawyers who had urged her to take the case away from US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton and randomly assign it to another judge that they should raise their concerns with Gorton himself.
In a letter to the lawyers, US District Chief Judge Patti B. Saris wrote that the court is “strongly committed to a random draw” in assigning criminal cases to judges “to ensure the integrity and fairness of the administration of justice.”
The lawyers’ claim that federal prosecutors engaged in “judge shopping” earlier this week must be addressed by Gorton, the presiding judge on the case, she wrote.
The defense lawyers had accused prosecutors of evading the court’s system of randomly assigning criminal cases by adding 16 newly indicted parents to an existing wire fraud case against Vancouver businessman David Sidoo, which was randomly drawn by Gorton last month.
“Your claim that the defendants have been improperly joined must be addressed to the presiding judge,” Saris wrote.
If Gorton decides to sever any of the parents’ cases from the indictment against Sidoo, then he has the authority to allow them to be randomly reassigned, Saris added.
After the lawyers wrote Saris on Tuesday, US Attorney Andrew Lelling issued a sharp response, saying the lawyers were asking the court “to manipulate the judicial draw under the guise of protesting manipulation of the judicial draw” because they didn’t want Gorton handling the case.
“What counsel fail to say — but of course mean — is that they want a different judge because they perceive Judge Gorton as imposing longer sentences in criminal cases than other judges in this district,” Lelling wrote.
He urged Saris not to take the “unprecedented step” of removing a case from the judge who was assigned it “simply because, in defense counsel’s view, another draw would benefit their clients.”
Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were among the 16 parents indicted Tuesday on money laundering and wire fraud charges for allegedly paying bribes to get their children into top colleges. Their attorneys were not among those who signed the letter to Saris.
In all, 50 people were charged last month in the college admissions cheating scandal, including another Hollywood actress, Felicity Huffman. Earlier this week, Huffman and a dozen other parents announced they will plead guilty. She’s scheduled to plead guilty May 21.
The parents are accused of paying bribes ranging from $15,000 to $1.2 million to have their children falsely designated as athletic recruits to get admitted to elite colleges or have someone else take or correct SAT and ACT exams to boost the scores.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, some of the parents could face several years in prison if convicted.