San Jose-based U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has been named to head the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. His appointment leaves in limbo the long-running challenge to the use of lethal injections for executions in California. Fogel has presided over the case since 2006.
The center provides research and develops education programs for 15,000 judges and court employees, to improve the administration of the federal court system. Fogel’s selection was announced by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who chairs the center’s board.
President Bill Clinton appointed Fogel to the federal bench in 1998. Prior to that, he served 17 years in the California state courts. Sitting in San Jose Fogel drew many of the high tech cases, including patent cases, from Silicon Valley. He has frequently been among the names put forward as a potential nominee to the Federal Circuit Court in Washington, which hears patent appeals. Serving as head of the Federal Judicial Center will give him national exposure among judicial colleagues and put him geographically closer to that appeals court.
Two prior federal judges from the Northern California district have led the FJC, Judges Fern Smith and William Schwarzer.
In recent years Fogel served on a bench and media committee working to improve public access to courts and improve communication between the judiciary and the media. This comes at a time when federal courts are beginning to experiment with cameras in federal trials, a practice that is currently banned.
Fogel will leave behind several significant cases. One high profile case that has drawn national attention is the challenge to California’s use of lethal injection for executions and whether it violates the Constitution’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Fogel imposed a moratorium on executions five years ago while the issues were sorted out. The case also raised concern about poorly trained executioners, the poor lighting and cramped conditions for lethal injection in what was the converted gas chamber at San Quentin.
The sole U.S. supplier of sodium thiopental, the only anesthetic allowed in California injection protocols, stopped making the drug. Since then questions have been raised about foreign supplies.
The case was put on hold for more than three years while a separate state court action sought revision of prison protocols for executions in the state.
In February Fogel toured San Quentin’s new $900,000 execution facility and questioned state authorities about it.
In an April 29 hearing Fogel pushed both sides to speed up the process of setting new protocols so he could resolve whether or not lethal injections could resume, but for now the issue remains undecided.
Case: Morales v. Cate, No. C06-219JF