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Judicial Mails and Missteps Invite Federal Resentencing

A judge’s correspondence with former colleagues outside of his federal courtroom is enough to undermine more than just the jail term handed an admitted drug dealer, according to a panel of his peers in the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Judges in Chicago ruled that the gangland leader should be resentenced for a cocaine rap that netted him 17.5 years behind bars in 2017. They cited case law in determining that Judge Colin Bruce’s failure to recuse himself put future defendants and the reputation of the Central Illinois District Court at risk.

Following his arrest in a Safe Neighborhoods sweep that focused on actvities of the Latin Kings street gang in Kankakee County, James Atwood pleaded guilty to conspiracy and distribution charges. The Bourbonnais man appealed the sentence after reports of the judge’s frequent communications with US attorneys in the office where he once worked came to light. Atwood contended Bruce’s emails belied the former prosecutor’s biased approach on the bench. Appellate judges agreed, saying the ex parte dialogue exposed by investigative reporters that earned Bruce a suspension in 2018 made for the sort of impropriety that erodes public trust in the judicial system.