On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the surprising decision to remove controversial Judge Manual Real from the federal RICO case that involves Alex Sanchez.
This news shocked nearly everyone who is closely tracking the Sanchez matter. Yanking a federal judge from a case is anything but business as usual.
As most longtime WitnessLA readers know, Alex Sanchez is the Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member turned highly respected gang violence reduction activist who has been accused of a long list of Federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. According to the government’s case, the supposedly reformed Sanchez never reformed at all, but remained, in reality, a MS-13 shot caller who ordered at least one murder.
(For the rest of the backstory click here and then scroll down a bunch and read from the bottom up.)
The judge assigned to his case, U.S. District Court Judge Manual Real, was appointed to the federal bench in 1966 by Lyndon Johnson.
At nearly 88 (his birthday is Jan. 27), Real is what we used to call a character. He has spent 45 years on the same bench and, in his court room, he projects an image that combines the demeanor of an irascible uncle who mutters loudly and tyrannically over his soup at Thanksgiving dinner, with that of a glowering bird of prey.
Yet, unlike your irascible uncle, Real wields enormous power over the lives of those who come before him. According to his critics, who are many and varied, he is a bully on the bench who often makes up his mind on a case before it goes to trial and then may visibly telegraphs his opinion to all in the courtroom. He once threatened to throw then California Attorney General Dan Lungren into jail for contempt and used to be known for telling lawyers “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”
Real’s reversal rate is estimated to be 10 times the average for sitting federal judges.
He has had at least ten cases outright snatched away from him by appeals courts.
In 2006, there was serious talk of impeaching him.
Even in the Sanchez case, it took four separate hearings and the interference of the 9th Circuit, before Real would allow Sanchez’ attorney to fully present arguments for setting bail for Sanchez. (However, to Real’s credit, in January of 2010 Real called for a special closed door hearing, after which he did set Sanchez’s bail at $2 million, an amount that friends and supporters had already raised in the form of surities and property.)
Since Sanchez was originally arrested on the RICO charges in June 2009, this means, had thee been no bail he would have spent, as of this writing, 2 years and 7 months in jail, with no trial as yet in sight.
The change in judges will, of course, push Sanchez’ trial back still further.
Yet, with the alarming wild card presence of Judge Real now removed, no one in either the Sanchez or the prosecution camps, appears to be complaining.
NOTE: In the interest of transparency, it’s important that I tell those of you new to this story that I consider Alex Sanchez a respected and valued friend. This means that while I work very hard to give readers the most factual possible information on the issue, I also have strong feelings about this case.