“Pretentious” isn’t exactly how you’d expect a U.S. District Court Judge to refer to federal prosecutors.
But Judge Lynn Nettleton Hughes said so in a recently released transcript. They’re part of the court proceedings under way in the high-profile Houston terrorism case of Omar Al Hardan, an Iraq-born Palestinian arrested last month charged with procuring naturalization unlawfully, making false statements and providing material support to ISIS.
But it’s Judge Hughes’ berating and his so-called “order of ineptitude” stealing the spotlight, a tirade described by one reporter as “10 gallon grumpiness.”
The characterization, though, spurs the question: what are the federal prosecutors in the case doing that has got the judge so worked up? Dane Schiller, reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says that Hughes has a reputation for being stern.
“To give some context, Judge Hughes seems to be a defendant’s dream and a prosecutor’s nightmare,” Schiller says. “He’s known to go off on prosecutors. He’s known to really take the government to task and sometimes take it a lot further.”
One thing that seemed to prompt Hughes’ comments – among them “you don’t add a bit of value, do you?” – was the attorney’s lack of suit and tie. Judges have been disciplined in the past for violating the judicial code of conduct. Did Hughes cross a line of propriety?
“I don’t know that he’s crossed a line but he’s certainly embarrassed this prosecutor, and this is a man who was a public defender for nine years before coming to the counter terrorism squad and sitting at the other side of the table,” Schiller says. “He’s not somoene I’ve seen showing any disrespect to the court, but the judge just went after him.”
Despite the media attention, Schiller says the fallout is unlikely to affect Hughes.
“I think the dust will settle on this and people will be, I guess, more scared than ever to go before this judge,” he says. “I don’t think this will affect the case. … This is a case where all kind of things are done behind the curtain, and we get to peek behind that curtain a little bit here. But you don’t expect to see this. You expect to see cool ‘FBI going after all the bad guy stuff,’ or something. You don’t expect the thing to leak out being the judge slapping around the prosecutor in such a matter.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.