We rarely hear from federal judges, except in the decisions they write, but today was an exception when retiring federal judge James Rosenbaum was Kerri Miller’s guest on MPR’s Midmorning. It was delightful radio.
He railed against mandatory sentencing. “Now people will say I’m a left-wing judge,” he told Miller. “But I’m a Republican and a former prosecutor.”
He defended the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning District Court cases. “I love it when I hear stories say ‘a bitterly divided Supreme Court,’” he said. “One of the reasons they go 5-4 is that they are really, really hard questions and there are nine people who have a difficult time reaching an answer, and the fact that they don’t reach the same answer I do, it’s built into the system. So I’m not troubled by it very much.”
“I love it when a lawyer says, ‘Judge, it was only a 5-to-4 decision,’ and I say, ‘Yes and so was Miranda.’”
Rosenbaum has presided over some of the biggest federal cases in Minnesota. He provided some insight into the role of a judge in a fraud case he’s overseeing now (He wouldn’t say which one).
“President Kennedy said ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ and now we have a receding tide and we’re finding stuff on the bottom that’s pretty ugly. I brought home a book of letters and emails from victims. My wife said,’My goodness,’ and I said, ‘Honey there are four more books just like it in my office. They’re telling me stories about retirement and their children’s college educations, and the loss of real estate. I read those in every case, I’ve never had any quite like this.”
“If you want to go to the bank tomorrow and you are given a chance to put your money in a bank account, they’ll pay you 1 1/2 to 2 percent. If someone promises they’ll give you 11% dependable forever, there is no such thing. For all kinds of reasons, people start to believe. Good people thought ‘Everyone else in the world is making it, what’s the matter with me?’ It’s horrifying when the game collapses.
Minnesota has had its fair share of white-collar criminal cases. “Minnesota is not a happy place for them,” the judge said.
And yet, Rosenbaum doesn’t have the view of humanity that one might reasonably expect.
“You can’t do what I do and have a negative view of humanity,” he said. “You’ve got to believe that good things occur and things will get better. There has to be a core optimism that the system has internal checks and balances, that there’s some kind of hope.”
The judge retires in August.