DENVER (AP) – US district judge Richard Matsch, who ruled his courtroom with a firm hammer and a quick temper and earned respect in the 1990s for his treatment of the Oklahoma bombing trials City, died Sunday. He was 88 years old.
The clerk of the United States Colorado District Court, Jeffrey P. Colwell, announced Matsch's death.
Matsch had received a liver transplant in 2001 after being diagnosed with a disorder that causes an accumulation of fluid that can lead to infection.
He assumed senior judge status in 2003, allowing him to reduce his workload. He was appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Known for his conservative clothes, large boots and cowboy hat, Matsch saw it as his personal duty to restore order, decor and respect for the classroom after the judiciary had a black eye during the # 39; OJ Simpson.
As chief judge of the Denver federal court, Matsch was commissioned to oversee the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1996, after a judge decided they could not receive a fair trial in Oklahoma City.
Almost immediately, Matsch imposed a gag order to prevent lawyers from processing their cases to the media on the court steps. He governed decisively on the test questions and did not tolerate the antics of the courtrooms.
McVeigh was convicted of murder and other charges and was executed for the April 19, 1995 attack on federal building Alfred P. Murrah. The explosion, the worst act of terrorism on US soil before the September 11 attacks, killed 168 and injured hundreds of others. Nichols was convicted of manslaughter and conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Matsch consistently refused to discuss the evidence. Only after the end of the Nichols federal trial did McVeigh comment, calling it an "instrument of destruction" in the attack and saying he deserved to die.
"Judge Matsch will be remembered for the way he handled the Oklahoma City bombing cases, reaffirming public confidence in our judicial system through his firmness, fairness and dignity during a particularly heartbreaking episode in our nation's history", Chief Justice of the Colorado Federal Court, Philip A. Brimmer, said in a statement.
Matsch was also charged with presiding over a civil suit against basketball star Kobe Bryant, presented by an employee of the Colorado hotel who accused him of sexual assault in 2003. The case was terminated without trial in March 2005, a month after Matsch punished both sides for attacking each other and revealing too much detail about the high-profile court case.
Over the 80's Matsch presided over the trial to several members of the Order, a militant anti-Semitic organization responsible for the 1984 assassination of Denver radio host Alan Berg.
In over 40 years on the bench, Matsch has also chaired a prolonged case of scholastic dissolution and the condemnation of a forest worker who admitted to having started what was the worst fire in Colorado.
Terry Barton, a US forest service agent, pleaded guilty to two charges: setting fire to the federal forest on 8 June 2002 and lying to investigators. In 2003, Matsch, in a rare show of sympathy, sentenced Barton to six years in prison for federal charges, but refused to impose the repayment of $ 14 million requested by prosecutors, saying he would not condemn Barton to one " life of poverty "".
Born in Burlington, Iowa, Matsch graduated from the law faculty of the University of Michigan, served as a federal prosecutor and a bankruptcy judge. His reference model was the naive lawyer Atticus Finch, hero of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel in 1960 "To Kill A Mockingbird" which he saw as his duty to do the right thing even though it might be unpopular.
In a 1991 speech before the Denver Bar Association, Matsch described Atticus Finch as "the opponent of oppression, the paradigm of fairness, the dean of honest citizens and the core of his community".
Matsch was widely criticized when he ordered a crib removed from the vacation display at the City and County Building in Denver. He also established that the Ku Klux Klan had the right to march on Martin Luther King Day, despite the risk of violent clashes, and that adult bookstores did not need city permits to stay in business.
Matsch had little patience for those who hadn't done their homework. The lawyers who had turned away from their arguments and hadn't noticed the judge's mustache that was beginning to contract, the first sign of his anger, often paid a high price for it.
He set up a barricade pen for journalists to interview people outside the courtroom and shut the doors of his courtroom right at 9 am, leaving anyone who had come in late.
A story that described Matsch in the Allarm of the 1995 federal judiciary quoted the trial lawyers who warned: "If you make a stupid argument in front of him, he will take your head off."