Opinion: In Judge Sullivan's Courtroom, A Reminder Of American Values NPR's Scott Simon reflects on the time he met U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan when he reported for jury duty. Simon says Judge Sullivan has a history of "independence and sense of duty."
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Opinion: In Judge Sullivan's Courtroom, A Reminder Of American Values

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Opinion: In Judge Sullivan's Courtroom, A Reminder Of American Values

Opinion: In Judge Sullivan's Courtroom, A Reminder Of American Values

Opinion: In Judge Sullivan's Courtroom, A Reminder Of American Values

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/679331818/679448690" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

This courtroom sketch depicts former national security adviser Michael Flynn, standing center, flanked by his lawyers, listening to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Dana Verkouteren via/AP hide caption

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Dana Verkouteren via/AP

This courtroom sketch depicts former national security adviser Michael Flynn, standing center, flanked by his lawyers, listening to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Dana Verkouteren via/AP

A name not normally in the news figured in some of it this week. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan delayed Michael Flynn's sentencing and questioned the suggestion of prosecutors that he receive a lenient sentence.

"I can't make any guarantees," he told President Trump's former national security adviser, "but I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense."

He pointed to the flag in his courtroom and said, "Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for."

A day later, Judge Sullivan halted the administration policy that made it difficult for immigrants to ask for asylum because of domestic abuse or gang violence. Judge Sullivan called those policies "arbitrary, capricious" and "unlawful."

One judge can make that difference.

Emmet Sullivan has been a jurist since he was appointed to the Superior Court of D.C. in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, and the U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Over that time, he has pleased and/or upset both Republican and Democratic administrations.

He threw out the federal corruption case against the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. He told the government in August to "turn that plane around" when a mother and daughter from El Salvador were flown out of the country before their asylum case could be decided.

"It's outrageous," the judge added.

I was once called for jury duty in Judge Sullivan's courtroom. He was unfailingly and conspicuously courteous, to lawyers, courtroom staff and the jury pool.

"We are grateful for your service," he told us. "You men and women make democracy work. You hold the fate of a fellow citizen in your hands. There is no more important duty."

I was excused from the jury before the case began. I am not only a journalist, which makes attorneys uneasy, but also the stepson of a man, whom I loved, who was once convicted of a crime.

Judge Sullivan called me back to me into his chambers. "I'm sure you could be a fair juror," he told me. "It's just wise to avoid any side issue when a man is on trial for a serious charge."

I was touched by Judge Sullivan's regard for a defendant and an individual juror. I was impressed by his innate, even slightly old-fashioned courtesy, and wound up putting his name on a character in a novel. He sent me a note with characteristic humility.

In a week when Washington, D.C., bristled with showdowns, a shutdown, pleas and threats, Judge Sullivan's independence and sense of duty reminded us what the flag in his courtroom stands for.