A federal judge gets rapped in two high-profile Burlco cases

A federal judge who stirred up controversy when Bush appointed him five years ago was reversed TWICE last week in high-profile cases affecting Burlco.  

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman decided to boot Olympic champion Carl Lewis off the ballot, saying he has not lived in New Jersey long enough to run for a New Jersey Senate seat.  

Judge Noel Hillman

That was a mistake, a Third Circuit appeals panel in Philly decided.  Lewis, a Democrat, grew up in Willingboro, spent much of his adult life in California, but then bought a house in Medford 4 years ago.  He wants to represent the Eighth District, which includes Burlington County. 

The GOP is not letting the fight go.  The local party leaders are getting a re-hearing today to press their case before the appeals panel.  They say he voted in California recently and paid taxes there.  Stay tuned. 

A different Third Circuit appeals panel also gave Hillman a failing grade last week.  The panel said Hillman improperly denied a trial to a group of mostly poor Hispanic and African American families in Mount Holly who were about to be booted out of their homes through eminent domain

The panel suggested the town's action may be discriminatory and rapped Hillman for failing to consider statistics that show there is a shortage of affordable homes for minorities.  Mount Holly wants to raze the families' homes to build new townhouses.  Read the panel's findings here:  http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/111159p.pdf 

The U.S. Department of Justice also weighed in, urging the panel to overturn Hillman.  Justice said his ruling would have made it difficult for the department to enforce fair housing rules. 

In 2006, Bush appointed Hillman to serve as a judge in Camden.  At the time, Hillman was the federal prosecutor in charge of investigating disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with the Bush administration and other high-ranking Republicans.  Democrats were surprised by the timing of the appointment - it would not allow Hillman to finish his probe.    Bush's press secretary dismissed their complaints as politics. 

A year later, Bush considered elevating Hillman to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. 

But according to several reports, Bush reconsidered because he feared a fight over Hillman's confirmation.  It was around the same time Alberto Gonzales came under fire for letting politics interfere with his handling of the Justice Department.

It's ironic that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where Hillman might have landed, is now keeping his opinions in check.