WASHINGTON – The biggest heat brought on the first day of the Roger Clemens trial hasn't come from the pitcher with the 95 mph fastball or the government attorneys supposedly loaded with bags of evidence. Instead the fire was delivered by the judge, Reggie Walton, who rattled the marble walls in Courtroom 16 of the U.S. District Court House on Wednesday.
The target was the U.S. Congress, the entity to which Clemens is accused of lying. And the subject was an audiotape of the deposition Clemens gave Congress before his now infamous testimony. Clemens attorney, Rusty Hardin, said he was under the impression Congress was delivering a copy of the audiotape to him, and with the trial about to start he wondered if he could properly defend the pitcher without it.
And for a moment Walton wondered how this could happen.
And he was not happy.
The last thing he wanted, he said in open court, was for people to watch this trial and speculate that Congress was hiding evidence to support the government's case against Clemens. He added, his voice rising, whether people would ask, "Is this system fair?"
"I would doubt Congress wants citizens feeling that," he said.
"It doesn't look good for our government," he said moments later.
For those accustomed to seeing the occasional stern lecture from a judge it was a surprising explosion, though it's understandable given that Walton doesn't appear to have the authority to demand that Congress supply the tape. And it isn't out of character.
Just who is the man who will preside over the Roger Clemens perjury trial? Profiles of Walton describe him as a former high school running back from Donora, Pa., who turned away from neighborhood tussles when a friend nearly killed a rival with an ice pick. He went to West Virginia State in the late 1960s hoping to become a doctor until he arrived at school and learned that only 1.5 percent of the people involved in the legal profession were African American.
[Related: Roger Clemens stranded outside courthouse]
A few years ago, according to a story in the Washington Post, he was driving with his wife and daughter when he came across a man beating up a cab driver in Washington's Chevy Chase Circle. He pulled over, leaped out of his car, pulled the attacker off the cab driver and held him until police arrived.
"God bless Judge Walton" the paper quoted a D.C. police spokesman at the time. "I wouldn't want to mess with him."
He seems a patriotic man, one given to grand proclamations when American values are tested, like the time last year he oversaw the sentencing of a retired State Department official convicted of spying for Cuba.
"If someone despises the American government to the extent that appears to be the case, you can pack your bags and leave," he said to the defendant, according to the Post, "and it doesn't seem to me you continue to bear the benefits this country manages to provide and seek to undermine it."
In 2004, Walton attacked anonymous leaks which named Army biologist Steven Hatfill as the source of Anthrax attacks, saying: "They're undermining what this country is supposed to be about – that is, we treat people fairly," the Post reported. "That's not a government I want to be a part of. It's wrong and you all need to do something about it."
So in the trial of the great fastball pitcher, it appears the judge can throw hard as well.
- Roger Clemens
- Reggie Walton