Camp convictions, sentences may be overturned

A federal investigation into former U.S. District Judge Jack Camp's admitted drug use and alleged bias against African-Americans may mean new trials or sentences for some people adjudicated in his courtrooms.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates announced Thursday her office is conducting an investigation on how Camp's behavior and biases may have undermined justice.

Camp, 67, resigned as a federal judge and pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to a felony drug charge and two misdemeanors. The charges stemmed from a sex scandal involving cocaine, marijuana, prescription narcotics, guns and 27-year-old exotic dancer Sherry Ann Ramos, with whom the married judge had an affair between May and September 2010.

Yates said Camp had admitted using drugs during that period but denied using them before the affair or during court business. The investigation revealed no other drug use, Yates said.

She said the U.S. Attorney's Office "would not oppose" any defendant's request for a new sentencing if it was handed down during the five-month period Camp has admitted to using drugs.  She said she did not have an opinion on how much weight to give the charges of racial bias.

But Stephanie Kearns, executive director of the Federal Defender Program in Atlanta, said it was the allegations of racial bias that might prove most vexing for federal prosecutors. Her office already  identified a few cases in which its lawyers believe Camp may have shown prejudice against African- Americans during the course of a trial. That could mean a motion for a new trial in some cases, she said.

"We've already talked about some in our office," she said. "We're pulling the records and the (trial) transcripts."

Camp, through his attorney, said he would defend "any decision he has rendered where a defendant may assert any sort of impairment or bias."

Bill Morrison's statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday night said, in part, "While Mr. Camp understands the government must take appropriate steps to ensure our judicial system is free of bias, none occurred in Judge Camp’s courtroom. Again, Jack Camp has assisted the government in this review to the fullest degree possible."

Yates, who declined to identify Ramos by name, said the woman who had the relationship with Camp contended he admitted being angry that she had a relationship with an African-American man. Yates said the woman said the judge told her that he had a "difficult time adjudicating their cases and specifically determining their sentences because he could not differentiate" them from the black man with whom she had a relationship.

The woman cited one case where she said Camp had sentenced one black man to a much stiffer sentence because he had a relationship with a white female.

Yates said that the former judge denied making the statements and that her office had not been able to corroborate them.

"We have identified a case before Camp for re-sentencing during the relevant time that is similar to some aspects of the facts identified by Witness 1, but the court did not actually impose a new sentence," Yates said. "Our efforts to make a more conclusive determination are continuing."

Kearns said more corroboration of the paramour's allegations would be needed to make a credible case that Camp was biased against blacks appearing in his court. But the allegations carried weight, she said,  and could be used by defendants going back to Camp's appointment to the bench in 1988.

"We all know that people tend to suppress their biases, not cultivate them later in life," Kearns said.

Some of that corroboration may come from Ramos' former landlord, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview in November that the judge had bullied her in a dispute over the lease but said the judge sounded surprised and angry when she told him that Ramos, who is white, was living with a black man.

Katrina Hardy, who rented her Union City condo to Camp’s girlfriend, said she was considering legal action against Ramos when she got a call from Camp, telling her he was a judge and she should back off. Hardy said his tone changed when she told the judge about his girlfriend’s living arrangement.

“I said, ‘You know she’s living with a black man,"’ Hardy recalled. “And he said, “What!”

Yates said one witness to the conversation about the lease dispute said that the judge used a racial epithet to refer to Ramos' boyfriend but another witness who overheard a portion of the conversation said she didn't hear Camp use any epithets.

Yates said there was evidence that the judge consulted with Ramos about the sentences he imposed.

There was also evidence that Camp favored some defendants. Ramos told investigators the judge told her he gave a 12-month sentence instead of a recommended 60-month sentence to one female defendant because she reminded him of Ramos, who also had done federal prison time on drug charges.

Investigators found a similar case where Camp sentenced a white female defendant to 15 months in prison instead of the recommended 30 to 37 months, Yates said.

She said Camp presided over 16 sentences and one trial during the five months he was having a relationship with Ramos.

While she said the office would not oppose requests for new sentences during that period, Yates said she did not have an opinion on how much weight to give the charges of racial bias.

"It is not up for me to draw conclusions in that regard," she said. "I don't think there is a statistical analysis that can discount the possibility of racial bias."

Yates would not commit to making Camp available to be questioned under oath by defense lawyers about drug use or bias.

Camp is due to be sentenced March 4 by Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, a Washington judge assigned to the case by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

The maximum punishment Camp faces is four years in prison.

Staff writers Bill Torpy and Bill Rankin contributed to this article.