Friday, June 2, 2017

After four decades on bench, Greek-American judge who shuns publicity ready to retire

A Virginia federal judge who upheld Miranda rights, loosened campaign finance strictures and sent both a Romanian hacker and a high-ranking CIA agent to prison will retire this fall.

James Cacheris, the first Republican to become a judge in Northern Virginia since Reconstruction, is also the longest-serving federal judge currently on the bench in Virginia. Before he took the bench in the Eastern District of Virginia in 1981, he served on the Fairfax County Circuit Court bench.

For the past two decades, Cacheris has served as a senior justice, meaning that he does not work a full caseload. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who is also retiring this fall, replaced Cacheris on the active bench.

At 84, Cacheris, who is married and has four children, does not plan to fully retire. He says he will likely do mediation work — to “get me out of the house.” But first, he says, he’d like to take another trip to Greece.

The son of Greek immigrants, Cacheris was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Bethesda and the District, attending the old Western High School. His brother, Plato Cacheris, is a prominent defense attorney in Washington.

Plato Cacheris said their parents never pushed them to be lawyers but pressed them hard to educate themselves. His father, who worked as a waiter in Chicago and Pittsburgh, had only a sixth-grade education.

“I am not sure what his parents fed their boys, but they seemed destined to lead the profession from both the bench and the bar,” said Jonathan Turley, who represented former CIA case agent Harold James Nicholson in Cacheris’s court. “Coming from a Greek family, the meals must have been as litigious as they were delicious.”

In 1997, Nicholson admitted to spying for the Russian government. From prison, he persuaded his son Nathaniel to take up his ties with the Russians and collect his “pension.”

Judge Cacheris is known among attorneys for his unflappable demeanor and the intensive preparation he demands of himself and expects of litigants.

“He commands so much respect because he’s so steady on the bench. No detail escapes him,” said Jim Hundley, who was a law clerk for Cacheris early in his career. “He tries really hard to be a blank slate and judge a case based on the facts and the law and be absolutely fair to every litigant.”

Cacheris always gets to the office early and starts court exactly on time, said another former clerk, Casey Stevens. If attorneys are late, the judge he makes his displeasure clear.

Off the bench, Cacheris is known as friendly and self-deprecating.

“He’s never let the position go to his head,” said his son, John Cacheris, a lawyer in North Carolina.

One of four children, he said Cacheris was a devoted family man with no trace of ego. “He’s always been reticent with the public spotlight — that’s just not who he is.”

In fact, Cacheris declined to provide a photograph for this article and expressed hope that the news of his retirement would be buried on a busy day. He is funny and solicitous with clerks and court support staff, attorneys said, always learning workers’ names and histories on even short trips to other courthouses.

“He’s sharp, thoughtful, gives equal consideration to all sides and is always unfailingly gracious,” said Geremy Kamens, the federal public defender for Alexandria. “It’s hard to imagine the courthouse without him.”

Several high-profile cases have forced him into the spotlight.

In 1992, Cacheris presided over the trial of a fertility specialist who used his own semen to impregnate women and told them that they were pregnant when they were not. Sentencing the doctor to five years in prison, Cacheris said he had “not seen a case where there has been this degree of emotional anguish and psychological trauma.”

In a case that went to the Supreme Court in 1999, Cacheris upheld the Miranda warning given to criminal suspects, throwing out a man’s confession to committing several bank robberies in Maryland and Virginia. The judge’s decision was reversed by a Virginia court of appeals, which ruled that a 1968 crime law had rendered Miranda warnings moot. The Supreme Court sided with Cacheris, ruling that Congress could not undo Miranda. 

“That was my zenith as a trial judge,” Cacheris said.

He was condemned by campaign finance advocates in 2011 for ruling that the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United allowed direct corporate contributions in politics.

“For better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech,” he wrote.

That decision was overturned by the Fourth Circuit.

Cacheris also sentenced Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who first revealed that Hillary Clinton used a private email address while she was secretary of state and a man who plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol.

Rachel Weiner

Source: The Washington Post (with edits)

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