Meet The Judge

May 15 2008, 6:16 AM

It's like a somnambulent civics version of the Letterman skit "Know Your Current Events," only with real consequences: According to an official press release, "Gov. Bill Ritter today appointed three new judges to the Colorado Court of Appeals…" Zzzzz. But there's good reason to pay attention to this particular announcement -- one of the judges nominated to the post, which is one step below the Colorado Supreme Court, is Richard Gabriel. You wouldn't know from the press release, which simply identified him as a partner at Holme, Roberts and Owen with experience in intellectual property law, but Gabriel is/was one of the top legal eagles for the Recording Industry Association of America, which has sued over 200,000 Americans for illegally sharing digital music files. He was the lead prosecutor for RIAA in the only file-sharing case ever to head to trial – last fall's Jammie Thomas case, where the 30-year-old Minnesota woman was fined $222,000 for illegally downloading 1,700 songs (the fine is on appeal). And as of July 1, he'll be one of three new judges on the Colorado Court of Appeals. The reaction, naturally, is varied. Brian Toder, the lawyer who represented Thomas, told Wired that, when contacted by state officials checking on Gabriel's bona fides, "I gave him a favorable rating." Others aren't quite so sanguine: Andrew Norton of the Pirate Party of America (Arr! No, not that kind of pirate) told Wired that the only place Gabriel belonged in a court was "perhaps as a defendant," and Ray Beckerman, a prominent lawyer for defendants in copyright/file sharing cases who also writes a blog about file-sharing cases, commented in a separate post on P2PNet that Gabriel has "extreme creativity in inventing legal theories and facts." At the same time, it's worth pointing out that most judges at any level are former lawyers, and the job of a lawyer is merely to advocate his client's position; he doesn't have to buy it personally. And, since most file-sharing cases are prosecuted under federal copyright law, not state law, it's unlikely that Gabriel will ever see a relevant case. In the event he does, he can always recuse himself. Finally, if you decide you absolutely despise the guy based on his track record, the appointments are provisional for the first two years, after which the voters get to decide whether to retain him, and every eight years after that. Sure, judges are almost never voted out, but as Boulder's James Klein is discovering on the McLean-Kirlin adverse possession case, it only takes one ruling that rubs the public the wrong way to put you on the hot seat.

Tags: