IMF head's case not judge's 1st turn in spotlight

May 17, 2011 - 4:57 PM
IMF Head Assault

Criminal Court Judge Melissa Jackson speaks at the arraignment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, in Manhattan Criminal Court, Monday, May 16, 2011. Strauss-Kahn must remain jailed at least until his next court hearing for attempted rape and other charges, Jackson said Monday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — The judge who put the chief of the International Monetary Fund in jail found herself getting worldwide attention Monday, but she's had her share of time in the courtroom limelight.

In ordering IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn held without bail on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa C. Jackson made one of the most widely watched decisions of her career.

Like many Manhattan judges, she has handled high-profile cases before, ranging from rapper Foxy Brown's fracas in a nail salon to the arrest of a man bitten by the tiger he was keeping in his apartment.

During eight years on the bench, Jackson has ordered Courtney Love to stay off drugs as part of the rocker's plea deal for tossing a microphone stand and dismissed disorderly conduct charges against Rosario Dawson after the actress was arrested while filming a movie near the site of the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Foxy Brown pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault charges in a 2004 fight over a salon bill. Jackson sentenced her to three years' probation — and then jailed her after she violated that probation, telling her, "I'm not going to give you any more chances." The rapper spent about eight months behind bars.

As a judge in Criminal Court, where most defendants are initially arraigned and misdemeanor and violation cases are heard, Jackson has made the important decision of setting or denying bail to people in countless cases. They have ranged from an alleged mutual fund trading scheme to the notorious 2003 tiger bite (the pet's wounded but unflaggingly enthusiastic owner ultimately pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment).

More recently, the judge arraigned former NBA star Jayson Williams by video from a hospital on charges of drunkenly slamming his SUV into a tree last year. Williams, who was released with $10,000 bail and an electronic monitoring bracelet, ultimately pleaded guilty.

Now the supervising judge for Manhattan Criminal Court, Jackson reflected last year on the multifaceted and sometimes difficult decisions judges make in setting bail. Under New York state law, they must consider factors including defendants' characters, financial resources and criminal records, as well as the weight of the evidence against them — all meant to help calculate how likely they are to flee if released.

"It takes a relatively sophisticated analysis of each case," she told The Associated Press in an interview in December. "We do take seriously our jobs and hate to think we're being unfair by keeping someone in (jail)."

Jackson, a University of Pennsylvania and Fordham Law School graduate, was an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn for nearly 22 years, rising to a leading role in fraud and racketeering prosecutions. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed her to Manhattan Criminal Court in 2003. She became the supervising judge in 2008.

She has august family ties in law and politics: A great-granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, she also is a granddaughter of late U.S. Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Nazi war crimes trials.

In the Strauss-Kahn case, Judge Jackson had to weigh prosecutors' argument that the wealthy French IMF head was a flight risk against his lawyers' offer of $1 million bail and a promise that he would stay in New York. He denies the allegations and is eager to clear his name, defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman said.

Jackson ultimately decided Strauss-Kahn was too much of a flight risk to set any bail, after underscoring that she was keeping her considerations circumspect. When a prosecutor brought up the case of Roman Polanski — the film director whom Switzerland has declined to extradite for sentencing in a 1977 California child sex case — Jackson courteously but firmly cut off that discussion.

"I will note that Roman Polanski has nothing to do with this," she said. "I am trying to be objective, and I am not going to judge this individual on the basis of what happened with Roman Polanski."