Judge brings no-nonsense style, poised demeanor to Malvo trial

Her colleagues say she is suited for high-profile case

November 08, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Lee Boyd Malvo's capital murder trial is expected to last nine weeks. And during that time, jurors will be brown-bagging their lunch at the request of the presiding judge.

For Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush, it's about streamlining and making sure that the jurors' lunch break doesn't take time away from justice. And for a judge whose trademark is a no-nonsense, by-the-book style, the midday break is likely to be the least of her concerns.

There are a lot of other things on her mind. The eyes of many will be on her as she presides over the Malvo trial, which will begin Monday in the southeastern Virginia city of Chesapeake.

This is the highest-profile case to come before Roush in her decade on the bench, and it will put her on the hot seat. Her every ruling, her demeanor, her courtroom supervision and her control of the trial's tempo will be under watch in a trial that can build a reputation and a career.

"She really is under a greater degree of scrutiny from that standpoint," said University of Baltimore law professor Byron L. Warnken. "But this event is not going to change her dramatically. She already has whatever style she has."

It is a style that lawyers say makes the 47-year-old judge suited to sit at the helm of Malvo's trial.

Malvo is charged in the fatal shooting Oct. 14 last year of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was gunned down in a Home Depot parking lot in Fairfax County. He faces two counts of capital murder, one charging him with more than one killing in three years and the other accusing him of trying to extort $10 million from the government under Virginia's untested anti-terrorism law.

Although Roush was 36 - young for a judge - and had little courtroom experience when she donned robes in 1993, she quickly made her mark. In three years, she made Washingtonian magazine's best-of-the-bench list.

Roush refused to be interviewed for this article. But many of her legal colleagues are quick to offer opinions of her.

"She was a real unknown when she went on the bench, and she has proven to be an outstanding judge. I think that opinion is shared by everyone in the bar," said Robert C. Whitestone, a longtime Fairfax County lawyer.

"I don't think people knew of her talent at the time she was nominated. I think she is a great judge, and I don't have any cases pending before her," he said.

Washington lawyer John M. Dowd was on the winning end of a lawyer malpractice case that Roush heard after only a year on the bench. "The clarity, the crispness" of her ruling, which bashed lawyers for what she considered an ethical lapse, was so impressive that Dowd said his firm still receives one or two requests a month for her opinion. Roush also speaks to law groups on ethics and professionalism.

Dowd said the "good, solid, balanced head" Roush showed in that case is what makes her a great choice to preside over the sniper trial.

"I think Jane will come as close to perfection as you can," he said.

Those who knew her when she practiced commercial law said her traits of doing rigorous analysis and tending to small points of her cases while staying focused on the big picture were evident then.

"Even as a lawyer she had handled delicate situations with a great deal of poise while still maintaining her sense of humor. She has a lot of experience now on the bench with a lot of tough lawyers and she doesn't shrink from her role," said Emily M. Yinger, a lawyer at Hogan & Hartson in McLean, Va., where Roush worked for eight years.

Those who know Roush say she is confident, fair and smart, comes to court prepared, and tactfully runs a no-nonsense courtroom. They point to her approach in months of pretrial hearings leading up to Malvo's trial.

She has not been shy about signaling to both sides that she has read their court pleadings and done her homework, just as she has told them when she has heard enough argument on an issue.

"I think she has done a remarkably good job," said N. Thomas Connally III, a partner at Hogan & Hartson.

Attorneys said her tight rein ensures she will neither condone a circus at Malvo's trial nor become the center of attention.

Virginia courts are known for swift justice, and Roush has kept Malvo's case moving. When Robert F. Horan Jr. asked for the first postponement in his 36-year tenure as Fairfax County's chief prosecutor to allow time for the government's psychologist to examine Malvo, Roush turned him down - but said she's open to taking time off during the trial if Horan's experts need it to evaluate Malvo.

The good humor lawyers attribute to Roush has found its way into Malvo's pretrial hearings. When Malvo's attorneys asked if she could tell the Virginia Supreme Court to move quickly to get them money to bring their witnesses for the trial, her response was that she would help - but noted that "I don't generally tell the Supreme Court to do things. The order is the wrong way."

In interpretations of the law, Roush's past rulings sometimes have favored defense lawyers, sometimes prosecutors. She agreed with defense attorneys who argued that nurses who treat sexual assault victims may testify about injuries they observe, but cannot offer conclusions about whether the person was raped. She sided with prosecutors who contended that Virginia law requires them to provide defendants with a description of the criminal activity with which they are charged, but not with police reports.

Her husband is a retired teacher. The couple has three children, friends said.

Roush earned a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in 1978, majoring in political science. Three years later, she earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

She joined Boothe Pritchard & Dudley, then the biggest law firm in Northern Virginia and now part of McGuireWoods. In 1985, she moved to Hogan & Hartson.

"She was and is regarded as a rising star," Connally said.

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