Retiring U.S. District Judges Henry Kennedy Jr. and Ricardo Urbina both made headlines during their time on the bench for decisions in controversial cases surrounding the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth announced Thursday evening that Kennedy would be retiring Nov. 18 and that Urbina, who took senior status in January, would retire effective March 2011. Lamberth's announcement didn’t say why the judges had decided to retire now, and neither judge returned a request for comment.
Both judges presided over the some of the most noteworthy cases of the 2000s when it came to national security issues. Kennedy, for instance, weighed whether to order an inquiry into whether the CIA had violated a court order by destroying videotapes of interrogations in 2005 at Guantanamo Bay.
Washington attorney David Remes, who has been representing Guantanomo Bay detainees since 2004, argued in favor of the inquiry, which the government opposed. Kennedy ultimately denied the request, but Remes said that the judge “pressed hard to get to the bottom of the matter.”
Kennedy, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1997 after serving as a District of Columbia Superior Court judge, also oversaw proceedings in a case against the White House over the storage and recovery of e-mails. Kennedy gave private groups a green light to sue over missing e-mails, and ordered the Bush White House to preserve its e-mails just days before the Obama administration took office.
Jones Day partner Sheila Shadmand, who represented the National Security Archive in suing the white House, said Kennedy “made sure to engage counsel, and his magistrates where needed, to be sure to get to the right result and not simply to just get to a result.”
Urbina, who was appointed in 1994, has presided over the Blackwater manslaughter case, in which private security guards working for what was formerly known as Blackwater were charged with shooting unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007. Urbina dismissed the government’s case in 2009 after finding that the Justice Department improperly used statements made by the guards after the shooting in building their case.
Urbina also broke barriers as the first Hispanic judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was similarly the first Hispanic judge in District of Columbia Superior Court, where he served from 1981 to 1994.
William Rivera, president of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia, said Urbina has “been such an inspirational figure to so many people in the profession in D.C.” The association named its annual lifetime achievement award after Urbina, who helped establish the group in the 1970s.