McVeigh Judge Can Be 'Very Scary'

ByABC News
June 6, 2001, 6:51 AM

D E N V E R, June 6 -- Seventy-year-old Richard Matsch is known as a tough judge, seemingly straight out of the Old West. He represents law and order in these parts and may well do so for the rest of the country as well when he rules on Timothy McVeigh's request for a stay of execution.

Lawyers who have argued before Matsch say he is the quintessential Western judge: a straight-shooting, law-and-order jurist who rules by the book and is impervious to outside pressures.

"He does not care whether the heavens fall because of his rulings," says David Lane, a defense attorney who has argued more than 100 cases before the judge.

Lane says both sides better be well-prepared for today's proceedings.

"Judge Matsch can be a very scary judge to appear in front of if you don't have the facts," he said.

A Political Conservative

Matsch, who will turn 71 this month, is a political conservative who was appointed to the federal bench by President Nixon in 1974. But his record reveals that he can be extremely critical of law enforcement when warranted.

"He's not going to let the government walk out of that courtroom with any feeling other than that they did not comply with the law," said Greg Graf, a former federal prosecutor who has also appeared before Matsch. "And they're going to have their tail between their legs when they leave."

Lane agreed.

"He does not hesitate to smack the government all over the courtroom when the government needs to be smacked all over the courtroom," said Lane.

Respect From Both Tables

At the same time, Matsch wins the respect of lawyers on both sides of a case.

"Judge Matsch is respected by both defense attorneys and by prosecutors simply because he calls it as he sees it, right down the middle based on the law, based on the facts as he sees them, and he has the courage to do whatever it takes to get done," said Lane.

That may be just what the McVeigh defense team is hoping for.

Matsch may rule shortly after today's session, perhaps even from the bench. But any decision is expected to be appealed almost immediately.