THE BLOG
02/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Hero "Sully" Would Admire

Like everyone else, I was deeply moved by the heroic efforts of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways flight 1549. The skill of the pilot, the crew and the remarkable efforts of the first responders were a source of pride of all Americans, many of whom are struggling just to make ends meet.

The compassion that the passengers had for each other also said much about the basic goodness of ordinary citizens, some of whom risked their lives for the women and children on board.

It was a wonderful, uplifting story, with a ending that you thought only Hollywood would script. I hope the inevitable movie does it justice.

On the other end of the human spectrum is Bernie Madoff. His self-confessed scam has wreaked havoc with the lives of thousands of investors, and plunged many of them into misery and total despair. He is justifiably referred to as the most reviled man in the country. His pariah status is validated by the bullet proof vest he fits under his custom made suit as he makes his way from his plush apartment to the U.S. Courthouse in New York to attend his bail hearings.

It is those hearings that brings me to an unsung hero, Ronald L. Ellis, a United States Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

United States Magistrate Judges are appointed to assist U.S. District Judges. Unlike District Judges who get lifetime tenure, Magistrate Judges are appointed for 8 year terms.

Like Rodney Dangerfield, they have trouble getting respect. They are paid a salary of $151,984, which is not bad, unless you compare it the $160,000 salary of first year associates at major law firms.

They are assigned to do the drudgery work that District Judges don't want to do, like resolving mind-numbing discovery disputes between lawyers engaged in large commercial disputes.

Judge Ellis was assigned to the bail revocation hearing of Bernie Madoff.

The sentiments of the American public on this issue were very clear. It is deeply offensive to see Madoff's smug and polished persona entering the courthouse, with the knowledge that this con artist is free to enjoy the fruits of his scam while the agonizingly slow judicial process wends it way towards a trial or a plea.

How easy it would have been for Judge Ellis to be swayed by this sentiment. After all, Madoff gave him the perfect excuse: He mailed expensive jewelry to his relatives, in violation of the terms of his bail.

Instead, in a carefully drafted and thoughtful opinion, Judge Ellis reached the right result, albeit a very unpopular one. The Government, he found, failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that no condition or combination of conditions could be set that would reasonably assure Madoff's appearance and protect the community from danger. That is the standard he was required to apply under the terms of the governing law, the Bail Reform Act.

The outcry over Judge Ellis' decision was misdirected. Clearly, the Bail Reform Act favors the wealthy who can afford to pay for security and to comply with other conditions that make revocation of bail difficult. It is Congress and not the courts who have the ability to change this law. It was the duty of Judge Ellis to follow the law, and he did so admirably.

The heroic efforts the U.S. airways crew, passengers and rescuers worked perfectly to save all involved in this potential disaster. The quiet and scholarly adherence to the rule of law by Judge Ellis worked admirably to protect the rights of all of us.

He is a hero "Sully" would admire.