“What fascinating subjects!” Friedman wryly declared as Howell stood impassive on the dais. “We would all love to read your opinions, but we can’t,” she said with a laugh.
However, Friedman noted that Howell had issued 100 secret grand jury opinions during his seven-year tenure.
Another colleague, Judge Tanya Chutkan, also alluded to Howell’s work resolving disputes involving the court’s grand juries over the past seven years.
“There is so much work that Chief Justice Howell has done that we may never know,” Chutkan said.
Another tribute to Howell came from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who served on the DC district court before being elevated to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. Jackson said Howell has been vital in keeping the capital’s critical district court running through a series of significant challenges.
“She’s like that steel beam on a construction project that holds up everything else,” Jackson said.
Howell was replaced as chief on Friday by Judge James Boasberg. Both are appointed by President Barack Obama.
Boasberg also referenced Howell’s handling of secret grand jury proceedings.
“Most of the work he’s done has been secret, so he doesn’t even get credit for that,” he said.
By law, the position of chief judge in the federal courts is filled primarily by seniority, with a maximum tenure of seven years. Howell, a former prosecutor and aide to the Senate who has served on the US District Court since 2010, will continue to hear cases in the normal rotation.
No major change in the direction of the court or those investigations is expected as a result of the change, but Boasberg will now have to resolve privilege fights and other grand jury disputes and could receive resubmissions from the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which is now considering several appeals related to Howell’s decisions.
Howell’s work overseeing high-profile grand jury matters involving former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, the ongoing investigations of Trump, and criminal cases stemming from the September 6 attack January 2021 at the Capitol they have turned it into a cult. following on social media.
Chutkan alluded to that fame in his comments on Friday, pointing to the Howell memes on TikTok and the “stans” who applauded his decisions.