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Just Family

Federal Judge Deborah Robinson's Son Faces Drug and Gun Charges

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 5/14/2008

Download the crime-sheet PDF here.

In her 20-year career as a federal magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Deborah A. Robinson has presided over many news-making moments. Former D.C mayor Marion Barry, former chief of staff to the vice president I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former national security adviser Sandy Berger, and NBA star Allen Iverson have all come before her as defendants.

But while Robinson often has held the fate of famous and powerful people in her hands, the fate of her own son, 20-year-old Phillip Robinson Winkfield, is now beyond her reach. The Morgan State University student is being held without bail pending a yet to be scheduled trial in Baltimore, where he's been charged with 17 counts of drug-dealing and firearms-related crimes.

Winkfield was arrested April 25 after police used force to enter his Northeast Baltimore apartment and found him, five guns, more than $100,000 worth of illegal drugs, and approximately $8,000 in cash. Court records show that police came through the door of Winkfield's apartment because his address was on a FedEx package from California that law enforcers suspected of containing illicit drugs. The rental unit is in a warren of townhouses called Dutch Village, a development long renowned for gang violence and drugs.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent Edward Marcinko tells City Paper the evidence indicates that Winkfield owned the guns, drugs, and cash, but says there were signs Winkfield was not living at the townhouse alone. Authorities do not know how many others may live there, Marcinko says, and they have not determined the identities of any other potential residents.

"This was a routine investigation," Marcinko says. "But what surprised us was the amount of drug and nondrug evidence seized." The drug evidence is composed of 166 grams of heroin, 210 grams of crack cocaine, an ounce of powder cocaine, and more than seven pounds of marijuana. All of the guns--two Mossberg shotguns, a Liberty semiautomatic rifle, a Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, and a .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock--were loaded and some were in plain view, authorities say. "We're looking into all avenues, and this case is still in its beginning stages," Marcinko says.

A May 9 call from City Paper to Judge Robinson's chambers was returned by Robert Mance, a D.C.-based defense attorney retained to represent Winkfield. Mance says that Robinson would not be responding to questions and declines to say who is paying Winkfield's legal fees.

"I'm just now getting involved," Mance says, in response to questions about Winkfield and his upbringing. "Obviously, like any parent, Judge Robinson is concerned for her son. But it's not appropriate for me to go into detail at this time."

The Winkfield arrest begs hard-to-plumb questions about what the well-educated son of a federal judge was doing with a loaded arsenal and large amounts of drugs in an apartment complex known for violent drug activity.

Robinson and Winkfield's father, John C. Winkfield, were at their son's bail-review hearing before Baltimore City District Court Judge Halee Weinstein on April 28. A recording of the proceeding obtained by City Paper reveals that the defendant had been living at the Dutch Village apartment with friends for a year and a half while attending college at Morgan State, and that for 18 years his address of record was a residence owned by his mother in the Crestwood neighborhood of upper Northwest Washington, a few miles from his father's home in Takoma Park.

Winkfield's lawyer for the bail-review hearing, Craig Ellis, told Weinstein that he had known the defendant "all of his life," and described Winkfield's parents as "government employees." Contending that Winkfield had been and would continue to undergo "counseling," Ellis tried to convince Weinstein to release his client into the father's custody, but the judge was unimpressed. After reminding Ellis that Baltimore "has one of the highest rates of violent crime" in the nation and that "98 percent of it is related to the narcotic trade," she stressed that Winkfield had a large quantity of drugs and five guns, including an assault rifle, when he was arrested. Ellis argued that Winkfield had not reached for any of the weapons when police entered the apartment, to which Weinstein replied: "We're all lucky he's still alive, because if he had gone for those weapons, he probably wouldn't be standing here."

"I'm sure [Winkfield's] parents are heartbroken that they're here right now," Weinstein added, as she ordered Winkfield to remain held without bail, concluding that "he is a risk to public safety as well as a flight risk."

Winkfield was born in 1987 to Robinson and John Winkfield, a former D.C. prosecutor and former appellate lawyer in the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department who now works for the Department of Veterans Affairs and is an elections official in Takoma Park. The couple was married in 1984 in D.C., according to a copy of their marriage license. They divorced in 1992, according to D.C. court records.

At the time of Phillip Winkfield's birth, Robinson was an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, where she worked for eight years, according to the federal court's web site. Before that she clerked for Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie of the D.C. Superior Court, for whom the courthouse is named. Robinson graduated from Morgan State in 1975 and Emory University School of Law in 1978. She is an adjunct faculty member at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law.

As a federal magistrate Robinson presides over bail hearings, requests for search warrants, probation violations, preliminary hearings, and decisions from the grand jury. In 2007, she declined to revoke probation for former D.C. mayor Marion Barry in a criminal tax case. In 2006, she rejected then-Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson's complaints about the location of his deposition in a civil case arising from a nightclub fight. She received the 2005 decision of a federal grand jury to indict Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, on felony charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Also in 2005, she fined former national security adviser Sandy Berger $50,000 for removing and destroying classified documents from the National Archives. Back in 1989, she presided over the preliminary hearing for Rayful Edmond III, the head of one of D.C.'s largest drug gangs of that era.

Court records show that when the couple divorced, John Winkfield received custody of the couple's children, Phillip and at least one other sibling. He was denied a request to receive spousal support or a portion of Robinson's judicial pension, according to those records. The following year, in 1993, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

John Winkfield did not respond to calls and e-mails requesting comment. Mance, reached by phone as he was lining up a tee time on a golf course in South Carolina on May 15, says the parents shared joint custody of Phillip Winkfield and a sister after the divorce. "I can't have this conversation right now," Mance declares, before ending the call.

Phillip Winkfield is a 2005 graduate of the exclusive Maret School, located on a historic campus in the Woodley Park section of northwest Washington. He attended the University of Delaware from 2005 to '06, according to university officials. His criminal history is slight. At his recent bail review hearing his attorney described two misdemeanor convictions in Virginia, in 2007, for possessing drug paraphernalia and a weapon.

Winkfield's limited criminal background and privileged upbringing clash with the gravity and circumstances of his recent arrest. A preliminary hearing is scheduled in Baltimore City District Court for May 27, but government officials do not expect the case to stay there long. DEA agent Marcinko suggests that, based on the evidence, Winkfield's case "may lead to federal charges."

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