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U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell - one of the most outspoken critics nationally of mandatory minimum sentences - has resigned to return to teaching and to advocate for crime victims.

In a resignation letter sent Friday to President Bush, Cassell said he thought he never would leave his position, but two offers to serve the public in other ways changed his mind.

One was to teach at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and conduct research on victims' rights. The other was to litigate cases across the country for the National Crime Victim Law Institute.

"As you know, many indigent crime victims have unmet legal needs in the criminal justice system, particularly because the content of victims' rights remains largely undeveloped in the courts," Cassell wrote in his resignation letter.

The judge, who makes $165,200 a year, also cites financial reasons for his resignation, noting that he and his wife have three children approaching their college years. He will be able to supplement his U. salary by working as an attorney.

Cassell, whose resignation is effective Nov. 5, was appointed to the federal district court of Utah by Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May 2002.

A high-profile advocate of victims' rights and one of the nation's harshest critics of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Miranda ruling, he defied expectations of some that he would ignore defendants' rights and be guided by ideology.

Since he took a spot on the bench, Cassell has encouraged defense lawyers to ask for reduced punishments for their clients and questioned whether lengthy mandatory sentences for weapons offenses are constitutional.

After being forced under the law to impose a 55-year prison term on a Utah man who was convicted of carrying a firearm during several marijuana deals, he urged Congress to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences. In a 2004 decision, he became the first judge in the country to hold that federal sentencing guidelines were unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent.

Cassell taught at the U. law school for nine years before his appointment. Before that, he spent three years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia and two years as an associate deputy U.S. attorney in the Justice Department. He was a clerk to then-Chief Justice Warren Burger of the U.S. Supreme Court and for Antonin Scalia, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and now a Supreme Court justice.

Dean Hiram Chodosh said he is honored that Cassell will be teaching at the U. law school.

"He will contribute invaluably to our exciting and exemplary Utah Criminal Justice Center and joins the most outstanding criminal justice team in the country," Chodosh said in a written release.

Judge Cassell

* U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell of Utah reluctantly sentenced record producer Weldon Angelos in 2004 to a mandatory sentence of 55 years in prison. Calling the punishment unjust, the judge has urged Congress to repeal laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences.

* As chairman of the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking group for federal courts, Cassell also has called for reform in restitution laws that limit the compensation victims can receive.