Thursday, July 29, 2010

Judge ordered to recuse mid-trial

Something that many attorneys have dreamed of, but just as you have to be Brad Pitt to atract an Angelina Jolie, so likewise you probably have to be Patrick Fitzgerald to have the Seventh Circuit remove your judge sua sponte during a trial:
In an extraordinary maneuver, the federal appeals court in Chicago removed a judge from an ongoing criminal trial that has been marred by disagreements between the prosecutors and the judge.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provided no explanation in its Tuesday order dismissing U.S. District Judge James Holderman from the jury trial of a man facing drug charges. The court said an opinion would be forthcoming.

The appeals court intervened after U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald took the unusual step of stopping the trial twice to ask the court to review the judge's decision to exclude critical fingerprint evidence against the defendant. * * *

Fitzgerald did not ask the appellate court to remove the judge from the case, only to find that Holderman erred in excluding the evidence.

A three-judge appellate panel ruled in Fitzgerald's favor and allowed the evidence and testimony related to the fingerprints.

However, the additional sanction of Holderman by U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Posner, Diane Sykes and Ilana Rovner stunned court watchers. The appellate court overturns rulings of Chicago federal judges all the time, but few could remember the last time a judge was removed in the middle of a trial.

"This is an extraordinary situation; it really is," said Len Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University who is a former criminal defense attorney. "Posner is one of those judges that if something happens procedurally that he doesn't like, he will take action immediately." * * *

Before the trial started July 6, Holderman excluded evidence of two fingerprints on drug packaging because the prosecutor had violated a court deadline for evidence gathering. The federal appeals court reversed the ruling, saying the exclusion was too harsh a penalty for missing a deadline.

Yet during the trial, Holderman found problems with the reliability of the same fingerprint evidence. He notified the prosecutors, prompting them to file an appeal with the appeals court July 14. Holderman responded in court papers that he had not made a final decision.

On July 22, the judge definitively excluded the evidence, leading to another trial stoppage. In the petition, Fitzgerald said Holderman had accused multiple prosecutors of lying and threatened to hold misconduct hearings. The judge fired back in court papers filed Tuesday that the government's petition contained "several deficiencies" and "false factual statements."
Looking forward to that opinion. (Via How Appealing.)

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