Judge is tossed from Whitey Bulger case in appellate opinion by Souter

A federal appeals court has removed a judge from the trial of reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, who is accused of committing 19 murders as part of a racketeering conspiracy.

Retired Justice David Souter, sitting on the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote the panel opinion removing U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns from the case, report the Boston Globe and the Associated Press. The defense had sought Stearns’ removal because he had worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office at the same time as another prosecutor who, the defense alleges, gave immunity to Bulger. Stearns had served as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s criminal division.

Souter wrote that Stearns was sincere in his belief that he could be impartial, but the case should nonetheless be reassigned to a new judge. “Despite our respect for Judge Stearns and our belief in his sincerity, we are nonetheless bound to conclude that it is clear that a reasonable person might question the judge’s ability to preserve impartiality through the course of this prosecution and the likely rulings made likely by the immunity claim,” Souter wrote in the opinion (PDF) issued Thursday.

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