Legal Ethics

7th Circuit Removes Chief District Judge Mid-Trial After Evidence Dispute with US Attorney

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Updated: Ruling on an interlocutory appeal by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a federal appeals court in Chicago not only agreed with the prosecutor that the chief district court judge had erred by excluding fingerprint evidence in a drug case but removed the jurist from the ongoing trial.

“The case shall be reassigned to a district judge who is immediately available to preside, and the trial shall resume as soon as possible,” states the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in its July 27 order posted by Main Justice.

News of the court’s highly unusual action, which had not been requested by Fitzgerald in his petition for a writ of mandamus, stunned observers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

No immediate explanation of the Tuesday order to remove Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman was forthcoming, but the appeals court cited in a subsequent opinion what it called Holderman’s “unreasonable fury” against the prosecution and the potential for an unjustified mistrial.

The appellate court panel included Circuit Judges Richard Posner, Ilana Rovner and Diane Sykes.

“This is an extraordinary situation; it really is,” law professor Len Cavise of DePaul University tells the newspaper. “Posner is one of those judges that if something happens procedurally that he doesn’t like, he will take action immediately.”

A message on the district court’s website says that Holderman will be absent Thursday afternoon, July 29, and Friday, July 30. He also will not be holding a motion or status call on Thursday, Aug. 5 and Tuesday, Aug. 10, but is available for grand jury matters from Aug. 5 through Aug. 11.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer will be acting chief judge during Holderman’s absence Thursday and Friday.

Additional coverage:

Chicago Sun-Times: “Federal district judge overruled, removed in middle of drug case”

Last updated on July 30 to include information from subsequentl post.

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