Legal Ethics

7th Circuit Cites 'Unreasonable Fury' of Chief District Judge as Reason for His Mid-Trial Removal

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Putting an end to speculation about why a chief federal district judge was suddenly removed from an ongoing criminal trial in Chicago, the federal appeals court that axed him earlier this week explained today in a written opinion that it acted because of the jurist’s “unreasonable fury” against prosecutors.

Responding to a petition for a writ of mandamus by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a three-judge appeals panel not only agreed with the government that excluded fingerprint evidence should have been admitted in the drug prosecution but took Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman off the case in a Tuesday order posted by Main Justice.

“The transcript of the district judge’s remarks concerning the evidentiary issue reveals a degree of anger and hostility toward the government that is in excess of any provocation that we can find in the record,” the panel states in today’s explanatory opinion (PDF) authored by Circuit Judge Richard Posner.

The panel issued its order removing Holderman in haste Tuesday, one day after the mandamus petition was filed and without providing an explanation for its ruling, because of the risk that the chief district judge might act in the meantime to grant an unjustified mistrial and thus prevent the government from trying the suspect in the drug case due to double jeopardy, the appeals court explains.

Already, earlier in the trial, Holderman “had excluded the [fingerprint] exhibit and related testimony because he suspected the government, on the most tenuous of grounds, of having tampered with the evidence, and he threatened to grant a mistrial that would bar any further prosecution of the defendant by virtue of the constitutional prohibition against placing a person in double jeopardy.”

Hat tip: Chicago Tribune.

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