'We are done,' federal judge says, declares mistrial after questioning defense claim

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A federal judge in California appeared to lose patience last week with a federal public defender after questioning her claim about a shackled defendant.

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright of the Central District of California told lawyers, “We are done,” and he abruptly declared a mistrial, Law360 reports.

Law360’s story is based on transcripts of Wright’s May 18 remarks outside the presence of jurors during the sex-trafficking trial of massage parlor operator Mei Xing.

Law360 said Wright made his decision after a “heated exchange” with public defender Callie G. Steele over her claim that the jurors may have seen the defendant’s shackled feet.

Steele had requested a mistrial May 17. The next day, Wright said he thought about the request, and he was granting the motion because the only way to determine whether jurors had seen the shackles was to ask “each and every one of them.” That would confirm the defendant is shackled and in custody, he said.

According to Law360, Wright said he didn’t personally think that jurors had seen the shackles. He began to discuss alternatives to a mistrial with the federal prosecutor when Steele asked to be heard.

“Did I not give you what you asked for?” Wright told Steele and asked her to sit down.

Steele said she wanted to address the government’s proposal.

This is Wright’s reply, according to Law360: “And I’m going to recuse myself. … OK. We’re done. Seriously, we are done. I am no longer able to dispassionately play this game anymore because this is like fun and games, and I do believe that intentional misrepresentations are being made to the court. I’m going to recuse myself. I’m declaring a mistrial. It will go back on the calendar, go back on the wheel for reassignment. We are done.”

A new judge has been assigned to the case.

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