(NECN: Alysha Palumbo, Boston) - James “Whitey” Bulger will be getting a new judge for his case, still set to go to trial in less than three months.
Thursday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns will be removed from the murder trial, and the case will be reassigned to another judge.
“While they do not believe that Judge Stearns would be impartial, they are concerned with the public perception that he might not be fair,” said NECN Legal Analyst Randy Chapman.
NECN’s legal analyst says the defense raised the issue of Stearns’ ties to FBI director and possible witness Robert Mueller, as well as Stearns’ previous positions in the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“There was some concern that Judge Stearns during the key period where there was possibly this immunity order for Whitey Bulger was in a supervisory role in the US Attorney’s office and so therefore there is the possible appearance of impartiality,” said Chapman.
Stearns had twice previously ruled against the defense’s motion to recuse himself, but Chapman says this may be best for everyone involved.
“Honestly it’s limited a possible appeal issue later on,” Chapman said.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says her office respects the opinion of the court and will continue to prepare for trial.
“We are hopeful that this opinion will not cause a delay, as it has always been our goal to try this case as soon as possible, the victims’ families have waited long enough,” Ortiz said.
But the brother of alleged Bulger victim Debra Davis says he doesn’t see how another judge could take on this case so quickly.
“We’re talking a couple of month until trial, there isn’t going to be a judge going to sit on that bench that’ll be ready by June 6 - not going to happen,” said Steve Davis.
Bulger's defense attorney J.W. Carney released a statement saying:
"It has always been our intention to have James Bulger testify at trial and explain to the jurors how he operated over 25 years in Boston without a single charge by Federal prosecutors. This will include direct and corroborating evidence that he received immunity, and that it was not because he was an informant. We intend to call all relevant witnesses, even if they are judges, a Director for the F.B.I., and former United States Attorneys."
In reference to delaying the trial, in the ruling Justice Souter wrote, "The defendant has represented that he will not seek any trial delay if a new judge is substituted."
The decision goes on to say that the new judge is not required to review Judge Stearns ruling on the immunity issue.
But Carney could certainly appeal that ruling.