March 14, 2013

Court removes judge from Bulger trial

Denise Lavoie / The Associated Press

BOSTON — The judge who was set to preside over the trial of reputed gangster James "Whitey" Bulger was removed from the case Thursday by a federal appeals court that found his background as a former federal prosecutor could create the appearance of bias against Bulger.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns must step down from the case.

Bulger's lawyers argued that Stearns should be removed because he was a federal prosecutor in Boston in the 1980s. At the time, Bulger was working as an FBI informant while allegedly committing crimes, including murder.

Bulger claims he received immunity for his crimes from another federal prosecutor who worked in the same office as Stearns while Bulger was giving the FBI information on the Mafia.

The appeals court said it believes that Stearns, who twice rejected the defense request to step down, is sincere in his belief that he could be impartial at Bulger's trial.

But the court said in its ruling, "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 necessary by the immunity claim."

The decision was written by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who sits on the federal appeals court in Boston for three months each year.

The Bulger case will now be reassigned to another judge.

Bulger, the 83-year-old former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is awaiting trial on charges of playing a role in 19 murders.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)