The federal appeals court in Massachusetts has decided to remove the judge in the James "Whitey" Bulger trial,which comes as a win for the alleged mob boss who was scheduled for a June trial.
A panel of judges for the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Thursday that removes federal Judge Richard Stearns. Bulger's lawyer, J.W. Carney, Jr., has argued that Stearns' work in the US Attorney's office at the time Bulger was alleged to be commiting his crimes creates a impartiality. He has also argued that Stearns may be called as a witness as issues regarding Bulger's claim of immunity are decided.
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The appeals court judged sided with Carney and Bulger.
"With great respect for the trial judge, we nonetheless grant the petition, because it is clear that a reasonable person would question the capacity for impartiality of any judicial officer with the judge's particular background in federal prosecutorial apparatus in Boston during the period covered by the accustions," the appeals judges wrote in their 17-page ruling.
Carney had filed motions to remove Stearns, but Stearns rejected those motions and said he could remain impartial and had no knowledge of any alleged immunity agreement that Bulger had.
Messages seeking comment from the US Attorneys office and Carney were not immediately returned.
Bulger was scheduled to go to trial in June. Carney has repeatedly said he will be ready to go to trial in June, but with a new judge having to be assigned to the case, it is not immediately clear if that date will remain.
Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.