Alleged mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger has yet to go to trial, but he is already taking his issues to the federal appeals court.
Bulger’s lawyer, J. W. Carney Jr., argued before a panel of judges for the First Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday morning that the judge in Bulger’s case should recuse himself.
“The trial must be overseen by a judge who is not connected to the most infamous period in federal law enforcement history in Boston,” Carney told a group of reporters after presenting his argument to the judges. “The integrity of our federal judicial process depends on it.”
Bulger, through Carney, has appealed District Court Judge Richard Stearns’ decision to not recuse himself from the case. Bulger has claimed that he was given immunity by a former US Attorney and that Stearns’ work in that office before he was appointed a judge should be reason for him not to oversee Bulger’s trial.
Zach Hafer, an assistant US attorney, dismissed Bulger’s immunity claim and said “there’s no basis either factual or legal” that should prevent Stearns from overseeing the trial.
The prosecutor also called Bulger’s claim of immunity “outlandish” and “unsupported.”
Carney has refused to release the details of Bulger’s claim of immunity and said those would be brought up during the trial when Bulger will testify.
Before Carney completed listing his reasons as to why Stearns should recuse himself, the panel of judges interrupted him when he brought up the immunity issue.
Judge Bruce Selya said Carney’s inability to provide more information on his immunity claim may “undermine” parts of his argument.
During the arguments, Carney did reveal that Bulger was promised immunity sometime during or after the majority of his alleged murders were carried out.
Pressed by Judge David Souter, Carney said Bulger was promised immunity sometime before 1984, but did not get more specific. Carney has previously said that former US Attorney Jeremiah O’Sullivan, who died in 2009, was the one to promise the alleged mob boss immunity.
The majority of the 19 murders that Bulger is accused of occurred before 1984.
After hearing the arguments, Tommy Donahue, whose father was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1982, said Carney made good points.
Donahue said he didn’t want to see Stearns step down, unless it was going to delay the trial.
“If it’s going to be all of this then yeah he should step down,” he said.
A ruling is not likely for months.
Bulger is scheduled to go to trial in June.