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Federal Judge Recuses Himself After Tearing Into Drug Prosecutors

BENTON, Ill. - U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert has removed himself from a drug case, after making a 40-minute speech in which he criticized the "misconduct and bad faith" of overzealous prosecutors.

Judge Gilbert refused to accept Katie Heath's guilty plea in a methamphetamine conspiracy case in May. In October, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors had acted properly in obtaining the plea agreement, which could bring a 20-year sentence for Heath. The circuit told Gilbert to move forward with the case.

Heath was indicted in federal court in 2006, three months after being released from prison for the same crime, court papers state. Gilbert speculated that investigators increased the charges to up to 20 years in prison because Heath refused to cooperate.

Gilbert told the Post-Dispatch that he could not ethically stay on the case given his opinion of the prosecutors, saying that he has seen the culture in the U.S. Attorney's Office turn inappropriately harsh in the past decade, especially in drug cases.

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