Judge Refuses to Recuse Himself From Mob Trial

     (CN) – The federal judge presiding over the criminal trial for former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger refused to recuse himself despite Bulger’s contention that he was privy to the government’s investigation of his activities when he was an assistant U.S. attorney.
     Bulger, 82, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang in Boston, is charged with numerous murders spanning over a decade, as well as racketeering, extortion and drug trafficking.
     A long-time presence on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Fugitive list, Bulger eluded arrest for 16 years living quietly in Santa Monica, Calif., before he was arrested in June 2011.
     On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns denied Bulger’s motion for recusal, saying, “There is a long-standing presumption of judicial impartiality in the federal courts of the United States, including those of the First Circuit. This presumption is not overcome by specious and unsupported factual allegations.”
     Stearns said Bulger’s motion relied on “a historically mistaken premise,” that the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, which investigated Bulger in the 1980s, reported to the local U.S. Attorney’s office. In fact, he says it reported “directly to the Department of Justice.”
     He added, “It would be institutionally irresponsible for me, or for that matter, any other judge, to enter a recusal in a case where a party has chosen to make untrue accusations in the possible hope of subverting that process, or at the very least, forcing a delay of a trial by injecting a diversionary issue into the proceedings… I am confident that no reasonable person could doubt my impartiality.”
     In a separate decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler partially lifted a protective order on 300,000 documents related to the case. Bowler found that “there is not an adequate showing that all of the documents the government produced or will produce should remain subject to the terms of the protective order. Simply referring to broad swaths of categories of material is not sufficient.”
     In doing so, Bowler dismissed the Boston Globe’s motion, filed as an intervenor, seeking to lift the entire protective order on First Amendment grounds.
     “It is well established that the public as well as the media have ‘a constitutional right of access to criminal proceedings under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,'” Bowler said, quoting precedent, but she held that this right does not extend to discovery materials.
     “Here, except for the few exhibits filed under seal, the Globe seeks access to and dissemination of discovery material in the hands of defendant. Tradition teaches that ‘[d]ocuments submitted in conjunction with discovery proceedings… do not thereby become part of the trial to which the tradition of access applies,'” Bowler said.
     The judge ordered the government to identify the categories of documents that it believes should remain under seal. “At a minimum, such categories include medical records and autopsy reports,” Bowler said.

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