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Judges for Synagogue Plot Trial Nixed in New Jersey

(CN) - Because the suspect behind a series of New Jersey synagogue attacks also allegedly threatened to kill Bergen County judges, judicial recusal is warranted, an appeals court ruled.

Aakash Dalal was charged in late February 2012 with criminal mischief for allegedly defacing a synagogue in Hackensack with anti-Semitic graffiti.

In the ensuing days, Dalal was also charged with aggravated arson of a synagogue in Rutherford and criminal mischief at a third synagogue in Maywood, as well as charges of conspiracy and intimidation.

The presiding judge in Bergen County set bail at $2.5 million, but an appeals court reduced his bail to $1 million.

Bail went up to $3 million, however, when Dalal was charged with conspiracy to murder a Bergen County assistant prosecutor, conspiracy to possess a firearm unlawfully, and terroristic threats.

A grand jury returned an indictment on the synagogue charges in March 2013, and in August the grand jury handed down an indictment on the murder-conspiracy charges.

As Dalal moved to dismiss both indictments, he claimed that the presiding judge should also be recused. Prosecutors acknowledged the basis for recusal in responding that they would present "evidence that defendant has listed [the presiding judge] as a target," the Nov. 21 ruling states. (Brackets in original.)

Though the presiding judge did recuse himself, Dalal then said that the entire Bergen County judiciary should remove itself from his case.

A three-judge panel with the Appellate Division agreed with Dalal last week that either his case should be transferred or that a judge from outside Bergen should take over.

Though Dalal has not actually been charged with threatening the presiding judge or the bail judge, "defendant is entitled to relief if 'a fully informed person might reasonably question the impartiality of a judge,'" Judge Clarkson Fisher wrote for the court.

New Jersey had argued that recusal would result in the court system being "bullied, insulted and humiliated," but the appellate panel disagreed.

"Even though we may assume arguendo defendant was the author of the problem at hand, and even though we are confident the trial judge could actually preside fairly and impartially, we conclude that the appearance of fairness in the future proceedings will be impaired so long as a Bergen judge presides over the matter," Fisher wrote.

Britain's Daily Mail reported that a raid of Dalal's apartment by county authorities uncovered blueprints of a local elementary school with the words "Project Anarchy" written on them.

Dalal also allegedly encouraged a friend to attack the Rutherford synagogue with a Molotov cocktail, The Daily Mail reported.

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