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September 1, 2010

Notable tussle between federal judge and federal defenders in Pittsburgh

This story from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which is headlined "Federal judge may remove himself from public defender cases," reports on an interesting federal criminal justice brouhaha. Here are the basics:

A federal judge today issued an opinion saying that he would disqualify himself from all cases in which the federal public defender's office represents a client before him provided the office shows that it sought permission from each of the 21 defendants involved before it sought that relief from the court.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab issued the three-page opinion a day after the public defender's office filed motions asking the judge to disqualify himself from every case it had pending before him.

The motions accuse the judge of being biased against the office, citing as an example his rulings in a case involving Youa Vue, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

However, in his opinion, Judge Schwab strikes back at the PD's office, particularly singling out the attorney on the Vue case as having failed to do her job.

Though he wrote that in his 7-1/2 years on the bench he has been "impressed with the zeal and quality of the representation of the [assistant federal public defenders] and counted them as professional colleagues in our great system of justice," he blamed Elisa Long for allowing Mr. Vue and another client to spend more time in custody than they should have based on the advisory guideline range they faced on their charges....

He said that he will grant the motions to disqualify for all 21 defendants but only if the public defender's office meets face to face with each client and obtains an affidavit from each one saying that they agreed with their attorneys' decisions to file the motions to disqualify before the motions were filed. He gave the office until Sept. 10 to provide the affidavits.

Further, he wrote, that "the court will implement an automatic disqualification for all future criminal cases where a defendant is represented by an attorney from the FPD's Office."

September 1, 2010 at 04:25 PM | Permalink


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How long will this last? The W.D. Pa. doesn't seem that big? How can you have one (life-appointed) judge who essentially doesn't take any criminal cases?

Posted by: anon | Sep 2, 2010 9:47:59 AM

The Supreme Court has clearly addressed what steps in the defense of a criminal case require the personal assent of the defendant, and which are to be made by counsel. Very few are the client's to decide -- whether to plead guilty, whether to testify, whether to appeal. Whether to move for recusal of the judge is definitely not one of those issues. So the judge's requiring this personal statement from each of the FPD's clients seems to me evidence in support of the view that he is acting unreasonably toward that office.

Posted by: Peter G | Sep 2, 2010 10:06:53 PM

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