You heard that right. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last September that District Judge Arthur J. Schwab must step down and be replaced by a judge who could be impartial in the case.
If you have been following the Don Siegelman case, this news might cause you to have (borrowing a phrase from Keith Olbermann) a "WTF Moment."
Just yesterday, we wrote in detail about Alabama U.S. Judge Mark Fuller and the myriad grounds that he has shown bias in handling the Siegelman case. Our report even raised allegations that Fuller had committed fraud on the court in the Siegelman matter.
Yet Fuller remains on the Siegelman case while Schwab, also a George W. Bush appointee to the federal bench, gets the boot in Pennsylvania.
The issue of recusal has been raised in the Siegelman case, but Fuller has refused to step down, and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has done nothing to force him.
Did a new judge make a difference in the Wecht case? Oh, just a little. The new judge, Sean J. McLaughlin, threw out key evidence, crippling the government's chances of retrying Wecht, who is a renowed forensic pathologist.
And get this. The new judge actually wanted to force the government to prove its case within the framework of this document we call the U.S. Constitution. Reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
McLaughlin said his ruling should not be viewed as a "legal technicality."
"These rulings are grounded in well-established Fourth Amendment principles which serve as a bulwark against unwarranted governmental intrusion into the private affairs of every citizen, not just this defendant," McLaughlin wrote. "The importance of these principles transcends this particular case."
I'll be damned. A judge who thinks a defendant's right to a fair trial is a serious matter. Who could have guessed that such a judge existed?
No such judges apparently sit on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the one that recently upheld most of the convictions against Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy.
Which raises these troubling questions? Does justice in America depend largely on where you live? Is it a matter of residing in the right judicial circuit? And is the 11th Circuit, which oversees Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, controlled by serious jurists or political hacks?
We will be taking a serious look at these question in the next few days.