As expected, Judge Susan Garsh has refused to step aside from the murder case against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. As not expected, prosecutors won’t appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Via FOX Sports, Judge Garsh rejected arguments that she has shown bias against lead prosecutor William McAuley in a prior case he handled before her.
“Considerations other than the law have not and will not color any of my rulings,” she concluded.
“I have examined my emotions and consulted my conscience, and I am satisfied that I harbor no bias as a result of anything that happened in the 2010 case or . . . McCauley’s statements outside of court following that case.”
The surprise came when District Attorney Sam Sutter announced that the decision would not be appealed. Typically, efforts to remove a judge inevitably go to the next level, since judges usually aren’t inclined to admit that they have some bias or prejudice or interest that would affect their ability to be fair and impartial.
So why make the effort to have Judge Garsh step down? Given the high-profile nature of the case, it may have been aimed at ensuring the media will pay close attention to her handling of the case, pointing out possible instances of bias in her rulings. Which in turn may force her to be go so far out of her way to be perceived as fair that it actually helps the prosecution.
The risk, of course, comes from the possibility of alienating the judge at an early stage of the case. That risk may have been balanced out by the decision not to push the issue beyond her courtroom.
While the case ultimately will be decided by a jury, the judge always is in position to make a huge impact on the outcome. From pre-trial rulings regarding evidence that will and won’t be allowed to be given to the jury and witnesses that will and won’t be testifying to efforts made to strike potential jurors “for cause” based on their beliefs and/or relationships to the many instances during a trial of questions that draw objections, the judge has enormous influence over the final verdict, and in many cases a wide range of discretion in making decisions.
The reality for the prosecutors is that, by firing a shot across the judge’s bow, the result could be that she’ll still make rulings they don’t like — but that she’ll be more careful about making them in a way that can be defended against outside scrutiny.