Obama-appointed federal judge removed from all his criminal cases

After weeks of progressive fulminations against Judge T.S. Ellis over his handling of the just completed trial of Paul Manafort, a federal judge has been removed from all his criminal cases.  To the dismay of those on the left, he is an Obama appointee: Judge Colin Stirling Bruce of the Central District of Illinois.

Michael Karm, Associated Press legal affairs correspondent, reports:

A federal judge in two of Illinois' highest profile cases has been removed from hearing all his criminal cases after it was revealed he exchanged emails with an employee at the U.S. attorney's office in which he commented on and joked about one of his trials in progress at the time.

Some legal experts said Tuesday the matter could lead to a review of hundreds of cases to see if Judge Colin Bruce had sent out similarly inappropriate emails during trials before, a review process that could create trial delays and logjams at the U.S. District for Court for central Illinois.

"It is an understatement to say that this is outrageous," said Phil Turner, a defense attorney in Chicago and a former federal prosecutor in northern Illinois with no cases before Bruce.  "It's extremely unusual and way beyond the pale."

Judge Bruce has been scheduled to preside over two of the highest-profile federal cases in Illinois:

The Urbana-based Bruce had been presiding over ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's corruption case and the case of Brendt Christensen, accused in the 2017 kidnapping and slaying of Yingying Zhang, a Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois.  Neither case has yet gone to trial.

Judge Colin Bruce (source).

Judge Bruce's entire legal career prior to confirmation as a federal judge on October 7, 2013 (by a unanimous Senate vote) was spent as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District, as a White House press release upon his nomination noted:

Bruce joined the United States Attorney's Office in 1989 and has spent his entire 24-year legal career serving as an Assistant United States Attorney.

Apparently, Judge Bruce's sense of "collegiality" overwhelmed his common sense and allowed him to make ex parte communications so outrageous as to require this extreme move.  However, note that so far, the removal of Judge Bruce is being termed as "temporary":

Chief U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid said in a one-sentence statement Tuesday that he had "temporarily reassigned" all of Bruce's cases in which federal prosecutors are a party.  He didn't say why.

The reputations of the Department of Justice and federal courts have taken a big hit recently.  The fact that the conviction rate percentages in federal courts have risen from the mid-seventies to the nineties since the 1970s could indicate a rise in the quality of federal prosecutors and their work, but it might also be that the sort of "collegiality" that verges into bias is at work.  I wonder if the rate of nomination from assistant U.S. attorneys (the career prosecutors, not the politically appointed U.S. attorneys themselves) has risen in tandem with the rise on conviction rates.

I am certain that the wheels of justice will methodically grind for Judge Bruce as they would for any criminal defendant.  A federal judge deserves the presumption of innocence and integrity until evidence to the contrary is examined in detail.  But in the court of public opinion, the federal judiciary has already suffered.

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