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New Judge Selected For Bulger Trial

BOSTON — A new judge has been named to preside over the trial of reputed Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, a day after the previous judge was removed to eliminate any appearance of bias.

The clerk of the federal court Friday announced the appointment of U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper.

On Thursday, a federal appeals court removed Judge Richard Stearns from the case, citing his background as a former federal prosecutor. Stearns worked that job in the 1980s, when Bulger was working as an FBI informant.

Casper also worked as a federal prosecutor in Boston, leading the U.S. attorney’s drug unit. She later oversaw daily operations at the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.

Casper, who was confirmed in 2010, is the first black woman to serve on the federal bench in Massachusetts.

Bulger ran the Winter Hill Gang and is accused of participating in 19 murders. He was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., with his girlfriend in 2011 and has pleaded not guilty.

Text report above is by The Associated Press. Below, WBUR’s David Boeri joined All Things Considered Friday to discuss the transition of judges.

Steve Brown: What do we know about Judge Casper?

David Boeri: We know that she was a federal prosecutor between 1999 and 2005, that she also worked in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office as a Deputy District Attorney. She had a stint as well in private practice in civil litigation. And she’s highly thought of.

What issues will Judge Casper be facing as she gets up to speed on this case?

Not as many as most people might think. Although, the defense has said it will seek to overturn several decisions that Judge Stearns made before he was ordered to step down. One of them involves the immunity defense that Bulger’s attorneys want to present. He ruled that, in fact, they could not present it to the jury unless and until there was a hearing in which he decided whether or not it was appropriate to present that.

Remind us again why the appeals court bumped Judge Stearns from this case.

The court of appeals made a very strong ruling here that said he needed to step down because reasonable people would have cause to think that he might not be impartial when presiding over this trial. It was very important. They said that because of his connections to the U.S. Attorney’s office — remember he had been head of the criminal division during the 1980s when Bulger was at the peak of his power and when, as we know now, there was a corrupt relationship between Bulger and the FBI and serious questions about improprieties involving the Department of Justice. And so for those reasons, the panel of those three judges said that Stearns needs to step down.

Now, what’s interesting here of course is you have in Denise Casper somebody who also was in the U.S. Attorney’s office, was also in a supervisory role, was also involved in the criminal division. However, that was between the years of 1999 and 2004. Her institutional connections to the Bulger case are far less complicated and serious than Stearns’. And yet, you do have Thursday’s ruling which suggested that perhaps nobody who was in the U.S. Attorney’s office should be considered to preside over this case. But, again, Jay Carney — the defense attorney for Bulger — has said all that mattered to him was that Stearns was not presiding, and he’s not going to object to any other judges on the trial.

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