Judge George O’Toole continues to turn his distinguished, powerful and most responsible position into an impotent administration post to accommodate Carmen Ortiz and rubber-stamp her wishes. His latest order nullifies the testimony of law professor Neil Vidmar who argued for a change of venue in a 40-page motion of the defense which was contested – not even answered – by the prosecution.
lauraw estimated in the latest BBN the chances for a change of venue as “slim to none”, and after this development, I tend to think she’s right. By striking Vidmar’s statement, O’Toole strikingly affirms that Ortiz – and nobody else – has his ear when it comes to rulings in the Tsarnaev case. Many observers agree with Vidmar that the one-sided media coverage of the “evil brothers” qualifies for an affective demonization and makes it impossible to find an impartial jury in Boston.
This is only the last example for O’Tooles negligence to provide himself with information input from various perspectives to be able to weigh the arguments and make a well-considered decision. In November 2013, he refused to permit a so-called amicus curiae brief by the ACLU Massachusetts with regards to the SAMs because in his judgment “a trial court presiding over a criminal prosecution should not receive or consider volunteered submissions by non-parties except as specifically authorized by statute.”
This caused a snarky response by renowned lawyer and civil liberties expert Harvey Silverglate: “It is the utmost in judicial arrogance and pettiness for Judge O’Toole to reject even the filing of such a brief… Put more bluntly, Judge O’Toole is acting as if he were a tool of the U.S. Department of Justice, rather than a neutral judge. This is most unfortunate.” As with Vidmar’s statement, O’Toole pleads formal arguments as a pretext to avoid any substantial examination of the matter. Things haven’t changed.
O’Toole completely disregards that the life of a young man is at stake. The preciousness of human life dictates a review of any potentially relevant information and disallows any fiddling around with formal rules. US judges have a good reputation of independence from the government, in the highly esteemed American tradition of strengthening the ordinary citizen against arbitrary assaults by authorities. O’Toole was never one of these, as E.F. Beall has ascertained.
Another big pending question is the planned begin of the trial in November. In a past status conference, O’Toole mocked at Miriam Conrad after she expressed her doubts that the defense would have enough time to prepare for this date: “I’ll make you a believer.” It is unknown if Conrad has turned into a believer – but neutral observers like David Frank certainly have not. He seems to be persuaded by defense attourney Watkins’ argumentation at the last hearing that the prosecution plastered the defense with disordered evidence material (“find the needle in the haystack!”). He predicts an appeal if the defense is forced into the trial without adequate preparation, which is a thinly veiled criticism of the judge’s handling. In the same interview, Frank also expects the judge to schedule a hearing on the change of venue matter – but this has yet to be seen.
It appears that George O’Toole is doing his best to become famous in the US judicial history – but not to his advantage.