NEWARK (AP) — An appeals court on Friday removed the trial judge from the case of a prominent defense lawyer accused of orchestrating the murder of a government informant. The court cited questions about the judge’s impartiality.
Calling removal “an extraordinary remedy that should seldom be employed,” the appeals court agreed with prosecutors, who claimed that rulings and conduct by Judge William J. Martini of Federal District Court during a trial that ended in a hung jury in November raised questions of bias toward the defendant, Paul W. Bergrin.
Mr. Bergrin’s clients included the rap stars Lil’ Kim and Naughty by Nature and an Army reservist charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
He was charged, along with several others, in May 2009 in a plot to murder a witness who was to testify against one of his clients in a drug case. His co-defendants eventually pleaded guilty to other counts, and some testified against him.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Judge Martini “usurped the jury’s role” by excluding some testimony from the trial in a ruling that “cannot be reconciled with a sound exercise of discretion.” The United States attorney’s office declined to comment on the ruling. Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer who advised Mr. Bergrin during his trial, did not return a message. Mr. Bergrin has been jailed since his arrest three years ago.