By Debra Opri
Transparency issues and the need to appear fair are impacting federal authorities in their plan to move the trial of alleged gunman Jared Loughner to San Diego. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, 40, was struck in the head by a single bullet during the shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 13, including the congresswoman. Local defense attorney Judy Clarke, has been chosen to represent Loughner.
Citing federal law enforcement sources, several outlets reported in the past 24 hours that federal officials are planning to relocate the trial of the Arizona man to Southern California.
Though a handful of the U.S. prosecutors have a compelling argument – and many oppose any change of venue motion – that Loughner’s trial should not be moved in the interest of the Tucson community’s sense of justice for the purported unspeakable January 8th massacre, “it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” says an unnamed federal source. The new AZ chief judge, Roslyn Silver, will make the final decision about any venue change in a matter of days.
San Diego-based U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns, whose jurisdiction is the Southern District of California, had been tapped to oversee the case after all the Arizona federal judges recused themselves because one of the rampage’s fatalities was Arizona’s chief federal judge, John Roll. While it is not unusual for a federal judge to relocate to another state in cases like these, it is unlikely that Burns, a former prosecutor nominated to serve the federal court in 2003 by George W. Bush, will be asked to do so.
The choice of Burns by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealswas likely influenced by his court’s suitability for hosting the trial, analysts said. Defense attorneyJudy Clarke also is based in San Diego, and the 400-mile distance from Tucson would be reasonable for witnesses and government lawyers to travel, experts said.
According to experts, San Diego, seat of the Southern District of California judicial region, is adjacent to the Arizona district and has experience providing tight security to high-profile trials, The next step is for the presiding judge to engage in a fact-based analysis, looking at all the different factors in finding a jurisdiction, the No. 1 being where can the defendant obtain a fair and impartial trial.
Certainly, the pre-trial publicity in Arizona has been enormous. However, what began as regional news soon grew into a national front page story and shortly after, an international preoccupation. With each and every new fact that appears and networks like CNN devoting full hours to any and all details of Loughner’s alleged crimes, isn’t every jury pool – no matter where the venue – going to have a preconceived disposition on the case? This has not just shaken the nucleus of potential Arizona jurors but each of us … to our very core.