Roger Stone’s defense team moved to force the recusal of Judge Amy Berman Jackson from the case for bias. These motions have a very low success rate and this particular motion likely has an even lower likelihood of success. Jackson is a respected and experience judge. I actually was taken aback by a couple of her comments about the case but courts of appeal are extremely reluctant to force such recusals.
Moreover, the main thrust of the motion is a statement about the jury which would be viewed as virtually standardized language for courts.
The Stone team seems particularly aggrieved that Jackson said that the jury in the case had “served with integrity.”
There is a pending motion for a new trial based on the alleged bias of the foreperson of the jury and the defense feels that the comment prejudges the merits of that motion.
I happen to agree that Stone deserves a new trial if these allegations are true. I have a column appearing in today Hill newspaper calling for such a new trial. An appellate court would like view such a statement as virtually rote for judges and not a commitment on the outcome of the pending motion.
I am actually more concerned with another statement that Jackson made at the last hearing.
Jackson declared that Stone “was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”
A “cover up” suggests that Stone was hiding damaging information against Trump. The evidence shows that Stone was covering up aspects of his own conduct. He was open about his work and fealty to Trump. There was no evidence of any misconduct or criminal conduct by Trump himself. Jackson had to know that this sensational line would be the take-away from the hearing and it was.
Nevertheless, while injudicious, such a statement in isolation is not likely to warrant the removal of a judge by a court of appeals. Overall, Jackson conducted the trial and sentencing in an efficient and fair way. Some judges would have hammered Stone more severely for his poor conduct before the trial in his public comments, including the use of an image of the judge that many thought was threatening. She also handed down a sentence that was exactly what some of us predicted and less than half of what the prosecutors originally asked for.
The motion will be denied and the defense probably has no expectations to the contrary. The motion is a shot across the bow for the court and preserves the question of bias for appeal. It is all setting up for the most important decision in the case on how the court will deal with what appears to be a valid juror bias motion.