Judge and Defense Lawyer dated same courtroom employee, how fair is this case?:
Committee Rules Relationship Did Not Affect Case
CONCORD, N.H. -- A Superior Court judge has been reprimanded for not immediately dropping out of a murder case when he learned he and the defendant's lawyer were dating the same courtroom employee.
Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Edward Fitzgerald and lawyer Ted Barnes eventually withdrew from the case, but Fitzgerald and the state's Judicial Conduct Committee agree that the judge violated the code of judicial conduct by not immediately disclosing the conflict to the defendant's lawyers and the chief justice and by taking four months to act on the defendant's request for a new trial.
The code conduct requires judges to drop cases if their impartiality can be reasonably questioned.
In a six-page "stipulation of facts and violations," Fitzgerald and the committee said he had "failed to avoid both the impropriety and the appearance of impropriety" and had "acted in a manner that fails to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
The committee concluded the relationships did not affect the murder case, or any other.
In an order dated Jan. 12 and disseminated Tuesday, the committee ordered Fitzgerald to attend a seminar on judicial conduct and ethics and to repay the committee for its investigation.
Fitzgerald and Barnes both dated court monitor Susan Corcoran. Court monitors work closely with judges to ensure that sessions are recorded accurately.
According to the stipulation, Fitzgerald and Corcoran stopped dating around the time the trial began, and she began dating Barnes, who was representing George Knickerbocker, a former New Hampshire man accused of killing a baby years ago.
The stipulations said there is no evidence the judge or lawyer knew of the competing relationships during the trial. Barnes said he was in the dark about Fitzgerald's relationship with Corcoran until after Knickerbocker's conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
When Fitzgerald found out, he told Corcoran she either would have to stop seeing Barnes, who appeared regularly in his court, or consider a transfer. Among his concerns was that Barnes might learn his thoughts about the Knickerbocker case from Corcoran.
Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn learned about the situation in June and asked Fitzgerald why he had not disqualified himself from the case earlier, according to the stipulations. Knickerbocker's request for a new trial was pending.
The document said Fitzgerald had not ruled on the request "in the hope that the whole thing would just go away."
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