Trial Over Blogger's Alleged Death Threats Against Chicago Judges Moved to Brooklyn
By Mark Fass
New York Law Journal
September 23, 2009
The trial of a New Jersey man who allegedly threatened on his Web site to assault and murder three judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has been moved to Brooklyn federal court.
Defendant Hal Turner, a popular blogger known for posting vitriolic diatribes against gun control, immigration and abortion rights, published several entries advocating the deaths of Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, the prolific Judge Richard Posner and Senior Judge William Bauer, for their decision upholding the dismissals of several cases challenging handgun bans in and around Chicago.
"Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty," Mr. Turner wrote on June 2. "These Judges deserve to [be] made such an example of as to send a message to the entire judiciary: Obey the Constitution or die."
Mr. Turner also posted the judges' photographs, phone numbers and work address, as well as a map of their courthouse that specifically pointed out three "anti-truck bomb barriers."
Mr. Turner faces a maximum of 10 years if convicted of "threaten[ing] to assault, kidnap, or murder, a [federal judge] with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with [the judge] or with intent to retaliate against [the judge] on account of the performance of official duties," in violation of 18 USC §115(a)(1)(B).
The chief justice of the Northern District of Illinois assigned the case to District Court Judge Donald Walter, a visiting judge who normally sits in Shreveport, La.
Judge Walter then granted the defense's request for a change of venue, transferring the case to Brooklyn.
In agreeing to move the case, the judge cited the February 2005 murders of Chicago federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow's mother and husband.
"Although the motion (for a change of venue) makes no reference to the recent tragedy in which the husband and mother of a member of the District Court for Northern Illinois were slain, the court takes notice of it and the widespread media coverage devoted to it," he said. "Memories are not so short as to erase the event from the public mind."
Mr. Turner also cited those murders in his June 2 post, but for a different proposition.
"Apparently," Mr. Turner wrote, "the 7th U.S. Circuit court didn't get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed."
Judge Walter will now come to Brooklyn as a visiting judge to hear the case.
The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.
The Chicago prosecutors assigned to the case, William Hogan and William Ridgeway, will try it.
Mr. Turner also faces similar charges in Connecticut state court, for urging his blog's readers to "take up arms" against the state legislature.
Changes of venue are uncommon in federal court; several Eastern District officials yesterday said that they could not recall a case being transferred either in or out of Brooklyn.
But Mr. Turner's attorney, Michael Orozco of Bailey Orozco in Newark, said the decision to move the present case was an obvious one.
"You have a New Jersey defendant whose actions were only done in New Jersey who is being charged in Chicago with threatening Chicago judges," Mr. Orozco said. "The chief judge recused every single judge. There's no way they can have any judges there hear this thing fairly."
Mr. Orozco said that he was not worried about trying the case in the "melting pot of New York."
"Mr. Turner is not a hate-filled man," Mr. Orozco said, "regardless of what content people want to bring out that he has said in the blogs."