A judge in Portland, Maine, stunned a courtroom full of people Monday when he recused himself from the court hearing of 17 Black Lives Matter protesters at the request of a defense attorney.
The Portland Press Herald reports that Judge Paul Fritzsche did not offer an explanation when he abruptly recused himself from the court hearing that had already been disrupted by supporters who spoke out during the proceedings and were warned by bailiffs that they could be ejected from the courtroom.
Defense attorney Thomas Hallett’s “aggressive cross-examination” of Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman started the chain of events that led to Fritzsche’s recusal, according to the Press Herald. Hallett’s line of questioning reportedly suggested that Ackerman had committed an ethics violation by attempting to meet with the protesters during a restorative-justice proceeding without all their attorneys present.
Assistant District Attorney Amanda Doherty raised an objection about the relevance of Hallett’s questions, and Fritzsche sustained it, which led Hallett to say he was “deeply disturbed” with the judge’s point of view, and the judge responded that he was “deeply disturbed” at Hallett’s “marketing and posturing and being such a difficult attorney.”
From the Press Herald:
Hallett then asked the judge to recuse himself from the proceedings. Fritzsche, an active retired judge, granted it immediately, saying “We’re done,” leaving the attorneys stunned and the Black Lives Matters protesters and nearly two dozen supporters ecstatic.
The hearing is expected to be rescheduled to be heard by a different judge.
District Attorney Stephanie Anderson told the Press Herald, “I have never seen anything like that. I think it was very disrespectful conduct by the defense attorney and very disrespectful conduct of the people in the courtroom.”
Hallett told the Press Herald that Fritzsche is a “friend and good judge” but acknowledged that his abrupt decision to recuse himself was “pretty unusual.”
“[Fritzsche] was upset with me, and I guess I understand that to a certain extent,” Hallett said. “I was not entirely following his directions. In the long run I had just felt that things had gotten out of hand.”
Meanwhile, the protesters issued a statement that read, “Just like the restorative justice session, we came ready to participate. But, representatives of the state continuously show that they are incompetent and incapable of fulfilling their duties. The only skill they have been able to show, is the ability to use any and every measure possible to silence black voices.”
Read more at the Portland Press Herald.