Update Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 pm: Judge Fuller has stepped down from the Brian Nichols case, stating in his letter –
"Judicial impartiality, real and perceived, is a critical element of the trial process," Fuller wrote to Downs. "In light of recent media reports, I am no longer hopeful that I can provide a trial perceived to be fair to both the state and the accused."
This is a relatively rare stray from the topics of bankruptcy and financial matters, but a subject of interest to lawyers in Georgia.
Judge Hilton Fuller, the Judge in the Brian Nichols ("Courthouse Shooter") case, has essentially held up the case indefinitely and caused the state to allocate millions of dollars to his defense. This has led to accusations, motions, requests to recuse, motions to recuse, and arguments before the Georgia Supreme Court. There is plenty of commentary about all of that so I need not add to it here. Presumably, the theory is that Judge Fuller was going overboard to make sure there would be no grounds for an appellate court overturning the verdict. The Judge has continuously refused to withdraw from the case.
However, the case made a big turn this week when Judge Fuller was quoted in New Yorker Magazine as saying —
If the case ever gets to trial, the defense will offer an even more contentious argument: that Nichols, who has pled not guilty, acted out of a “delusional compulsion” (a version of the insanity defense allowed under Georgia law). “That’s their only defense, because everyone in the world knows he did it,” Judge Fuller told me.
See the AJC article discussing the quote here, which includes lawyers opining that the Judge violated the judicial canon of ethics. Page Pate, an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer, says the following on his blog –
I’m not saying he’s wrong. No sane person doubts Nichols’ guilt. But the real question is why in the world would he publicly say this when the case is still pending in his court? Why did he agree to an interview at all? Didn’t he put a gag order on everyone involved in the case? Doesn’t that also apply to him? I really don’t get it. Maybe it’s an intentional move to get off the case. But why not simply recuse himself without all the fuss and delay? As much as I would like to explain his comment, or offer some insight, I just don’t get it.