Arizona shooting trial moves to California judge, possible California venue

A California federal judge will hear the case against Jared Loughner, who faces multiple charges related to the shooting rampage in Tuscon, Arizona which left an Arizona federal judge dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.

Judge Larry A. Burns of San Diego was appointed to the case after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves because the case involves the death of their colleague, U.S. District Judge John Roll, the chief federal judge for Arizona. Judge Burns was appointed to the Loughner case by Alex Kozinski, chief judge for the San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees lower federal courts in Arizona.

Judge Burns was appointed to be a federal district judge by George W. Bush in 2003 after serving as a federal magistrate for six years. Before that, Burns was a prosecutor for San Diego County and the federal government. Kozinski said that his selection factored in Burns’ experience with federal death penalty cases- both as a judge and a prosecutor, saying:

“I wanted a judge who [was] well-respected, and had the reputation of being fair and well thought of by both sides, and I wanted to have a judge who had some experience with the federal death penalty because that’s a possible situation here.”

The Washington Post also reported Monday that federal court authorities are attempting to physically move Jared Loughner’s trial to California over concerns that extensive pretrial publicity in Arizona could potentially jeopardize the objectivity of an Arizona jury pool and deny Loughner his right to a fair trial.

Federal prosecutors are fighting the venue-change and attempting to proceed with the case in Tucson. Justice Department Director of Public Affairs, Matt Miller said: “The Department plans to bring the case in Arizona and will oppose any change of venue motions.” The Justice Department did not, however, rule out the possibility of a venue change within Arizona.

Lawyers reported to Politico that Judge Burns, who has been appointed to oversee the case, will likely resolve any motions for a venue change, and decide whether to hold the trial in Tucson, another Arizona city, or in California. If moved out of state, the most likely venue will be San Diego, the seat of Judge Burns’ district and one of the closest judicial districts to Arizona.

Venue changes are uncommon, but have occurred before in some high-profile cases. The Oklahoma City Bombing case, for instance, was moved to Denver, Colorado by a Federal judge who stated that the defendants Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols had been “demonized” in the media. Even in 1996, however, the scope and reach of national media was entirely unlike what exists in 2011, where multiple 24-hour news channels, a robust Internet “blogosphere” and ubiquitous social media use might leave San Diego residents just as potentially-biased as Tucson residents.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is the only suspect in the Arizona shooting massacre, which killed six people- including a federal judge, and wounded 14 others- including U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He is currently being held in a medium-security prison away from other inmates for his own safety.