Pioneering Judge Denise J. Casper named to preside over James ‘Whitey’ Bulger trial

A new judge has been named to preside over the trial of notorious gangster James J. “Whitey” Bulger.

Denise J. Casper has been a federal judge in Boston since December 2010. A relatively young judge in her mid-40s, she is the first black woman to sit as a federal judge in Massachusetts.

Her appointment by the clerk of the court was announced this afternoon.

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Bulger’s defense attorney, J.W. Carney, Jr., in a statement declined comment about the decision to put Casper in charge of the trial.

The selection of Casper, a former federal prosecutor, came a day after a federal appeals court ordered Judge Richard G. Stearns to step aside from the case because of his ties to the US Justice Department.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Casper’s own past as a federal prosecutor would raise any issues, but her experience is much more recent than Stearns’s.

Stearns was a top prosecutor in the US attorney’s office in the 1980s, when, Bulger claims, another prosecutor promised Bulger immunity for his alleged crimes, including murder.

Bulger went on a 16-year run from law enforcement the same year, 1994, that Casper graduated from law school. Casper served as an assistant US attorney in Boston from 1999 to 2005, including a stint as deputy chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

After Stearns was taken off the case, the new judge was chosen from the 13 remaining judges by a random drawing. Of the 13, all but five are former federal prosecutors.

Casper also worked as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County from 2007 to 2010, according to her biography at the federal judiciary website.

Casper’s former boss as a state prosecutor, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr., said any federal judge in Boston is capable of presiding at the Bulger trial. But, he said, Casper is more than ready to meet the challenge.

“Knowing Judge Denise Casper as a former colleague, the public should be particularly confident that this case remains in very able hands,’’ Leone said in the statement.

Thursday’s ruling was a major victory for Bulger and raised questions whether his trial would have to be delayed. Bulger, 83, once a fearsome figure in Boston’s underworld, is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s. He evaded capture until being arrested in June 2011 in California. His trial is set to begin June 6.

Bulger’s lawyers said Thursday they would have no concerns about any other judge on the federal bench in Boston and had no plans to ask for a trial delay.

Casper was born in East Patchogue, N.Y., in 1968 and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1990 before attending Harvard Law School.

Casper was nominated for her current position on the US District Court in Boston by President Obama on April 28, 2010; she was confirmed by the US Senate on Dec. 17, 2010.

She took the seat of the late Reginald C. Lindsay, one of the first black federal judges in Massachusetts, and has said she is committed to encouraging others who might one day follow her.

“She’s an exceptional role model,” US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf told the Globe last year. At her relatively young age, he added, Casper brought a fresh perspective to an aging federal court system in Massachusetts. “Younger people have had different experiences, and it’s valuable to have that on the court.”

Her husband, Marc Casper, is the chief executive of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. They have twin sons.