Just 11 days after being named to preside over the trial of notorious gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger, US District Court Judge Denise Casper said today she will not let her sudden arrival in the case push the long-awaited trial beyond its previously scheduled start date, June 10.
“I do intend to keep’’ that date, Casper said from the bench, where she was overseeing pre-trial wrangling between Bulger defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. and prosecutors from US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office.
Casper, the federal district court judge in Massachusetts with the least seniority, was chosen randomly this month to take over the trial after the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ordered US District Court Judge Richard Stearns off the case because of a potential appearance of conflict of interest.
Carney had sought Stearns’s removal because, he said, he might call Stearns as a witness.
Casper is a former federal prosecutor, but she emphasized from the bench today that her work in law enforcement never intersected with the Bulger controversy.
“I have nothing to do with the prosecution of this case, a case that was reassigned to me 11 days ago. For the record,” Casper said.
Bulger himself was not in the courthouse in South Boston's Seaport district for today’s hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes.
Assistant US Attorney Brian Kelly said federal prosecutors expect to call 50 witnesses and that the trial will last through the summer. But Carney, who has said Bulger himself will take the stand in his own defense, predicted the trial will last into September.
Casper said she planned to empanel a total of 18 jurors, 12 deliberating jurors and six alternates. Technically, the start of the trial is June 6, when the process of selecting a jury is supposed to get underway; June 10 is when lawyers are expected to begin presenting evidence to jurors.
While saying she wanted to keep the trial date set by Stearns, Casper told defense attorney Henry Brennan that she was not ready to throw out a key ruling by Stearns that had the effect of cutting off Bulger’s claim he was immunized by federal law enforcement.
“It’s a very important issue,” Brennan said. “We disagree with Judge Stearns’s reasoning, his logic, and his basis for that ruling.’’
The judge told the lawyers that she had read Stearns’s ruling, but was not ready to resolve the issue today.