Key hearing set for April 19 on James ‘Whitey’ Bulger immunity claim

US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper today set April 19 to hear from attorneys in the James “Whitey’’ Bulger case on what is emerging as a major issue since she was put in charge of the trial: How many rulings from an earlier judge will stay in place?

Casper was randomly assigned the Bulger case last month after the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that US District Court Judge Richard Stearns, who was originally in charge, should step aside because he was a Department of Justice official during part of Bulger’s alleged criminal career.

Before he was ordered out of the Bulger case, Stearns had ruled that Bulger would not have been entitled to immunity for serious crimes such as murder, as Bulger claims. He barred Bulger from raising that as a defense strategy when his trial begins in June. The defense has said that Bulger, 83, will take the stand.

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Bulger’s attorneys have now asked Casper to toss that ruling aside. “The defendant did not possess a license to kill, but rather an agreement with the [Department] of Justice,” defense lawyers wrote in recent documents.

Bulger’s lawyers have not said what he agreed to do in exchange for federal immunity. He denies being an informant, despite evidence from prior court proceedings that he provided information to the FBI for years.

But US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office has urged to Casper to leave Stearns’s ruling undisturbed and ridiculed the request by Bulger’s attorneys as “a game of legal Whac-A-Mole.”

Bulger, 83, is set to go to trial in June on a federal racketeering indictment accusing him participating in 19 murders.

In a brief order issued today, Casper said she wants to hear from the attorneys on the issue on April 19.