A second judge has recused from presiding over the manslaughter case against former reserve deputy Robert Bates but the reason for her decision remains a mystery.
District Judge Sharon Holmes did not announce her decision during a routine status hearing Monday in Bates’ case. Instead, Holmes said she wanted to meet in chambers with Bates’ attorney, Clark Brewster, and the district attorney’s office to discuss some scheduling matters in the case.
Brewster told reporters after the meeting that Holmes had recused. A clerk for Holmes said the judge declined to comment on the matter until after Bates’ next hearing, Jan. 5.
Bates was a reserve Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy serving on a drug task force when he shot Eric Harris during a gun sting April 2. Harris, who had a prior felony, ran from the undercover officer’s truck as deputies moved in to arrest him.
After Harris was tackled and pinned on the ground by two deputies, Bates stood over him and shot him. He has said he intended to use his Taser instead, though Harris had already been subdued.
Brewster said neither he nor the DA’s office asked for Holmes to step down. When asked why the judge recused, Brewster said: “I think that that would be better put to the judge. I don’t want to say.”
The state code of judicial conduct says: “A judge should disclose on the record information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might reasonably consider relevant to a possible motion for disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no basis for disqualification.”
Holmes, who was elected to the bench last year and took office in January, has not filed or made any disclosures of possible conflicts in the case.
The state judicial code also says a judge should recuse from a case if “the judge knows or learns … that a party, a party’s lawyer, or the law firm of a party’s lawyer has within the previous four (4) years made aggregate contributions to the judge’s campaign in an amount that a reasonable person would believe could affect the fairness of the judge’s consideration of a case involving the party, the party’s lawyer or the law firm of the party’s lawyer. ”
A 2007 state Supreme Court ruling states: “Where there are circumstances that cause doubts as to a judge’s partiality, it is the judge’s duty to disqualify, notwithstanding the judge’s personal belief that he or she is impartial.”
As he stood with Bates outside the courtroom, Brewster said: “We just hope to have our day in court and have the truth come out . … I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute about the videotaped evidence and we feel comfortable with 12 good people listening to it and making the correct decision.”
Harris’ brother, Andre, held a photo of his brother and other family members as he talked to reporters following the hearing.
“This is the first Thanksgiving that I didn’t have my brother around. His son will be here spending time with his uncle and not his dad,” Harris said.
He said Brewster made a comment to him in the courtroom that he perceived to be a taunt: “See you at the top.”
It’s a phrase that Andre Harris often uses in a religious sense on his Facebook page and elsewhere. Harris said Bates’ case exposed corruption at the sheriff’s office that the public should not forget.
“Everybody’s walking out of the sheriff’s office because of the coverup since ’09. Let’s wake up and do something about it.”
Holmes is the second judge to recuse from Bates’ case. In October, District Judge James Caputo recused after a request by the DA’s office. That request followed an investigation by The Frontier into apparent undisclosed conflicts of interest involving Caputo and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
It is unclear whether the change will delay Bates’ trial, scheduled for Feb. 8, on second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death. Cases are randomly assigned to judges on a rotating basis.
A clerk at the court administrator’s office said a new judge has not been chosen and that she didn’t know which judge would be next in the court’s rotation.