Judge in Wecht case won't withdraw

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The federal judge in the criminal case against former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht refused to remove himself from the case yesterday.

In a 58-page opinion, filled with baseball analogies and quotes from historical figures, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab rejected the notion that he is biased in favor of the prosecution or that Dr. Wecht cannot get a fair trial.

"The Court finds that a reasonable person, aware of all of the circumstances, would not harbor any doubts about this Court's impartiality," he wrote.

Dr. Wecht's defense attorneys have said they will appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

His trial on 84 counts, including mail and wire fraud, is scheduled to begin on Oct. 16. Questionnaires to 300 prospective jurors were mailed out last week.

Lawyers for Dr. Wecht claimed that the judge has been unfair toward their client, since he permitted all of the prosecution's exhibits into trial and has said that he will hold a contempt hearing for the defense team following the trial.

But, in his opinion, Judge Schwab disagreed with those allegations.

"[The] contention that the defense always loses and the government always wins, is not supported by the record," he wrote.

Judge Schwab cited several instances where defense motions have been granted, including one where he required the government to pay half of the $36,000 cost of copying discovery materials.

The judge also responded to the defense claim that the indictment of Dr. Wecht was spurred on in a witch hunt by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. He wrote that despite those contentions, defense lawyers never offered any proof of that.

"Speculation remains speculation, no matter how many times someone repeats it," he wrote.

Judge Schwab noted in his opinion that a fair trial is not only important to the defendant but to the public, as well.

He said a recusal would be a waste of judicial resources, since a new judge would then have to try to catch up with all the work that's already been completed in the case.

"Importantly, it also may appear to the public to be improper judge-shopping and manipulation of the criminal justice system," he wrote.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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