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Judge declines to step aside in drug case where he OK'd search

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A drug defendant's attorney last week asked her client's judge to refrain from presiding over the trial because he'd signed the search warrant used to find cocaine, but the judge declined to grant her request.

Among Judge Robert Crigler's reasons for not recusing himself as requested by defense attorney LaShawn Williams of the L.A. Williams law firm, was a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling provided by Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard.

The high court noted, among other things, that a trial judge must be asked if a new trial could be held after a jury verdict of guilty. New trial requests precede appeals. During the hearing Friday in Marshall County Circuit Court, that impartial consideration of a new trial motion after a trial was compared to a judge's duty to review search warrants before an arrest is made. Judges have indicated they know their rulings may be reviewed by courts of appeal, so they would avoid actions that might result in a reversal.

Williams represents William Lance Walker, 30, of 1913 Sugar Maple Drive, who was indicted on Nov. 18 on charges of possession of crack and powder cocaine for sale or distribution and one count of owning drug paraphernalia; digital scales. He was also indicted on charges of selling drugs to a confidential informant with the 17th Judicial District's Drug Task Force in 2008 on Nov. 14, 19, 25, and Dec. 2.

On Dec. 5, 2008, the task force and deputies from the Marshall County Sheriff's Department executed a search warrant signed by Judge Crigler and found five grams of crack, 10 grams of powder cocaine and the scales, according to the arrest warrant sworn out against Walker by Tim Miller of the task force.

As Walker's case has moved toward trial, his attorney asked the state for its evidence against him and Barnard reported that the state intends to prove that upon Walker's release from prison, he obtained drugs from a friend in Nashville and brought it to Lewisburg where he would sell it. At least one trip was made each week.

Williams' motion for Crigler to recuse himself came with her recurring notice that the issue was more a matter of appearances than impartiality. The issue, she said, was whether a reasonable person might conclude that, or question whether the judge had prejudged the case.

"It would be better for the judge to recuse for appearances," Williams said.

She also asked if Crigler could release the drug case so that Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell might preside.

Crigler replied that judges have a duty to do their job and not clog the docket of other judges.

Furthermore, "Judges can say they're wrong," Crigler said. "I think the law requires that."

Williams has also asked for a hearing on her motion to suppress the search warrant and that's scheduled to be heard on March 24.