Ex-officer convicted for 1994 hit wants federal judge back

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2015 2:02 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former New Orleans police officer who's fighting a capital conviction wants a judge who stepped aside back on his case.

Len Davis was sentenced to death for arranging the 1994 murder of a woman who had filed a brutality complaint against him. It would take too long for another judge to wade through more than 10,000 pages of records and become familiar with complex legal issues, he wrote in a request filed Monday.

"The transcripts of the first trial proceedings — just the transcripts without any pleadings, discovery, or exhibits — consist of at least 4300 pages," wrote Davis, who is in federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. "Transcripts of the second trial proceedings consist of at least 6800 pages."

The new judge also would need to become familiar with appeals of verdicts and of various other decisions, he wrote.

He wants the U.S. District Court to reinstate Judge Helen Berrigan, who removed herself from the case Dec. 14, giving no specific reasons but citing a law requiring judges to step aside if their impartiality "might reasonably be questioned." The case was reassigned to Judge Ivan Lemelle.

Davis said he did not ask for Berrigan's removal and, last year, an appeals court rejected a prosecutor's arguments for taking her off the case. Federal prosecutors contended that Berrigan's rulings over more than a decade about whether Davis should be allowed to represent himself could be seen as indicating bias.

Davis was convicted in 1996 on two federal civil rights charges for directing a drug dealer, Paul Hardy, to shoot and kill Kim Groves in October 1994. Berrigan, who sentenced Davis to death for a second time in 2005 after the 5th Circuit reversed his initial sentence, was still handling both men's post-conviction proceedings. She recused herself from both cases, though she also had rejected the prosecutors' arguments earlier.

That "is exceptional; counsel has not found a case presenting similar circumstances," Davis wrote.

Berrigan had ruled in 2012 that Davis could represent himself, with two Louisiana attorneys as "standby counsel" on 19 claims related to guilt, but not on sentencing and competency claims which he has said since 2012 that he plans to drop.

In 2012, without Davis' permission, those attorneys filed motions to vacate his convictions and sentence. Their court filing argued that Davis has a serious mental impairment that rendered him incompetent to stand trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon argued in a court filing last year that Berrigan erred by "usurping" Davis' right to control his legal strategy and allowing his standby lawyers to "raise issues that Davis has specifically rejected."

Davis wrote that Berrigan's decision to step aside is "completely at odds" with her earlier findings of fact and law.

"There is no evidence that the district court's legal rulings reflect deep-seated or unequivocal antagonism," which are needed to make a judge step aside, he wrote.

And, he said, "The district court's disqualification from Mr. Davis' case will result in lengthy delays and a significant waste of judicial resources in his case. ... Reassignment to avoid an appearance of bias based on judicial decisions, which are in essence moot at this point in the litigation, simply makes no sense."