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Lawyer questioning judge’s recusal after ex-Mayor Daley subpoenaed to testify

[6/2 WHITE JUDGE B. LAMPKIN 1  @  ]5/29/97---13th   Michigan Chicago Domestic Violence Court.  Judge BertinLampkher

[6/2 WHITE JUDGE B. LAMPKIN 1 @ ]5/29/97---13th & Michigan, Chicago Domestic Violence Court. Judge Bertina Lampkin in her courtroom. Photo by John H. White/Sun-Times neg no 97-05-680 JE

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Updated: September 19, 2013 9:36AM

A lawyer fighting to free a convicted rapist from prison is questioning the timing of a Cook County judge stepping down from the case after former Mayor Richard Daley and an Illinois appellate judge were subpoenaed to testify as witnesses.

On Tuesday, Judge Evelyn Clay recused herself from Stanley Wrice’s case, saying she has a potential conflict of interest that she could not disclose. She would only reveal that “this court knows some of the parties involved.”

Clay previously ruled in Wrice’s favor, ordering a Sept. 23 evidentiary hearing after finding he “successfully established a substantial showing of actual innocence.”

Daley and Appellate Court Judge Bertina Lampkin were subpoenaed last month to testify at the hearing. Daley was the Cook County state’s attorney when Wrice was convicted, and Lampkin was a prosecutor on the case.

Wrice, 59, claims police tortured him into giving a false confession to a 1982 gang rape. He says detectives working for disgraced Cmdr. Jon Burge carried out the interrogation. Burge is now in federal prison for perjury in connection with his testimony in a civil case involving allegations that he and colleagues tortured suspects.

Jennifer Bonjean, a Brooklyn attorney representing Wrice, said Clay’s decision to recuse herself from the case was “very troubling.”

“It’s beyond the pale that she won’t identify her potential appearance of impropriety,” said Bonjean, who is working on Wrice’s case for free along with Chicago attorney Heidi Lambros.

“They’re just trying to keep Daley and Lampkin off the stand,” Bonjean alleged. Presiding Criminal Courts Judge Paul Biebel must now appoint a new judge to take over the case from Clay. He set a Sept. 4 hearing on the matter.

It could take months or longer for a new judge to become familiar with the facts of the case and schedule an evidentiary hearing, Bonjean said. A new judge could even reverse Clay’s rulings that favored Wrice, she said.

The special prosecutor in the case didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Clay declined to comment to the Chicago Sun-Times on her recusal. But in a transcript of the Aug. 13 hearing in which she stepped down, Clay apologized for her decision.

“This court knows some of the parties involved,” she disclosed, adding she was “belatedly of the determination” to recuse herself to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

When Bonjean asked her to explain why, Clay responded: “Well, I prefer not.”

Bonjean then told the judge that failing to identify her reason for the recusal was a “subversion of justice.”

Bonjean noted that Daley and Lampkin were on both sides’ witness lists for months before the two were subpoenaed in July. “The court has known of those parties for 18 months,” she said.

Experts on legal ethics said judges in Illinois aren’t required to disclose why they recuse themselves from cases — but they usually do.

On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court has an unofficial policy that justices never disclose why they recuse themselves from a case.

Wrice’s battle to overturn his 100-year sentence received a major boost from Northwestern University students working with David Protess of the Chicago Innocence Project. The students obtained a sworn statement from witness Bobby Joe Williams, who recanted his trial testimony that Wrice was involved in the 1982 rape.


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