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Trial Judge in Notre Dame/Obama Graduation Protest Case Recuses Herself and Steps Aside from Case After Appeal is Filed

by Staff
January 14, 2010
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NOTRE DAME, Ind., (christiansunite.com) -- In the ongoing case involving 88 pro-life demonstrators arrested at the University of Notre Dame in the days leading up to (and in some cases during) President Barack Obama's commencement speech and receipt of an honorary degree, the assigned trial judge has recused herself just days after defense attorneys filed an appeal from her earlier ruling, denying recusal.

Judge Jenny Pitts Manier filed an order, dated January 6, 2010 (an Epiphany gift for the defense), reciting that she had decided to recuse herself, stepping aside from the case and sending it back to the Chief Judge of the St. Joseph County civil court for assignment of a new trial judge. This action came just days after Thomas More Society attorneys had filed papers in Indianapolis for purposes of prosecuting an appeal to the Indiana Appellate Court to secure a ruling that Judge Manier should be required to step down from hearing the so-called "ND88" cases because she had either an actual or perceived bias against the defense and should be disqualified from the case. The defense lawyers' claims of bias were based on the Judge's prior rulings in abortion protest litigation, her husband's outspoken criticism of Catholic pro-life teachings while serving as a tenured philosophy professor at Notre Dame, and other factors.

On December 3, attorneys Tom Dixon and Dave Wemhoff had argued the bias issues while also arguing that the trespass charges against the pro-life defendants should be dismissed. Judge Manier had yet to rule on the dismissal motion but instead certified the question of her recusal for an immediate appeal. That appeal is now "moot" given her decision in the meantime to step aside voluntarily. Presumably, the defense motion for dismissal of the charges will be heard by another trial judge, whom the Chief Judge should be assigning to the cases in short order. The defendants' motion to dismiss all the cases were to be heard on a "global" basis, with all 88 cases consolidated for that purpose. The motion for dismissal is based on several factors, including that Notre Dame campus police were exercising state arrest powers in a manner that was "viewpoint- discriminatory" in arresting the pro-lifers at a series of demonstrations on campus while tolerating similar demonstrations on the part of pro-Obama advocates. Among those arrested were prominent pro-life figures including Alan Keyes, former presidential candidate who also ran for the U.S. Senate against then-Senate candidate Barack Obama, and Miss Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" in Roe v. Wade.

"We are pleased that the Feast of Epiphany provided the defendants with this unexpected gift," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. "It is essential that these important cases be decided by an impartial tribunal. We look forward to securing a favorable ruling on the pending motion for dismissal."

Additional details will be forthcoming, as both Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, and many of the ND88 defendants plan on attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C. on January 22, 2010. The Thomas More Society continues to call for Notre Dame to intercede with the county prosecutor to obtain an early dismissal of these still-pending charges. To arrange an interview with Tom Brejcha or another Thomas More Society representative, please contact Tom Ciesielka at 312-422-1333 or tc@tcpr.net.

About the Thomas More Society
Founded in 1997, the Thomas More Society, is a national not-for-profit public interest law firm based in Chicago and dedicated to fighting for the inherent rights and inviolable dignity of all human life, from conception until natural death. The Society vigorously defends clients in state and federal courtrooms around the country, addressing vital issues across the pro-life spectrum, including free speech, free exercise of religion, pregnancy discrimination, end-of-life health care, and the right of conscientious objection for medical workers, and the sanctity of life and marriage.

As a public interest law firm, the Thomas More Society is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, supported solely by private donations. Visit www.thomasmoresociety.org for more information.

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