In the ongoing case involving 88 pro-life demonstrators arrested at the University of Notre Dame in the days leading up to President Obama’s commencement speech, the assigned trial judge has recused herself.
Judge Jenny Pitts Manier, whose husband is an outspokenly pro-abortion Notre Dame professor, filed an order on Jan. 6, saying that she had decided to recuse herself. The case will now be sent 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 an appeal saying that Judge Manier should be required to step down because she had either an actual or perceived bias against the defense. The defense lawyers based their claim 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 allowed the question of her recusal to go to an immediate appeal. That appeal is now “moot” given her decision in the meantime to step aside voluntarily.
The defense motion for dismissal of the charges will now probably be heard by another trial judge, whom the Chief Judge should be assigning to the cases. 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 [Jan. 6] 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.