One judge recused himself Wednesday from the first-degree murder trial of accused serial killer Anthony Garcia.
And the new judge wasted little time showing who was in charge.
Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty stepped aside from the case “due to health reasons.” The judge has had a number of medical issues — issues that could have made it difficult for him to preside over the four- to six-week trial.
His replacement: Douglas County District Judge Gary Randall.
Randall is an 18-year veteran of the bench and recently was a finalist for the vacancy on the Nebraska Supreme Court. Gov. Pete Ricketts instead appointed another judge to the post.
The change in judges could mark a change in the tone of the proceedings.
Legal observers noted that Randall is a little more no-nonsense than Dougherty. Both are affable and calm, but Randall tends to rule his courtroom more than Dougherty does.
In the 2½-year buildup to this case, Dougherty calmly, respectfully and many times casually presided over heated hearings. In one hearing, defense attorney Robert Motta Jr. screamed over a phone line until finally, Dougherty told him to “shut up.”
Comparatively, Randall rules with an iron fist.
He wasted little time showing it Wednesday.
Despite concerns from the defense, Randall said he plans to try to keep the April 4 start date for Garcia’s trial and has made plans to have his bailiff clear the month for the case. Prosecutors say it could take four to six weeks to try Garcia on charges that he killed 11-year-old Thomas Hunter, Shirlee Sherman, Dr. Roger Brumback and Mary Brumback as revenge for his firing from Creighton University Medical Center.
By phone from Chicago, Garcia’s attorneys, Robert Motta Sr. and Robert Motta Jr., questioned whether the judge could get up to speed in that amount of time.
“You can imagine it’s pretty shocking, five weeks out of trial, having our judge recuse himself,” Motta Jr. said. “This is pretty stunning to hear for a case of this magnitude. ... Are you going to be able to get caught up with where we are? I’m worried, to be honest with your honor.”
“You don’t need to worry,” Randall replied.
The attorneys questioned whether Randall would have any conflict because he graduated from Creighton Law School in 1974.
“It’s been 40-some years, so I don’t think so,” Randall said flatly.
Randall indicated that he planned to have Dougherty rule on several pending motions. The Mottas objected to that, saying that Randall should rule on such motions. And, they said, they plan to move to have Randall reconsider several other motions that Dougherty already ruled upon.
To which, Randall replied, they would have to file a motion and pay for a transcript of the hearing they want him to reconsider.
Motta Jr. balked at paying for the transcripts. “I don’t think so,” he said. “We didn’t make this situation.”
Randall cut Motta off.
“There is no motion to reconsider right now,” the judge said.
Motta responded: “How could there be a motion when we just found out who the (new) judge was 10 minutes ago?”
Randall said there would be time to get up to speed.
Randall initially introduced himself by saying: “Dr. Garcia, I’m Judge Randall.”
Though once a medical doctor, Garcia has since been stripped of any licenses to practice medicine.
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