A judge has denied the Jackson County district defender’s request that a new judge hear her office’s concerns about public-defender caseloads.
On Tuesday, Judge David M. Byrn issued an order in which he found Presiding Judge John Torrence’s September comments to two members of the Kansas City Star’s editorial board were not enough to disqualify him from presiding over the defenders’ case.
The order was in response to a motion to disqualify filed in late September by Ruth Petsch, who manages the Jackson County Public Defender’s Office. On Oct. 12, Torrence issued an order reassigning the decision to Byrn.
In her motion, Petsch argued that Torrence should be disqualified because of comments he made to members of the Kansas City Star’s editorial board in an interview, including comments questioning the work ethic of young lawyers in the public defender’s office and saying the public defenders spend much of their time “just simply resisting doing anything.”
In his order, Byrn wrote that for Torrence to have shown disqualifying bias or prejudice, there must be facts that would indicate he formed a bias or prejudice from an extrajudicial source, or there must be facts that would indicate he formed a bias or prejudice making fair judgment impossible.
“The facts and record are insufficient to suggest that Judge Torrence’s statements in the interview stem from an extrajudicial source,” Byrn wrote.
Byrn wrote that Torrence’s comments “are essentially identical” to statements he’d made in prior written orders in the case.
He also noted that the facts and record are insufficient to show that Torrence’s comments mean that fair judgment in the case is impossible.
In her motion, Petsch contended that Torrence’s statements suggest he has prejudged the case and predetermined that the caseload problems are self-inflicted problems created solely by Petsch, Byrn wrote.
“However, there are no statements made in the interview that state or indicate that Judge Torrence has already prejudged the current proceedings – as noted above, he is essentially repeating statements made in prior Orders,” he wrote.
The case is In Re: Area 16 Public Defender Office, 1716-MC14505.