.- The trial judge assigned to the legal case involving 88 pro-life activists arrested for demonstrating at the University of Notre Dame recused herself from the case last week. The activists had demonstrated against the university’s decision to host President Barack Obama as a commencement speaker and award him an honorary degree.
Defense attorneys had appealed Judge Jenny Pitts Manier’s ruling denying their request that she recuse herself. In Indiana the standard for recusal states that the judge must be shown to have actual bias or the perception of bias. The defense argued that Judge Manier should recuse herself based on her prior rulings in abortion protest litigation, her husband’s criticism of Catholic pro-life teachings as a tenured philosophy professor at Notre Dame and other factors.
The case will be sent back to the chief judge of the St. Joseph County civil court for the assignment of a new trial judge, a press release from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society reports.
In December 2009, attorneys Tom Dixon and Dave Wemhoff had argued for the recusal and also argued that the trespass charges against the defendants should be dismissed.
The motion to dismiss all the cases was to be heard on a “global” basis, with all 88 cases consolidated for that purpose.
The defense lawyers charge that Notre Dame campus police exercised state arrest powers in a manner that was “viewpoint discriminatory.” They allegedly arrested pro-lifers at a series of demonstrations on campus while tolerating similar demonstrations from supporters of President Barack Obama.
Those arrested include Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” from the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, and Alan Keyes, a former Republican presidential candidate who ran for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat against Barack Obama.
Judge Manier’s decision to recuse herself was issued on Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said her recusal was an “unexpected gift” for Epiphany.
“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,” Brejcha commented in a press release.
The Thomas More Society and others have called on the university to intercede with the county prosecutor to obtain an early dismissal of the charges.
Many of the defendants as well as Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, plan to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22.