gavel.jpgThe chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today assigned a federal judge from San Diego to preside over the U.S. trial of a Tucson man accused of carrying out a mass shooting on Saturday.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, 56, was selected by 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski after all federal trial judges in Arizona earlier today disqualified themselves from hearing the case of Jared Lee Loughner.

One of those killed was the Arizona judges’ colleague, U.S. District Judge John Roll of Tucson. The judges said in a written order that they stepped aside because “the impartiality of the district and magistrate judges in the District of Arizona might reasonably be questioned.”

The judges asked Kozinski to assign an outside jurist. Arizona is one of nine western states in the 9th Circuit.

Loughner, 22, is suspected of killing Roll and five other people, and of wounding 13 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, when he opened fire at a community meeting held by Giffords.

He faces five charges in federal court: attempting to murder a member of Congress; murdering a U.S. judge; murdering a federal employee; and attempting to murder two other federal workers.

The federal employees were three Giffords staff members: community outreach director Gabriel Zimmerman, who was killed, and aides Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, who were wounded.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said this week she plans to file separate state court charges at an unspecified future date against Loughner in connection with the other deaths and injuries.

Ninth Circuit spokesman David Madden said the federal trial is currently docketed to take place in Arizona, where Loughner made an initial court appearance in Phoenix on Monday.

Loughner’s defense attorneys, however, could seek a change of venue to another state.

Burns was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2003 and previously served as a U.S. magistrate judge, a federal prosecutor and a San Diego County prosecutor. He graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law.

Among other cases, Burns presided over the bribery case of former San Diego Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and the racketeering
and money laundering case of Mexican drug cartel leader Javier Arellano-Felix. Both pleaded guilty.

In a civil case, Burns ruled in 2008 that a 29-foot cross honoring veterans on public land on Mt. Soledad in the San Diego area was constitutional because Congress had a secular purpose in acquiring the land.

But last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit overruled Burns, saying the cross on federal land amounted to an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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