Two people charged in looting incidents that led to more than 40 arrests last summer in the Twin Cities lost their bids for a new judge on Monday after a second judge rejected their bias claim against Judge William Yoder.
At a hearing that combined cases against Mary Bailey, 38, and Travis Blake, 23, defense lawyer Jonathan McEldowney argued Yoder's refusal to consider fully negotiated pleas in the cases has prejudiced his clients and others facing similar charges.
“This is not business as usual,” said McEldowney.
Defendants in the looter cases are being treated differently than others accused of felony burglary, said McEldowney, calling Yoder's position “a blanket decision" that amounts to “an abuse of discretion."
McLean County prosecutor Aaron Hornsby noted that neither Blake nor Bailey have offered specific plea deals to Yoder, adding the judge has been upfront about his approach to the looting cases.
Yoder has informed lawyers and defendants he will not be bound by plea offers that include a specific sentence.
In his ruling, Judge Paul Lawrence said he did not find bias or prejudice in Yoder's handling of the cases.
“There is no requirement that a judge give his concurrence with a plea agreement,” said Lawrence.
A judge is free to issue a sentence that is harsher, lighter or in line with recommendations from the defense or state, said Lawrence, whose assignment to the case was limited to the bias question.
“Judge Yoder will have that exact opportunity in these cases,” said Lawrence.
After the hearing, McEldowney said he plans to appeal the ruling.
The looting incidents followed peaceful protests in downtown Bloomington related to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.
In September, defense lawyers expressed concerns that Yoder’s position could limit the possibility some offenders could receive Second Chance probation, a program that removes a felony record if the person completes probation. Yoder’s new order for restitution created a new wave of concern for defendants and their lawyers.
The majority of the looter cases are on Yoder’s docket. It is not known if Yoder will choose to keep the cases on his docket when he takes over a new roster of cases in January for retiring Judge Scott Drazewski. Associate Judge William Workman is expected to be temporarily assigned to Yoder's docket.
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