A Jewish federal judge whose family has raised more than $3 million for a pro-Israeli charity angrily refused on Thursday to recuse himself from the terrorism-related trial of a southwest suburban Palestinian immigrant.
U.S. District Judge Paul Borman accused lawyers for Rasmieh Odeh of “careless and rank speculation” for suggesting that he couldn’t be impartial in Odeh’s case.
He said Odeh’s lawyers do not have “a shred of factual support” for their “startling” suggestion that his many trips to Israel mean he has information about torture in Israeli prisons — a key issue in Odeh’s defense.
About 50 Chicagoans traveled by bus from Chicago to Michigan Thursday to protest outside the Detroit courthouse where Borman sits. They later packed into his courtroom to show their support for the 66-year-old Odeh, who denies she lied to immigration officials about a terrorist past when she emigrated to the U.S. in 1995.
Odeh spent 10 years in an Israeli prison after an Israeli court convicted her of two terrorist bombings — one of which killed two people — in Jerusalem in 1969. But she failed to acknowledge that fact when she came to the U.S., and again when she successfully applied for U.S. citizenship in 2005, the feds said when they arrested her in the Chicago area in October.
Odeh argues she failed to disclose her convictions because she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after being repeatedly beaten and raped while in Israeli custody — an argument prosecutors want the judge to ban from her trial next month.
Last month, her lawyers urged Borman to step down from handling the trial, saying he is a major supporter of Israel who cannot be expected to rule impartially on that defense.
Borman’s wealthy parents owned a regional supermarket chain and were supporters of Israel, and Borman himself was in 2007 awarded the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit’s highest honor, in part for his lifelong support of Israel, they noted.
But a clearly offended Borman prevented any public discussion of his background in court Thursday by issuing a written ruling stating that Odeh’s lawyers had confused him with a cousin in some of their accusations and misrepresented him in others.
All of his charitable work had been to “to further the Jewish community’s interest and involvement in programs to alleviate hunger, to promote local African-American Jewish relations and Arab-American Jewish relations, and to fund social service efforts in the diaspora and the State of Israel,” he wrote.
Adding that “a judge’s prior activities relating to his religious convictions are not a valid basis for questioning his impartiality in a particular case,” he said it was “irresponsible speculation” to suggest he had received out-of-court explanations from Israeli officials about the Israeli occupation.
“No reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts, and more particularly the lack of facts, could conclude that I will be unable to fairly rule on matters in this case, or that I have a personal bias against Ms. Odeh or personal knowledge regarding disputed evidentiary issues in this case,” he wrote.
Speaking outside court, Odeh’s lawyer Michael Deutsch said he was “not surprised” by the ruling.