Just two weeks after he angrily refused to recuse himself from the terrorism-related trial of a southwest suburban Palestinian immigrant, a federal judge with ties to Israel changed his mind Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said he would hand the trial of Evergreen Park woman Rasmieh Odeh to another judge after discovering his family had an investment in a Jerusalem supermarket that Odeh was convicted by an Israeli court of bombing in 1969.
Supporters of the 66-year-old Odeh — due to stand trial next month on charges she lied about that terrorism conviction when she emigrated to the U.S. in 1995 — hailed Borman’s decision Tuesday as a major victory.
“This is a vindication for the defense,” said activist Hatem Abudayyeh. “Our opposition to Judge Borman hearing this case had nothing to do with his Jewish faith and everything to do with his decades of support for the state of Israel.”
Odeh’s attorneys had asked Borman to recuse himself because he had been honored with a civic award in part for his support of Israel and because his family had raised more than $3 million for a pro-Israeli charity.
After 50 of Odeh’s supporters travelled last month from Chicago to Borman’s Detroit courtroom, an indignant Borman issued a ruling accusing Odeh’s lawyers of “careless and rank speculation” for suggesting that he couldn’t be impartial in her case.
Odeh’s lawyers did 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 — he said at the time.
But on Tuesday he revealed prosecutors had provided him on Monday with a translated copy of Israeli court documents, which name the supermarket Odeh was convicted of bombing as “SuperSol.”
Borman’s family, which owned the Detroit-area’s “Farmer Jack” supermarket chain, had a “passive investment” in SuperSol at the time of the bombing, which killed two people and injured many more, Borman wrote.
Though he insisted “I do not have a personal bias against Defendant Rasmieh Odeh” and stood by his earlier comments, the judge wrote that his family’s investment in “SuperSol at the time of the 1969 bombing could be perceived as establishing a reasonably objective inference of a lack of impartiality.”
The case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain, who also sits in Detroit.
Odeh’s lawyer Michael Deutsch said Borman had done the right thing, adding that he was “not surprised” to learn that the judge had more links to Israel than previously disclosed.
Deutsch had previously argued that Odeh was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of torture at the hands of her Israeli captors when she failed to disclose the 10 years she spent in an Israeli prison to immigration officials.