Judge Cannon unloads on lawyers in Malvin Washington murder case

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Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Cannon

Lawyers for Malvin Washington don’t want Cook County Judge Diane Gordon Cannon to preside over his retrial in a 2004 murder case.

Three sets of attorneys have tried five times to have the case assigned to another judge during the five years since he won a new trial.

Friday, Cannon made it crystal clear she won’t let go of a case that’s been on her docket for nearly a decade — and that she’d prefer Washington’s latest batch of lawyers were off the case instead.

In a 15-minute monologue, Cannon scolded defense attorneys Jeffrey Urdangen and Alison Flaum from the bench for twice filing motions to have her booted. Worse still, the judge said, was her belief that Urdangen said he hoped the judge would “die of cancer” or retire before Washington’s trial.

“For lack of a more grown-up word, it’s creepy,” Cannon said, as Washington stood, bemused, in a prison jumpsuit beside the lawyers.

“I’m not going to die before Mr. Washington’s case is over, to your chagrin. I’m not going to retire before Mr. Washington’s case is over.”

“It was alarming to hear the judge repeatedly attribute this false statement to me,” Urdangen said in a statement after the hearing. “To suggest I would utter such a thing to one of my students, or to anyone else or about any person, is disturbing in the extreme.”

Washington and his lawyers said nothing during the rambling lecture, which ended with Cannon urging the defendant to consult with his lawyers about whether he wanted them to remain on the case when he goes to trial in two weeks.

Cannon had repeatedly mentioned the fate of Anthony McKinney, who died while awaiting a retrial in a case handled by lawyers who, like Urdangen and Flaum, were from Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.

“He died, never seeing the light of day, because of a professor from Northwestern,” Cannon said, an apparent reference to former NU journalism professor David Protess. “I did nothing in that case. He self-destructed. I see self-destruction.”

After a break to talk to his lawyers, Washington said he would stick with his lawyers.

Friday’s hearing was only the latest twist in the more than a decade in which Washington’s case has been in Cannon’s cavernous, fifth-floor courtroom. Washington is set to go to trial in June; it will be the third time he has been tried for the murder of Marquis Reed, a shooting Washington has maintained was an act of self-defense.

Cannon declared a mistrial just three days into testimony during Washington’s first trial in 2008, after a juror said Washington’s father had tried to talk to him while they waited for the bus outside the courthouse. A livid Cannon had Washington’s father arrested for tampering with the jury.

Washington was convicted at a second trial two months later, but an appeals court in 2010 overturned the verdict and granted him a new trial because the judge refused to give jurors instructions on the lesser charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Cannon, who three times has denied motions to recuse herself from the case, seemed to have called Friday’s hearing to head off future allegations of bias against Washington and his lawyers. Urdangen at a hearing in May said Cannon called him “Mr. Underpants” and referred to Flaum as “Ms. Phlegm.” Cannon denied the potshot at Urdangen and said she could— but wouldn’t— seek affidavits from her courtroom staff backing her up. She apologized, halfheartedly, to Flaum.

“I don’t know how to pronounce your name,” she said.

Assistant public defenders assigned to Washington’s appeal asked Cannon to recuse herself from the case or have another judge assigned three times.

Urdangen and Flaum twice have tried to get a new judge since they were appointed to defend Washington, taking the rare — and possibly unprecedented — step of asking the Illinois Supreme Court to remove Cannon because of her bias against Washington. The supreme court in April denied the motion.

Cannon seems to believe Northwestern Law school has a bias against her, claiming NU students were sent to spy on her courtroom and implied that the repeated attempts to pull her off Washington’s case had something to do with her role in the McKinney case. Protess’ students uncovered evidence that won McKinney a new trial, but Protess was fired by the university.

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