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Cook County judge withdraws from case week after making bizarre comments

Friday, May 26, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau


A Cook County judge has recused herself from a murder trial less than a week after making bizarre comments at a hearing in which she castigated defense attorneys for what she called "a personality defect regarding me" while adamantly refusing to step aside.

Judge Diane Gordon Cannon, a former longtime prosecutor who has sat on the bench for years at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, called attorneys to her courtroom Thursday to announce that she was abruptly withdrawing from presiding over Malvin Washington's murder case.

"I'm elated for my client and his family," Jeffrey Urdangen, one of Washington's attorneys, said later. "This was long overdue."

Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division, declined to comment on Cannon's sudden reversal after months of refusing to step down from the case.

Urdangen and the rest of Washington's legal team from Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law had long sought Cannon's removal from the case, alleging she openly displayed bias toward the defense.

Those attempts repeatedly failed, and just last week, Cannon insisted in court that she would stay on the case.

"I'm not recusing myself. I'm not — I can be fair," the judge said at the hearing May 19.

At that hearing, Cannon lectured Washington's attorneys at length, responding to their allegations that she called Urdangen "Mr. Underpants" behind his back.

"And if you have, I can only call it now the underpants motion, and if you think I'm laughing, I am. If I said 'underpants,' you know, if I said 'bra' here, you could laugh, and that's the most it is," she said, according to a transcript of the hearing. "If I did say it, I never have said in my life Mr. Urdangen is Mr. Underpants."

"I am so thick-skinned," Cannon said. "I'm not here to make friends. I honestly do not care if a case is reversed, if a lawyer likes me. … If I cared about these things, or dead people, or anything of that, I'd never sleep. So I don't care."

The judge also accused Urdangen multiple times of telling people he hopes she dies of cancer, an accusation Urdangen strenuously denied.

"I have never, ever said to anybody that I wished you dead," he told her in court.

Washington was found guilty of murder in the 2004 shooting of Marquis Reed, but he has long maintained he acted in self-defense after being attacked by a group of older, armed assailants.

That conviction was reversed after an appellate court determined Cannon erred by not letting the trial jury consider whether Washington was guilty of second-degree murder.

The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed that reversal, a decision that brought the case back to Cannon.

In February, Washington's legal team asked the state Supreme Court to randomly assign another judge, accusing Cannon of, among other things, falsely insisting one of their key witnesses was a fraud. Last month, the state's highest court denied the request.

Court records do not give any reason for Cannon stepping down from the case.

Another judge could be assigned to the case as soon as Friday.

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