Original judge stepped down from Aldawsari trial - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Original judge stepped down from Aldawsari trial to avoid appearance of bias

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United States District Judge Sam Cummings removed himself from the Aldawsari terror trial back in April, but a broadly-worded gag order kept the public from learning why.

KCBD NewsChannel 11's James Clark filed an intervention and an appeal to get the records unsealed. We still don't know the precise reason why Cummings was asked to step down, but documents filed by the attorneys on Friday provide some insight.

Aldawsari's defense team asked Cummings to step down because "a reasonable and objective onlooker may perceive a bias."

Dan Cogdell, a member of Aldawsari's defense team wrote, "There is no allegation here - nor has there ever been - that the district judge was personally biased on one side. Rather, the basis for the motion, and the appropriate standard, was that a reasonable and objective onlooker may perceive a bias."

Cogdell quotes the Canon of Judicial Conduct, saying, "What matters is not the reality of bias or prejudice but its appearance."

There are no specifics given to indicate what caused this appearance of bias, but Clark's appeal continues. If the appeal is successful, the case will be sent back to District Court for further consideration, possibly leading them to unseal the documents.

Aldawsari was arrested in February of 2011 and accused of assembling material for a bomb in his Central Lubbock apartment. The court case says Aldawsari, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, had proposed targets nationwide and had a desire for "jihad." He was a college student in Lubbock at the time of his arrest.

The trial was moved to Amarillo on a change of venue and a jury this past summer convicted Aldawsari. He remains locked up while awaiting his sentencing date. 

The Aldawsari case included classified and top secret records. The investigation was conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, meaning Aldawsari was treated like the agent of a foreign power.  

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