Jeremy Hammond's legal team seeks judge's recusal

Hammond is accused of being part of the antisec team, led by FBI informant Hector Monsegur (Sabu), that hacked Stratfor. The hack is best known for the subsequent publication of the stolen ‘Global Intelligence Files’ by WikiLeaks. The case against Hammond, however, will also focus on the alleged theft of around 60,000 credit cards from which, say the prosecutors, charges of more than $700,000 were illegally made.

Last November Judge Preska refused Hammond bail and said that, if found guilty, he faces a jail term of between 30 years and life. Hacktivist group Anonymous rapidly responded with a demand that Preska recuse herself, claiming that “Judge Loretta Preska's impartiality is compromised by her Husband's involvement with Stratfor.” 

This accusation is based on the inclusion of the email address of her husband, Thomas Kavaler (a partner in the law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel), on “Starfor's [sic] clientele list.” Kavaler has since denied that either he or his firm have ever been a Stratfor client. His firm does, however, represent major companies – such as Merrill Lynch & Co and American International Group Inc – who were victims of the hack. Hammond’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, subsequently filed court papers seeking Preska’s recusal. She said that Kavaler's status “as both a victim of the alleged crimes of the accused and an attorney to many other victims creates an appearance of partiality too strong to be disregarded, requiring disqualification.”

The US government responded with a motion opposing the motion to disqualify. First it denied any involvement by Kavaler with Stratfor, and added, “the defendant is engaging in rank speculation regarding any purported harm to Mr. Kavaler’s law firm’s clients, and, in any event, even if clients of Mr. Kavaler’s law firm were in fact harmed by the Stratfor Hack, the connection to this Court is so attenuated as to be meaningless. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion should be denied.”

Judge Preska’s initial response had been to ignore the calls for recusal, claiming that any association between her husband and Stratfor would not affect her impartiality. Following Fink’s court motion, however, she must hold a formal hearing, currently set for February 21. Preska, Kavaler, Fink and a Stratfor spokesman have all declined to comment further. The FreeAnons Video Diary, however, is less reticent. “Judge Loretta Preska will make her decision on a motion to recuse herself from the case against Jeremy Hammond on 2/21/2013. How a judge with a conflict of interest has the right to decide to step down from a case is beyond all reason.”

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