An Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge on Monday denied a request by Eric Nunez, an alleged accomplice of former Saints safety and accused rapist Darren Sharper, to boot Judge Karen Herman off Nunez’s case due to alleged manipulation in the process of assigning criminal cases to judges.
Judge Frank Marullo rejected the motion for Herman’s recusal, advising Nunez’s attorney Herb Larson that a motion to quash the indictment would be a more appropriate vehicle for the request.
But the judge also made clear that he has “some misgivings” about the system of assigning cases in Criminal District Court, which Nunez’s attorneys have argued is so easily manipulated that it allowed District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to hand-pick Herman for the case.
“I think we should revisit the entire system,” Marullo said.
Criminal cases are assigned to judges based on the alleged date of the most serious offense in a bill of information or indictment. In cases with numerous crimes of the same offense level, the earliest offense dictates where the case is assigned.
Defense attorneys have suggested that the system allows the district attorney to use murky date ranges to push certain cases toward judges they believe are more sympathetic to prosecutors.
Nunez’s attorneys have argued that the earliest date — July 1, 2012 — in their client’s indictment has “no evidentiary bearing” and was chosen by Cannizzaro’s office for strategic purposes.
Christopher Bowman, a Cannizzaro spokesman, has declined to discuss the Nunez case, citing office policy against talking about open cases. But Bowman has generally denied the allegation that the office manipulates the case-allotment process.
Marullo didn’t weigh in on whether or not the DA’s Office sought to steer the Nunez case to a particular section of court.
Instead, he told Larson he wouldn’t grant the motion to remove Herman because in doing so he would be altering the random nature of the allotment.
Marullo, who has been a judge in Criminal District Court for 40 years, said he’s been suspicious of the various systems used to assign cases throughout his tenure.
The current system was installed in 2011 to replace a bingo cage in the clerk’s office that would assign cases based on puffs of air and ping-pong balls.
“For three consecutive years, I got more murders than anybody else,” said Marullo, who added that he once sent a staff member down to weigh the balls but never found anything amiss.
Marullo said that during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the allotment was done by picking names out of a cigar box.
After the hearing, Larson said he will soon file a motion to quash the indictment, which likely will be heard by Herman.
Larson said he believes the entire system needs to be replaced.
“We are just delaying the inevitable, which is that some court, somewhere, is going to determine the current system has been unconstitutional,” he said.
Nunez was indicted Dec. 12 along with Sharper and former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brandon Licciardi in a nine-count state grand jury indictment that alleged the trio drugged and raped women. He’s being held on $2.5 million bail.
Sharper and Licciardi also were indicted in federal court on similar charges the same day.
Both are being held without bail.
Sharper is in jail in Los Angeles, where he faces additional rape charges.