The lawyers for Matthew Mire — the Ascension Parish man accused of killing a state trooper and a family member and wounding three others last month — tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to get a different judge in his case.
Mire's attorneys argued the court used an obsolete selection method to pick Judge Tess Stromberg to preside over the case. But Stromberg rejected those arguments in a hearing Tuesday.
Authorities have accused Mire, 31, of killing a Master Trooper Adam Gaubert and Pamela Adair, one of Mire's relatives, in Prairieville during a string of shootings on Oct. 9 that left three others in Ascension and Livingston parishes injured. They then say he led officers on a day-long manhunt that ended when he was apprehended in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Mire has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in Ascension after his indictment last month. Prosecutors have not said if they intend to seek the death penalty.
With family of victims and law enforcement watching, Tuesday's hearing in Gonzales led to some sharp moments.
Prosecutor Adam Koenig accused Mire's lawyers of "judge shopping" with their motion to throw out Stromberg's appointment and reselect another judge. Defense attorney Christine Lehmann accused the court system of relying on a "secret" rule to select judges for capital murder cases.
Stromberg was selected under a January 2014 local court rule requiring that judges be picked randomly by a computer only for first-degree murder cases. Due to the workload for a capital case, no judge can get a second first-degree murder case until all five judges in the district have gotten one also, according to testimony Tuesday.
Lehmann and defense attorney Russell Barksdale pointed out that, in September 2017, the judges of the 23rd JDC adopted an amendment that allotted cases based on when a judge was working as the duty judge.
The five judges of the 23rd Judicial District handle duty judge responsibilities, such as setting bail for recently jailed defendants, on a rotating basis set by a calendar.
Judge Cody Martin was the duty judge on Oct. 9, the day of the Mire shooting spree, not Stromberg, Mire's defense attorneys pointed out.
Lehmann and Barksdale argued the September 2017 amendment replaced the older rule from 2014, noting the newer amendment no longer mentions the earlier special provision for 1st-degree murder cases.
They also noted that the September 2017 rule amendment excludes Stromberg's division from non-drug-related felony cases. Stromberg runs the district's drug court.
But Judge Alvin Turner Jr., the Ascension bench's most senior judge, testified that it was always the judges' intention to retain the older selection process for first-degree murder cases, even if it was no longer in the written language of the 2017 amendment.
Turner explained that the 2014 rule came about because he had gotten two first-degree murder cases back-to-back by random allotment. He contended the rule has never been changed since then, even if it is not in the newer rule amendment.
Prosecutors Koenig and Robin O'Bannon argued Mire's attorneys couldn't show the judge selection process for Mire was not random and somehow prejudiced his rights.
Lehmann did not dispute that the older method the clerks did use was random but she argued it didn't follow the "black letter" of the current law and was a due process violation.
Judge Stromberg rejected that argument. She found it remained judges' intent to retain the first-degree murder provision. Lehmann told Stromberg she planned an appeal.
Authorities have said Mire ambushed Master Trooper Gaubert while he sat in his patrol car writing reports near the intersection of Airline and Jefferson highways in Prairieville.
Moments after killing the trooper, Mire arrived at a house less than a mile away and shot two of his relatives, and one, 37-year-old Pamela Adair, died, police said.
The Ascension Parish grand jury indicted Mire on Oct. 14 on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, home invasion, attempted armed robbery and other charges.
He also faces charges in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes, including over allegations he shot his two neighbors in French Settlement.