31 March 2022
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Hennepin County judge is at the center of a legal battle between prosecutors and public defenders.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has asked to remove Judge William Koch from presiding over all felony cases assigned to him.
“Our issues are not about any adverse rulings that he made. It’s the issue of how he treats our lawyers and how he runs his courtroom,” said Dan Mabley, the chief criminal deputy with HCAO.
Prosecutors’ court filings say Koch’s demeanor is “frequently arrogant, dismissive, patronizing, condescending and disrespectful.”
He’s accused of “frequently abandoning his neutral role,” and prosecutors write this is “part of a long-term pattern of behavior.”
“Our lawyers don’t believe they get fair trials in front of Judge Koch,” Mabley said.
Minnesota law gives legal parties in a case the right to remove a judge without giving a reason. Hennepin prosecutors have exercised that right on Koch in dozens of cases this year.
The county’s public defender’s office has objected, saying in opposing court filings the HCAO’s blanket removal policy is “completely without legal grounds and represents an abuse of judicial process…It is instead a blatant effort to dictate favorable outcomes for prosecutors.”
“[Public defenders] have made the determination that Judge Koch is good for their cases,” said Joe Tamburino, a private defense attorney. “If they didn’t think so, then they wouldn’t be objecting to these motions.”
Hennepin County Chief Judge Todd Barnette will rule on the matter.
Mabley wrote in a sworn affidavit that he met with both Koch and Barnette in January. Mabley told WCCO Koch didn’t take responsibility for the complaints and gave no indication he’d change his behavior. Koch declined to comment through a court spokesperson.
A statement from the Hennepin District Court said, “While any party appearing on a case has the right to remove a judge within seven days of receiving notice of the name of the presiding judge, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion in State v. Erickson finding a blanket removal improper. Judges make legal decisions every day in which one party is usually happy with the decision and the other party is disappointed. We strive to be true to our mission of providing justice through a system that assures equal access for the fair and timely resolution of cases.”
Mabley says HCAO’s notices of removal of Koch don’t meet the standards set by the Minnesota Supreme Court of being improper.