The Pinellas State Attorney’s Office filed a motion on Wednesday to disqualify Judge William Burgess from an attempted first degree murder case because the State believes it will not receive a fair and impartial trial.
- State Attorney wants new judge assigned to case
- Motion cites campaign contribution defense attorney made to judge's campaign
- Motion also claims judge holds state attorneys to "higher standard" than others
“It appears the Court and the Defense are acting in concert against the State,” Assistant State Attorney Juan Saldivar stated in the motion. “The State of Florida respectfully requests that Judge Burgess be disqualified from further proceedings in this matter and that a new judge be assigned.”
Defense attorney Roger Futerman is representing the defendant, Emanuel Qosaj, 21, who’s charged with attempted first degree murder, battery of an emergency care provider and obstruction. Qosaj is accused of attacking a 75-year-old woman in Palm Harbor, choking her with a dog leash and biting her face in April of 2017.
Futerman said his client is not guilty by reason of insanity, but the prosecutor’s doctor believes Qosaj was only under a drug-induced psychosis at the time. Both sides agree the case will come down to which experts the jury believes.
Futerman said he’s not friends with Judge Burgess and the motion has been taken out of context.
“It’s a very disturbing motion,” he said. “Anyone that questions the integrity of a circuit judge, especially this one, I have a real issue with.”
Campaign contributions at issue
According to the motion, Futerman donated $500 to Burgess’ election campaign in 2012 and had a link on his website to a YouTube video where the defense attorney interviews the judge about an unpublished book Burgess had written. That video was taken down the day after the motion was filed.
The prosecutor also alleges that Judge Burgess holds the State to a higher standard, has kicked two assistant state attorneys out of his courtroom on multiple occasions, and often rules in Futerman’s favor.
The issue reached a boiling point during an April 23 hearing, when Burgess ruled that the trial will be held on June 4, a date when the State said their doctor and lead prosecutor are not available.
“This is fundamentally unfair to the State, your honor,” said Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Traverso. “You are setting the date for trial on a date that our expert is unavailable and the date that the lead prosecutor will be out on a pregnancy leave.”
Burgess had already made his ruling clear, and got upset that Traverso was continuing to argue with him.
“Counsel, you’re now disrupting court proceedings. You’re now on very treacherous ground. If you are not aware of that, then I suggest that you go find a supervisor and come back and talk with me about it,” Burgess said. “Then, I’ll explain to you and your supervisor what the possible ramifications are of interrupting the Court and I’ve said we’re done and you may leave. Goodbye.”
[To listen to the full audio of the exchange, click HERE.]
Trial date moved multiple times
Futerman said he asked for the original trial date on March 27 to be moved because the prosecutors dumped 120 hours of video visitations on him during the eve of the discovery deadline, which was two weeks before the trial.
During that March 23 hearing, all parties agreed to set a new trial date for August 21.
A few days later, on March 26, Futerman filed a motion asking for the trial to be moved up because his experts were not available for the August date. Burgess granted that motion and reset the trial for June 4, over the State’s objection.
Then, to ensure the trial proceeded on that date, Futerman demanded speedy trial for his client on April 23, which meant the trial must be held within 45 days.
“If they choose the luxury of two prosecutors trying the case and the prosecutor says that 10 days after this trial is scheduled, that my wife may have a child and so I want to take the month of June off, while my client sits in custody, to me that’s an easy choice for the court to determine,” Futerman said.
“You look at an individual’s constitutional right, demand for speedy trial, as opposed to sitting in custody for six months," he continued. "So, I want to be clear, this is not the fact that I chose speedy trial because the prosecutor’s having a child. I was prepared to have this trial earlier, in May, in April, I didn’t care. I just want him out of custody.”
Defense attorney responds
During that heated April 23 hearing, Traverso was trying to tell Burgess that a trial date in May had opened up for their doctor, but the judge didn’t want to hear it before ejecting her from the courtroom.
Futerman said early on the prosecutors won a major ruling that Qosaj was a danger to the community and should be kept in jail until the trial. The defense attorney said Burgess has also ruled against the defense on other matters, and believes the motion is nothing more than an attempt by the State to get the trial moved again.
“The truth about this motion is the state didn’t get their way for a continuance and this is their way to force a continuance,” Futerman said. “They question this judge’s character, which I think is reprehensible. They’re saying that somehow this judge is ruling in certain rulings in favor of the defense is because of a video interview two years ago, that I was asked to do by a lawyer who ran YouTube, who I didn’t even know who the judge was until she called me and a campaign contribution.”
On Friday, Burgess denied the motion to disqualify and declined our request for an interview. The State Attorney’s office can still appeal that ruling.
To read the motion calling for the disqualification of Burgess from presiding over the case, click HERE.
To read the full ruling on the motion, click HERE.