The Potluck

Court of Appeals denies Freeman’s push to remove judge from all felony cases

By: - May 10, 2022 6:26 am

Hennepin County District Judge William Koch

The Hennepin County attorney was again blocked from trying to remove a judge from all felony cases.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied the request of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who asked the court to overrule the district judge.

Freeman’s office has been pushing to remove Hennepin County District Judge William Koch from felony cases due to “troubling demeanor and behaviors.” In court filings, Freeman has described Koch as “arrogant, dismissive, patronizing, condescending and disrespectful — especially to women.”

For whatever his demeanor, Koch has frequently sided with defense arguments against Freeman’s prosecutors, which defense attorneys say is the real reason for Freeman’s extensive effort to banish Koch from felony cases. 

Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Kassius O. Benson told the Reformer prosecutors don’t get to choose the judges. 

The Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office has opposed the move to strike Koch from cases, calling it a blanket removal, which is illegal. Defense attorneys and prosecutors are allowed to have a judge removed from their case once without explanation but can’t remove a judge from a bunch of cases, according to a decades-old state Supreme Court ruling. The right to remove judges can also be suspended if abused. 

Hennepin County District Court Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette agreed with the public defender’s office, denying prosecutors’ request. So Freeman tried to block enforcement of the order by having it reviewed by the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals upheld Barnette’s conclusion that Freeman abused his strike privilege, noting that out of 90 removal notices filed in the criminal division in the Fourth Judicial District from Jan. 1 to March 4, 58 were filed by Freeman’s office to remove Koch. 

Citing the Supreme Court ruling banning blanket removals, the Court of Appeals said the case “strikes at the very heart of judicial independence.” The court also didn’t buy that removing Koch from the case wouldn’t burden other district judges.

Neither Koch nor Freeman responded to a request for comment.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.