AUBURN – The lawyer for a Sabattus man charged with murder is seeking to argue in court why the judge assigned to the case should step aside.
There’s just one catch: That same judge has to OK the request.
Last month, Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler rejected Leonard Sharon’s motion to have her voluntarily give up the case.
Now, Sharon is asking her to reconsider her decision, let him present evidence and call witnesses to support his motion.
Plus, he wants a different judge to preside over the hearing.
Sharon said Wheeler’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” when it comes to judging cases involving domestic violence.
His client, Daniel Roberts, is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, the mother of their 2-year-old daughter.
Prosecutors contend the case involves “extensive allegations of domestic violence,” according to papers Sharon filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court.
Gov. John Baldacci praised Wheeler as an “advocate for victims of domestic violence” when he elevated her last year from judge at the district court level to superior court, Sharon wrote in his motion.
If he were allowed to present his arguments in court, Sharon said he would rely, in part, on testimony from Baldacci in explaining his statement about Wheeler.
If the Roberts case goes to trial, Sharon said he could end up appealing the verdict. At that time, Wheeler’s decision not to step aside could become the basis for his appeal. Having a full hearing on the issue would create a record of the arguments for and against her decision, he wrote.
In his motion, filed last week, Sharon said there’s a difference between working to improve court procedures, which Wheeler said she did, and working as an advocate.
Wheeler’s involvement in “multiple projects and programs over the course of several years” on the issue of domestic violence coupled with Roberts’ alleged acts of domestic violence raises a red flag, Sharon said.
“At a minimum, these facts raise a substantial issue as to the trial justice’s impartiality,” he wrote.
Roberts, 36, is being held without bail. He admitted killing Melissa Mendoza, 29, with a gunshot to the back of her head. He claims the killing was in defense of himself and their daughter.