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Activists Demand Replacement of Federal Judge in Hacker Case, Citing Conflict of Interest

A Protester supporting the freedom of Jeremy Hammond. (Photo: Pamela Drew / Flickr)

Lawyers for accused hacker Jeremy Hammond plan to file a motion next week asking the federal judge in the case to recuse herself; but Hammond’s supporters are already calling for her removal from the case.

Journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates gathered Thursday in front of the federal courthouse in New York City where Jeremy Hammond is to stand trial, demanding that Chief US District Court Judge Loretta Preska recuse herself, following recent revelations that her husband was a victim in the expansive computer hacking incident.

Hammond, 27, is accused of hacking into Texas-based Stratfor Global Intelligence Service and turning over 5 million emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The charges against the longtime Chicago activist also include the electronic theft and distribution of credit card information for more than 850,000 clients of Stratfor; he is accused of using credit card numbers to make charges of at least $700,000.

The pilfered documents included communications by Preska’s husband, Thomas J. Kavaler, an employee of Stratfor client Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, the international law firm where Preska herself was once an associate.

“We are not asking today for very much,” wrote Hammond supporter and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, in a statement read by Natalie Wahlberg of Occupy Chicago and the Jeremy Hammond Solidarity Network. “We are asking for a fair hearing in a court of law. We are asking that Jeremy Hammond be permitted to present his case before a judge who does not have a personal involvement in his alleged activities, a personal involvement that will clearly prejudice the outcome. Hammond has enough stacked against him already.”

Among the ways the odds have been stacked, Hammond supporters cite Judge Preska’s denial of bail, which Gideon Oliver, president of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, characterized in a prepared statement as “the latest in a series of egregious failures of the state to uphold basic constitutional principles.

“The court regularly releases people accused of crimes more serious than the crimes Jeremy is accused of,” Oliver stated. “Jeremy’s continuing pre-trial imprisonment will severely hamper his attorney’s ability to prepare a defense and defend Jeremy at trial.”

Journalist John Knefel, who recently covered the pre-trial hearing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay, placed the Hammond case in the context of the broader expansion of the American government secrecy regime.

The lead prosecutor at Gitmo, said Knefel, argued that the five codefendants’ “thoughts, experiences and memories should be treated as presumptively classified,” under which circumstances, “it is only through non-traditional methods of seeking transparency [such as those of which Hammond stands accused] that we learn what our government is doing.”

Among the information revealed by the Stratfor document dump: apparent civil liberties violations by the New York Police Department and spy regimes set up to monitor Occupy Wall Street and other activist groups. Those include the culture-jamming filmmakers The Yes Men, one of whom was on hand to give a statement.

“If Jeremy had anything to do with the release of the Stratfor emails,” Andy Bichlbaum said, “I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart. Whoever released these emails performed a function that’s an integral part of democracy, as surely as voting or running for public office.”

Supporters had hoped Judge Preska would recuse herself voluntarily once the revelations of her husband’s involvement came to light, but no such action has been forthcoming. Hammond’s lawyers’ motion to compel her recusal is expected early next week.

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