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Rosfeld's Lawyer May Seek Recusal Of Judge, Wants Outside Jury

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
The exterior of the Allegheny County courthouse. East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was downtown Tuesday for a pre-trail conference.

In court Tuesday morning, East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld’s lawyer said he may file motions to seek a jury outside of Allegheny County and to have the judge hearing the case removed.

Rosfeld, who is charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, was in court for a pre-trial conference, during which a trial date of Feb. 26 was set.

The officer sat next to one of his attorneys and listened intently throughout the proceeding. Leaning forward with his hands in his lap, he didn’t say anything during the meeting.

Credit An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Michael Rosfeld's attorney Pat Thomassey.

His lawyer, Pat Thomassey, indicated that he might file a motion to have common pleas judge Anthony Mariani recused from the case.

Shortly after the June 19 shooting, and before Mariani was assigned to the case, the judge appeared on the local cable news show “Night Talk” to talk about the case.

Thomassey implied that, based on Mariani’s comments, the judge might not be impartial when reviewing the case against Rosfeld. Mariani disagreed and denied the motion. 

The judge said impartiality wouldn’t be an issue and that he made the comments before the case was assigned to him. Still, he seemed open to the possibility of recusing himself in order “to keep this case moving.”

“I’m absolutely not being critical of the judge whatsoever,” Thomassey noted outside the courtroom. “It was my ethical obligation to file the motion because the judge made comments on a case that’s before him.”

Thomassey has until Sept. 19, to decide whether they will renew the motion. If they pursue the matter, an evidentiary hearing will take place Sept. 21.

Thomassey said he'll file a separate motion to select a jury from outside of Allegheny County.

“People in this county, I think, would be afraid to sit on a jury in this case,” he said outside the courtroom.

“There’s been so much consternation in this city,” Thomassey added. “We’ve had tie-ups of traffic. There have been people attacked, people pulled out of cars. [The shooting of Antwon Rose has] gotten a lot of attention. I mean [protesters] picketed a judge’s home.”

Despite some altercations involving frustrated motorists, protests over the June shooting have been largely nonviolent.

The trial would still take place in Allegheny County, Mariani said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Protesters in the wake of Rose’s death have argued the same thing, but on the basis that police – and Rosfeld specifically – have been given preferential treatment.

At one point during the meeting, Thomassey and the county’s attorney, Chief Trial Deputy Daniel Fitzsimmons, debated whether the county is required to argue whether Rosfeld was justified in shooting Rose. Fitzsimmons suggested the issue might not be part of the prosecution’s case against Rosfeld.

Thomassey objected, asserting that the county has the burden of proving the shooting was not justified. He also speculated that the county plans to ask the court to block evidence from a drive-by shooting that took place before Rose was killed. Rose is suspected of being involved in the shooting – a factor that Thomassey indicated helps to understand the officer’s frame of mind when he used force.

Attorneys have two weeks to submit written briefs on the matter. 

Rosfeld was released on an unsecured bond after being charged with homicide and is on house arrest. Activists say it’s uncommon for someone charged with homicide to evade jail without paying bail. On Tuesday, Mariani said Rosfeld may leave his home to vote on Election Day.

*This story was last updated at 2:36 p.m. to include more information. An earlier version misspelled Judge Mariani's name.

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.
An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.