For Ariz. Shooting Case, A 'No-Nonsense Judge' Colleagues and lawyers describe Larry Burns, the man picked to oversee the case of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner, as a quick-moving, deadline-setting judge with experience handling federal death penalty cases.
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For Ariz. Shooting Case, A 'No-Nonsense Judge'

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For Ariz. Shooting Case, A 'No-Nonsense Judge'

For Ariz. Shooting Case, A 'No-Nonsense Judge'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Jared Loughner's lawyers expected to ask that the case be moved out of Arizona. It has already been taken out of the hands of Arizona judges. All federal judges in the state recused themselves because the victims included their colleague Judge John Roll.

Now, no matter where the trial is held, the judge will be Larry Burns of San Diego. Amita Sharma, of member station KPBS, has a profile.

AMITA SHARMA: Judge Larry Burns has presided over nearly every high-profile federal case in San Diego in recent years. He sentenced former congressman Randy Cunningham for taking bribes from contractors. He also handled the trial of one of the contractors convicted of bribing Cunningham. And he presided over the prosecution of a prominent Mexican drug cartel leader.

Former U.S. Attorney Peter Nunez hired Burns as a federal prosecutor and has watched his career closely.

Mr. PETER NUNEZ (Former U.S. Attorney): He's distinguished himself on the bench as a no-nonsense judge, controls his courtroom. I think he is an excellent choice to preside over a case of this magnitude.

SHARMA: President Bush appointed Burns as a federal judge in 2003. Today, Burns is one of the few who have handled federal death penalty cases. Judge Thomas Whelan is one of Burns' colleagues. He says that death penalty experience is likely to come in handy in the case against Jared Loughner.

Mr. THOMAS WHELAN (U.S. Federal Judge): A case like this doesn't have as many pitfalls for a judge, in my opinion, as what I would call a whodunit case. I think pretty much here, everybody knows what happened and who did it. It's more or less what is it - what's the level of punishment that should be meted out here?

SHARMA: But Judge Whelan says the case does have other complications because it includes the murders of a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge, and the attempted assassination of a U.S. representative.

Mr. WHELAN: And anytime you're dealing with a case like this, there's a lot of emotions. You'll have a lot of people that will be interested in every ruling he makes, and a lot of people that will be second-guessing, probably, every ruling that he makes.

SHARMA: Still, Whelan says no one should second-guess whether Burns can be impartial in a case involving the murder of a fellow federal judge.

Mr. WHELAN: He's the kind of judge that, in my opinion, is going to call the balls and strikes as he sees them, without any regard to who the victim was or who's making the objection.

SHARMA: Both prosecutors and defense attorneys who have argued before Judge Burns say he likes to have an end in sight in trials, and sets tight deadlines. Defense lawyer Knut Johnson says he moves cases forward fast.

Mr. KNUT JOHNSON (Attorney) He expects the lawyers in front of him to be able to handle the deadlines that he sets. He doesn't believe in any undue delay. And he has very firm ideas of when cases can and should be tried.

SHARMA: Judge Burns has worked with Loughner's defense attorney in the past. Judy Clarke ran the federal defender's office in San Diego when Burns was a top prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office, and they fought cases against each other. Johnson says there's a lot of respect between the two.

Mr. JOHNSON: Judge Burns recognizes that when Judy does something, it's for a legitimate reason - it's to make her client's situation better - and that she plays by the rules.

SHARMA: Johnson says their history together may also help Judge Burns decide where the trial should be held. While the defense may think the case should be moved out of Arizona, the Justice Department opposes a change of venue.

For NPR News, I'm Amita Sharma in San Diego.

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