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.

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

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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

SHARMA: 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.

SHARMA: 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.

SHARMA: 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.

SHARMA: 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: 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.

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

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