Hal Turner, the Web talk show host indicted for encouraging the killing of three federal appellate judges, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court in Chicago. His lawyer told the magistrate judge that his client was a former FBI informant who had helped authorities thwart an assassination attempt on President Barack Obama.
The lawyer, Michael Orozco, also suggested a possible First Amendment defense when he told the judge that his client was only expressing opinions, albeit "outlandish" ones, by posting messages on his Web site that said three judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "deserve to be killed" for their June 2 ruling allowing a Chicago handgun ban to stand. Turner was arrested last month and appeared in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois on July 28 for an arraignment and detention hearing.
Orozco, a trial attorney with Newark, N.J.-based Bailey & Orozco, has in the past handled both criminal and civil cases, but rarely has turned his attention to First Amendment arguments. His criminal practice has included the defense of those who allegedly violated the motor vehicle laws of New Jersey and New York, and his civil litigation has focused on personal injury and contract disputes, according to his firm's Web site.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Ashman delayed a decision on whether to free Turner on a $200,000 bond, giving Orozco 10 days to produce more evidence that Turner is not a threat to the community. In arguing that Turner be released on bond, Orozco said that Turner's June 3 posting regarding the judges did not show him to be a danger.
"There is no threat contained therein," Orozco told the judge. "He opined."
In that June 3 follow-up to his June 2 posting calling for the judges' killings, Turner provided the names, work addresses, phone numbers and photos of Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, Judge Richard Posner and Judge William Bauer. Why was Turner so angry at the judges? He wrote that they "ignored" the Second Amendment's right to bear arms and disregarded U.S. Supreme Court rulings in deciding National Rifle Association v. Chicago.
With respect to Turner's claims that he was an FBI informant, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Hogan told the judge that he hadn't heard of any such connection until it was mentioned in court by Orozco. Turner was arrested by FBI agents at his North Bergen, N.J., home on June 24.
Orozco said that he would seek to have the FBI agent who was Turner's "handler" testify regarding Turner's constructive contributions to law enforcement. According to Orozco, Turner was an FBI informant from 2002 through January 2007 and helped prevent murders and the sale of U.S. military equipment on the black market, though it was a conversation Turner had with the U.S. Marshals Service that stopped the Obama assassination.
Turner was also arrested in June by the state capitol police in Connecticut on separate charges that he made Internet postings calling for violence against two Connecticut state lawmakers and another state official, according to local news reports. Turner's attorney in that case, which is pending, is Matthew Potter of Manchester, Conn.-based Beck & Eldergill.