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Even if Judge Richard Leon blatantly dislikes Nancy Luque � which the defense attorney claims is the case � that ill will wouldn’t impact her client and it’s not a valid reason to appoint a new lawyer, the judge says. “That is not a legal basis to grant new counsel,” Leon said Nov. 16 in response to a motion suggesting animosity toward Luque might be deflected to her client Gwendolyn Hemphill at sentencing on Jan. 17. The former Washington Teachers’ Union official was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia � along with former Treasurer James Baxter � for carrying out an embezzlement scheme robbing the union of $5 million. Former President Barbara Bullock is serving nine years after pleading guilty to the theft. Luque, a partner with DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, alleges that during trial Leon allowed a long-standing hostility toward her to creep into court. She claims the judge routinely denied her motions without hearing them, displayed partiality to prosecutors by holding secret meetings to discuss the defense, and, at one point, abruptly interrupted her and called a recess while she was speaking. To avoid “further inflaming the situation,” Luque declined to comment on the allegations. Leon did not address the accusations at the hearing and simply denied the request. He went on to compliment Luque and co-counsel, Deborah St. Jean, also of DLA Piper, calling them competent and hard-working. This was not the first time Luque raised concerns about Leon’s handling of the case. In an unsuccessful motion for a new trial last month, Luque said the judge should have recused himself from the case because she and Leon “have known each other for many years and have had a previously antagonistic relationship.” Although the motion doesn’t detail how the alleged bad blood began, the two have vastly different political views � something that came to the fore during the Whitewater scandal. During that time Leon, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, served as special counsel to the GOP-controlled House Banking Committee, which conducted the first congressional hearings on Whitewater. Meanwhile Luque, a Democrat, represented Julie Hiatt Steele, who was accused of obstructing Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Monica Lewinsky matter.
Sarah Kelley can be contacted at [email protected].

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