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A recent decision by Miami Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King to excuse himself without explanation from all criminal cases prompted a flurry of inquiries and legal challenges by defense attorneys. Earlier this week, though, King said he’d placed his name back on the list of judges who accept regular criminal case assignments in a blind filing system administered by the court clerk’s office. Whether he’ll take back the cases he relinquished is unclear. As a senior judge, King has the prerogative of accepting as many cases, or as few, as he chooses. On May 16, King recused himself from all 21 criminal cases assigned to him, transferred them directly to U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore and informed the clerk’s office that he would no longer accept new criminal case assignments. King’s actions prompted Federal Public Defender Kathleen Williams to ask Clerk of Court Clarence Maddox three days later about the way local rules that govern recusals in South Florida were being applied. Under those rules, judges who recuse may not participate in the selection of a successor judge. Miami criminal defense lawyer Howard Srebnick raised similar concerns in court filings in the case of former Hamilton Bank chief executive Eduardo Masferrer, who’s awaiting trial on high-profile fraud and conspiracy charges. Srebnick, a partner in Miami’s Black Srebnick & Kornspan, said the direct transfers to Judge Moore were improper. He asked Moore to order the cases reassigned to other judges under the court’s random assignment system. On May 27, Moore referred the matter to Fort Lauderdale-based Chief Judge William J. Zloch to decide. No decision had been announced before deadline, nor did Zloch return a telephone call seeking comment. King joined the bench in 1970, is the longest-serving judge in the Southern District of Florida and is a past chief judge. A federal justice building in Miami that houses courtrooms, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a branch of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals bears his name. In an interview, the judge declined to discuss the case transfers in any detail. But he called his recusal order “a mistake.” “I’ve always taken a full caseload. I took myself out of trying criminal cases for about a week for personal reasons,” King said. “I should not have called it a recusal, but rather labeled it a transfer.” Recusing judges may not influence the selection of their successors. But Judge Moore’s order did identify “Local Policy Manual 2.07.00,” which provides that “judges may confer and directly transfer all or any part of a case on the judge’s docket to any consenting judge. Notice shall be provided to all parties.” King declined to comment in detail on a rumor that his recusal order was related to the legal difficulties of one of his staff members. He did acknowledge that a relative of one of his staff members was recently indicted on federal charges and declined to disclose the circumstances or identify the individuals involved. He said his order concerning the case transfers to Judge Moore was a completely separate matter.

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