JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The judge in the case against Michael Dunn, who's charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, has been removed after a defense motion to disqualify her was granted, according to Dunn's attorney.
Judge Suzanne Bass recused herself and will no longer preside over the case.
DOCUMENT: Judge recused from Michael Dunn case
The state attorney's office said Thursday afternoon that Judge Mallory Cooper, who presided over the recent high-profile Cristian Ferandez case, will be the new judge in Dunn's case.
"This action was crucial to (Dunn's) defense in this cause, and to ensure he gets a fair trial," Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, said in a news release.
The motion for recusal cited bias from Bass. Among the grounds in the motion on Dunn's behalf was that Davis' father "made inappropriate remarks and a verbal outburst during my pretrial hearing in which Judge Bass ignored and acted as if it did not occur, nor did the judge admonish the father's improper and unprovoked behavior inside the courtroom while my hearing was taking place. Several in court deputies had to rush over to Mr. Davis, the father of the alleged victim, to ensure the safety and sanctity of the courtroom."
The motion also says that on April 29, during a motion of indigence and costs, Bass asked Strolla and the assistant state attorney to approach the bench.
"She was right in the middle of saying, 'Don't hold your breath that these are going to get granted,'" Strolla said. "And I think at that point she even understood that she overstepped her judicial bounds and what she did was improper."
The motion goes on to say that at the same hearing, Bass refused to allow a Justice Administrative Commission attorney to testify in court, a witness Dunn's attorney says supported his argument. Instead, Strolla said, Bass contacted the witness before the hearing.
"The conversation she had with him, I don't know, but she didn't disclose that she didn't have ex parte communications either," Strolla said. "It was my conversation with Mr. Lake when he informed me that the judge called him from I believe her cellphone."
Bass signed off on the motion, finding the allegations legally sufficient for recusal, but she but made no comment on their truthfulness. Now Strolla is planning to have previous motions Bass denied reheard, including a motion for bond. It's unclear if the change in judges will push back Dunn's trial.
"The more that the family has to sit in court hearings, the more raw th
ey get," said attorney John Phillips, who's representing Davis' family.
Phillips said Davis' family believes Bass was fair, and they're being patient on this changing path to justice.
"Obviously we want justice to be as quick as possible and for it to be done right so we don't have to do it all over again later down the road," Phillips said.
Strolla said he thought about filing this motion earlier, but after a hearing last month, he couldn't wait any longer.
The state attorney's office said judge recusals are nothing unusual and happen routinely in cases.
Police say Michael Dunn fired eight shots into an SUV carrying Davis and three other teenagers outside a Baymeadows Road gas station in November.
In video evidence released by the state attorney's office, Dunn claims he felt threatened by the teenagers after a verbal altercation about loud music coming from their SUV.