San Diego federal judge to handle Tucson trial

A federal judge from San Diego with extensive experience handling major felony cases will preside over the trial of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner, court officials announced Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns was assigned to Loughner's federal case stemming from Saturday's attack that killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 13, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Loughner faces two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder of federal employees.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the assignment after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves because of professional and personal ties to U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, who was among those killed at the political event where Giffords was meeting constituents.

Burns, named to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2003, oversaw the bribery case against former San Diego Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, as well as murder and drug charges brought against the leader of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.

It has not been decided where the trial will be held, but a change of venue motion is expected because of the intense publicity surrounding the shootings. Laughner's defense attorney, Judy Clarke, is also based in San Diego.

In an interview at the 9th Circuit headquarters here, Kozinski said Roll's death had shocked and saddened his colleagues and aggravated an already dire shortage of judges in the busy federal district of Arizona.

Roll, 63, was attending Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event Saturday morning to thank her for sending a letter to Kozinski pledging to work for swift congressional action to fill judicial vacancies in Arizona, which is inundated with immigration and border security cases.

Roll's death means that three of Arizona's 12 federal judgeships are open. Congress has moved slowly in confirming many of President Obama's judicial appointments in recent years.

Kozinski said he hoped the White House and Senate would move quickly to ease what he said was a judicial emergency in Arizona.

"I hate to take advantage of such a tragedy, but if this brings public attention to the pressing need of filling vacancies then that would be a welcome result," Kozinski said.

Separate state charges against Loughner, on behalf of the victims not covered in the federal case, will be filed in the future, said Pima County Atty. Barbara LaWall.

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