A U.S. judge in Manhattan handling the case of a hacker accused of ransacking a Texas-based intelligence firm refused to recuse herself after the defendant said her husband could be a victim of the alleged intrusion.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska rejected a request by Jeremy Hammond, who identified himself as a member of the hacking group called AntiSec, that she remove herself from the case on the grounds that her husband, Thomas Kavaler, a partner at law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, was a victim of the hack of Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, a global intelligence firm in Austin, Texas.
“Defendant has failed to carry his substantial burden of showing that a reasonable observer, with knowledge and understanding of the relevant facts, would entertain significant doubt that justice would be done absent recusal,” Preska said in a ruling today.
At a hearing earlier today, Hammond lawyer Elizabeth Fink argued that Preska may be biased in favor of prosecutors because the intrusion may have affected her husband and because some clients that Cahill Gordon represents in unrelated matters may also have been victims of the hacks attributed by the government to Hammond.
“The issue here is the appearance of partiality,” Fink told Preska. “It’s your honor’s call. This is a very close case. If you feel because of your relationship with your husband, you’ll recuse yourself, and if you don’t, you don’t.”
Preska said in her ruling that the prosecutors said an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined that the only item of Kavaler’s obtained during the Stratfor hack was his publicly available law firm e-mail address. She said today her husband also stated he was a client of Stratfor for a two-week trial period and never supplied the company with his personal credit card information.
“The public interest mandates that judges not be intimidated out of abundance of caution into granting disqualification matters,” Preska wrote.
The judge said Fink failed to draw a link between the Stratfor hack and and the interest of Cahill Gordon and its clients.
“The defendant’s motion and the accompanying exhibits are replete with conclusory, hearsay allegations pertaining to Mr. Kavaler’s status as a victim of the Stratfor hack,” she said. “Defendant’s submissions are devoid of reliable evidence in support of the breadth to which this court’s personal involvement in this case is allegedly implicated.”
Hammond and his co-conspirators are accused of stealing employee e-mails and account information for about 860,000 subscribers or clients of Stratfor. Prosecutors say Hammond also stole information from about 60,000 credit card users and used some of the data to make more than $700,000 in unauthorized charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The defendants are described by the U.S. as being members of a loose confederation of hackers from the groups LulzSec, Internet Feds and Anonymous. Hammond, of Chicago, is the only defendant charged by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in U.S. custody.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brown told Preska today that Hammond was placed in segregated housing at the federal jail in lower Manhattan last month after he tested positive for marijuana while in custody. Brown said Hammond was still able to get access to a laptop computer and CDs of the evidence collected by the government in the case.
Preska set the next court hearing for April 10.
The case is U.S. v. Hammond, 12-cr-185, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).