York lawyer asks for new judge
The Macon Telegraph/July 11, 2003
By Sharon E. Crawford
A Nuwaubian supporter drums outside the Federal Courthouse in
Macon during Nuwaubian leader Malachi York's hearing Thursday.
A defense attorney for religious leader and admitted child
molester Malachi York asked a federal judge Thursday to recuse
himself from the case, arguing that the judge inadvertently
involved himself in plea negotiations.
"This has created an impact and prejudice on the defendant to
make decisions" about his case, defense lawyer Ed Garland said.
"We say that there has been a participation in the process by the
court ... and an appearance of bias can be inferred."
Garland's motion was the latest twist in the case. Last week,
York told Lawson he was a sovereign Indian chief and therefore not
subject to federal law.
As of Thursday, York had not revoked his guilty plea and
federal prosecutors were preparing for an Aug. 4 trial. York did
not speak to the court Thursday and made only a few comments to
his three attorneys.
York pleaded guilty in January to taking children across state
lines for the purpose of having sex with them and to evading
federal financial reporting requirements. He agreed to a 15-year
federal sentence in the case.
In May, Federal Judge Hugh Lawson met with attorneys in the
case to tell them he was planning to deny their plea agreement
because it didn't call for enough prison time for York.
At that time, Garland, an Atlanta attorney and one of York's
defenders, asked Lawson what the judge felt was a proper sentence
in the case. Garland said in court Thursday that Lawson said 20
years was more appropriate.
"I know the court did not want to put itself in the plea
bargaining process," Garland said. "(Both the defense and the
prosecution) played a role into bringing the situation to where it
is ... the situation the defendant finds himself in ... is that he
has been advised as to what sentence the court feels is
U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie said federal officials do not
believe Lawson acted inappropriately when responding to Garland's
question about sentencing for York. He said Lawson's comment was
made long after York entered a guilty plea.
Garland said York could not consider revoking his guilty plea
until Lawson rules on the motion to recuse.
Garland also said he felt Lawson made his decision on
sentencing after reading an erroneous presentencing report. Lawson
told Garland it was common procedure to read the reports, which
are written in all federal cases, before accepting or rejecting a
"One of the curious things about your arguments is the
perverted idea that the court is not allowed to base any opinion
on the presentencing report, which is an arm of the court," Lawson
Thursday, Lawson did not rule on the motion to recuse or
another motion to suppress evidence seized by federal and local
officials when they searched two of York's residences in Putnam
County and in Athens.
U.S. Attorney Max Wood said he expects Lawson to rule on both
motions before Aug. 4.
"We are ready to go to trial and will abide by the rulings of
the court," Wood said.
In the second motion, the defense asked the court to throw out
certain items - everything from pornographic videos to an
animal-printed pillow - confiscated in the Nuwaubian complex in
Putnam County in May 2002.
Federal prosecutors asked Lawson not to rule on that motion
until York revoked his guilty plea. Lawson declined to rule on the
motion Thursday, but didn't say when he would make a ruling.
During the hearing, Lawson read an order making public a May 28
meeting in his chamber among all of the lawyers in the case. At
the time of the meeting, both the prosecution and the defense said
they didn't want the meeting to be part of the court record.
In the meeting, Lawson said both sides asked the court to
accept the plea agreement and said a 15-year prison sentence was
appropriate. When Lawson refused to accept the agreement, he said,
Moultrie offered to drop all but one charge against York in an
effort to get a 15-year sentence.
"(The prosecution) said they were concerned that if the plea
was rejected, $400,000 in forfeited items would be lost," Lawson
said. "They also expressed concerns about the emotional trauma and
stress a trial would put on the victims in this case who have
wanted to put their relationships with the defendant behind them."
Thursday, more than 100 of York's supporters stood outside the
U.S. federal court house while the court proceedings were ongoing.
Only 30 people, several of them women dressed in Native
American-type clothing and hairstyles, were allowed to sit in the
courtroom during York's hearing.
Several women smiled when York, who was dressed in an orange
prison jumpsuit and shackled at the hands and feet, walked in the
courtroom. After the proceedings, the same women blew kisses at
the defendant as he was escorted out of the room by six federal
Outside, federal and state law enforcement officers walked
alongside other York supporters as they played the drums and
Also Thursday, Garland introduced south Florida attorney Frank
Rubino as the newest member of York's defense team. Rubino, who
did not speak in Thursday's hearing, was the lead defense attorney
for former Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega.
York, who has been the leader of a cult group since the 1970s,
and a group of his supporters moved to a 476-acre farm in Putnam
County in 1993 from New York.
At various times, members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of
Moors have claimed to be Egyptians, space aliens and Native
Americans and connected to various religious groups, including
Christians, Jews and Muslims.