Southern District Judge Loretta Preska (See Profile) yesterday declined to recuse herself from presiding over United States v. Hammond, 12 Crim. 185 (LAP), the case against Jeremy Hammond, also known as "Anarchaos," who is charged with hacking into the files of a research company and leaking documents to Wikileaks.
Shortly after a morning hearing at 40 Foley Square, Preska issued an order saying she would remain on the case, thus rejecting the claim of Hammond's defense lawyers that there was an appearance of partiality because a number of Cahill Gordon & Reindel clients had their emails hacked and the email address of Preska's husband, Cahill partner Thomas Kavaler, appeared on a website that is part of the case.
The order came after the judge repeatedly challenged Elizabeth Fink and Sarah Kuntsler, Hammond's defense attorneys, to back up their claim that recusal was required.
"What is the basis for a finding here of an appearance of partiality to the well-informed observer?" Preska asked Fink. "The basis for recusal must be a reasonable basisnot speculative."
Fink and Kuntsler tried to convince the judge that the appearance of partiality was created by Kavaler's interest in the well-being of the firm's clients who were allegedly victimized by the hacking, even though there was no evidence they were harmed.
Hammond has been jailed since March 2012, when he was arrested for hacking into Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a security research company that describes itself on its website as a global intelligence company used by subscribers to understand world events through "full access to our geopolitical analysis and insight" in order to meet their global business objectives.
Hammond is also charged with leaking Stratfor files to Wikileaks. He faces a lengthy prison sentence for two counts of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and one count each of computer hacking, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Three of the charges relate to the Stratfor attacks, which allegedly included the theft of 60,000 credit card numbers.
Hammond shuffled into court yesterday morning, grinning and waving to the rows of supporters who attended the hearing. It was revealed during the hearing that he was caught with marijuana at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and isolated in the MCC's Special Housing Unit for three days in January.
Kavaler's public Cahill Gordon email address was found on a website that claims to list accounts stolen from Stratfordazzlepod.com/stratfor. Kuntsler said it is alleged that the email accounts of 20 Cahill clients were hacked and over 3,000 emails were compromised. But the judge said there was nothing in the record to indicate that those clients were among the ones who had their credit card numbers stolen.
So while Kavaler represents several Stratfor victims in unrelated litigation, he has no other connection to the Hammond case. Nonetheless, Fink and Kuntsler said his financial interest in clients who were hacked required recusal.