Update – 10:20 a.m.
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Indian River County Circuit Court Judge Robert Hawley has accepted the State Attorney’s Office motion to be removed from presiding over the case of former Vero Beach attorney Ira Hatch.
The motion, filed in court Friday morning, came as a surprise to Hatch’s defense attorney Greg Eisenmenger.
“I’m furious about this,” Eisenmenger said outside the courtroom. Judge Hawley took about a 30-minute recess to review the State’s motion before returning to the bench.
“I will grant the motion,” he said briefly.
Chief Judge Steve Levin will be tasked with naming a replacement judge. The change is not expected to impact the start of Hatch’s trial.
“We just don’t know at this point” who will preside over the trial, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler said.
Regardless of the outcome, the trial is still expected to take place as scheduled on May 24, Butler added.
The State Attorney’s Office accuses Judge Hawley of being biased against the State, calling the judge’s tone “petulant” toward the State Attorney’s Office.
In a recent court hearing pertaining to the Hatch case, “Judge Hawley’s anger and hostility was visible to all courtroom observers…” the State’s filing reads.
Butler said the decision to ask Judge Hawley to step down was not made lightly and called it “regrettable” that the State Attorney’s Office had to make such a motion.
“They deserve the right to a fair trial,” Butler said of the hundreds of victims in a case involving millions of dollars.
Butler said that they have noticed over the last two years a “pattern of increasing hostility” and “deference to the defense.”
“We’re not quarrelling with the judge’s rulings,” Butler said, but with the judge’s demeanor.
Eisenmenger said the State’s motion is “typical” and an “exercise of hide and seek,” making changes at the last minute.
Hatch, 62, is now charged with 58 felonies connected with losing millions of dollars of clients’ money from the former Coastal Escrow Services and the law firm of Hatch & Doty. An extra charge of third degree grand theft was filed against Hatch on Tuesday.
Hatch’s charges include 29 counts of third degree grand theft, 13 counts of second degree grand theft, 11 counts of grand theft, three counts of money laundering between $20,000 and $100,000, and one count each of operating as a money transmitter and felony racketeering, according to his arrest report.
Hatch has been sitting in jail since initially arrested in January 2008, in lieu of $3 million bond. The trial could take as long as six weeks.