A judge's decision to move Brendt Christensen's murder trial to Peoria was made solely for the convenience of the man presiding over the case.
U.S. Judge James Shadid's decision to move a widely publicized murder trial from the federal courthouse in Urbana to another in Peoria is a disappointment.
But no one can credibly argue that Shadid wasn't candid in explaining his decision. He acknowledged that he's moving the upcoming Brendt Christensen trial to Peoria for one big reason — he presides in Peoria, and it will be more convenient for him if the case is tried there.
Christensen, a former University of Illinois graduate student in physics, is charged with kidnapping Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang on June 9, 2017, on the UI campus and killing her. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
"A Peoria trial setting will allow the undersigned to attend to other civil and criminal matters before, during and after the court adjourns for the day, whereas an Urbana trial setting would require the undersigned to reschedule hearings in other cases that could otherwise be addressed during breaks in this trial," he wrote in his decision to move the trial.
Shadid's decision came in response to a defense motion asking for the trial to be moved out of Urbana because of pretrial publicity. But Shadid was so adamant about moving the trial to Peoria that he wrote he would have moved the trial "even if the court were to find there was a complete absence of prejudicial pretrial publicity."
U.S. Judge Colin Bruce presides at the Urbana federal courthouse. Bruce was handling this case, among others, when he was relieved of his criminal caseload after questions were raised about an allegedly improper email exchange between himself and a paralegal working in the U.S. attorney's office.
On their face, the emails appear relatively innocuous. They related to what Bruce considered to be a ham-handed cross-examination of a criminal defendant by a relatively inexperienced federal prosecutor.
But such "ex parte" communications are viewed with deep skepticism. Their disclosure prompted Bruce's superiors to relieve him of his entire criminal caseload for an undefined period of time.
In making this decision, Shadid concluded that it's his convenience that matters most. But that decision comes at the expense of the convenience of all the other parties to the case, most of whom are located in Champaign.
With one exception, Shadid minimized the inconvenience to others that the move to Peoria will cause.
While overruling their concerns, he expressed regret that Zhang's family, who must travel from China to central Illinois, will have to travel to Peoria rather than remain in Urbana. The local community has warmly supported grieving family members, prompting the local lawyer representing them to say that Shadid's decision will "raise the emotional stakes" for them.
While troubling, Shadid's decision comes as no great surprise — one could see it coming a mile away.
Federal judges are noted for their legendary self-regard, certainly not all, but many.
Lawyers even joke about it: What's the difference between God and a federal judge? God doesn't think he's a federal judge.
In that context, why wouldn't Shadid rule that what's most convenient for him is what matters most?