Monday, November 07, 2005

Shannon and Sugarland

As we've said before, this blog's name is meant to capture a theme of news stories that have unusual transatlantic aspects. In that vein, there won't be a more bizarrely apropos tale than the collapse of a trial in the Republic of Ireland because of apparent personal links between the judge and George Bush and Tom DeLay. In merely one of the ironies, the Irish judge removed himself from the case just as Tom DeLay seeks to game his impending trial for money laundering and fraud in Texas by petitioning for changes of judge till he gets one he likes.

Anyway, the Irish case is a long-running affair concerning an attack by anti-war protestors on one US and one Irish plane at Shannon, Shannon being a key staging point in the War on Terror. The current trial is the second attempt to bring the case, but all hell broke loose in the courtroom today when the defence made several queries about trips that the judge had taken to Texas (, subs. req'd):

Defence counsel had asked Judge McDonagh to confirm whether or not he had, as a barrister in the mid 1990s, attended a conference in Texas which involved a photo call with the then Governor Bush.

Counsel for the five accused also suggested that Judge McDonagh was invited to both of Mr Bush's presidential inaugurations and attended the first in 2000.

Now getting a change of judge in the Republic is not simply a matter of pushing a button on a video game console, as it seems to be in Texas, so the defence had to be careful not to impugn the judge's integrity while making their case -- but they clearly struck a nerve:

Michael O'Higgins SC [senior counsel] said that the defence was simply asking whether their information was correct and would then take further instruction from their clients. Mr O'Higgins said the defence was not attempting to argue that any decision made by Judge McDonagh had been affected by the information.

Mr O'Higgins said the defence believed that Judge McDonagh had attended a conference in Texas in the mid 1990s during which he was one of a group invited to a photo call with George W Bush. He suggested Judge McDonagh was later invited to, and attended, the 2000 inauguration of Mr Bush as President and received a further invitation in 2004 which he did not accept.

Mr O'Higgins suggested that the invitation was "extended by Mr Tom Delay, who has had recent difficulties".

Judge McDonagh saw enough of a "perception" problem to withdraw. The trial was in the closing stages, and while the government could in theory try for a 3rd prosecution, one might have thought their will won't be in it this time. Unless they're under pressure from the US to bring the case.

UPDATE: free link from RTE; doesn't contain the hypothesis from the above link that it's a friendship with DeLay that marks the origin of the link to Bush. And here's Tuesday's Irish Times story (subs. maybe req'd) that is essentially the same version that ran as above.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's another theory about why Judge McDonagh withdrew -- it certainly would have been awkward if the sentence for taking a hammer to a military plane turned out to be higher than the disgracefully lenient sentence he handed down today in what should have been an attempted murder case:

A tennis coach and a university student who left a man in a coma after attacking him on Dublin's Grafton Street are to serve three months in prison.

Stephen Nugent, 24, from Swords and 29-year-old Dermot Cooper from Stillorgan, both in Dublin, pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to Sligo librarian Barry Duggan in April 2003. Judge Donagh McDonagh said the defendants had run off 'triumphant' after the assault on a 'puny man'.

However, Judge McDonagh accepted that they had no previous convictions and were unlikely to come to the attention of gardaĆ­ in the future. He therefore imposed three-year sentences with all but the last three months suspended.

Is interfering with the War on Terror a bigger trangression than interfering with another person's brain?

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