During what would have been the case’s arraignment hearing, Cherokee Chief Superior Court Judge Jackson Harris said because his wife is a teacher in the school district he was unable to hear the case against Marlow, her political adviser Robert Trim and Cherokee GOP Secretary Barbara Knowles.
“It wouldn’t be right for me to hear this case,” Harris said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure the community sees the high standard that this court can set.”
Marlow, Trim and Knowles each came to the hearing to tell the court how they pleaded to their felony charges of making false statements that Cherokee Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo tried to run them over with his BMW after a contentious school board meeting in June. Marlow was expected to plead not guilty to her four felony counts of making false statements in the case, and the judge was also to consider a request to throw out her indictment.
But none of the defendants had a chance to enter their pleas and Marlow’s request wasn’t heard, as a result of Harris’ recusal.
The trio of defendants sat together in the courtroom looking on as the judge made his sudden announcement Thursday morning in Canton.
“I must tell you that my wife is an employee of the Cherokee County School District,” Harris said. “As a teacher, one of the alleged victims in this case is my wife’s boss. One of the defendants is my wife’s superior.”
Because of his wife’s position, Harris said he had to do the right thing and recuse himself from the case.
After the hearing Thursday, Harris’ staff attorney Lara Schuster said the judge didn’t have to wait until the hearing to recuse himself, but it’s best to take such action in court.
“There’s no specific rule on how it’s done,” Schuster said, “so long as it is done.”
But “for the benefit of the parties and the attorneys,” it’s best for a judge to recuse themself in open court, so they can explain the decision and what happens moving forward, Schuster said.
It isn’t exactly clear, though, what will happen moving forward.
Harris said during the hearing Thursday he was reassigning the case to Judge Ellen McElyea, and McElyea told reporters she was unsure of when the case would proceed.
“It’s not going to be heard today,” she said.
McElyea said she had a list of cases she had to choose whether or not to accept, and she might have to recuse herself from Marlow’s proceedings as well.
“Once I check with (my staff), I’ll decide whether I’m going to keep it, or I’m going to reassign it,” she said.
With Marlow’s position as an elected school official and the extensive media coverage of her case so far, potential jurors for when, or if, she goes to trial could also have some sort of connection to the case.
When asked Thursday if that would result in the trial being moved to another county, District Attorney Shannon Wallace said not necessarily.
“The mere fact that potential jurors may have followed a story does not automatically eliminate them from consideration for jury service,” Wallace said Thursday. “If the trial judge determines that a fair and impartial jury can be selected in Cherokee County — in this case or any other case that receives media attention — the case will be tried here.”