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Judge stays out of Bulger appeal

The federal judge overseeing the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger has chosen not to weigh in on an appeals court hearing on whether he should be removed from the case, a hearing set up after Bulger alleged the judge was biased because he worked as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s.

US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns said in a one-paragraph filing with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Wednesday that he will defer to his previous decisions in July and October in which he said he does not have a conflict of interest in overseeing the case.

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Bulger, 83, the notorious gangster who had a scandalous relationship with the FBI, has twice called on Stearns to recuse himself from Bulger’s June trial on a federal racketeering indictment, which accuses him of participating in 19 murders.

Bulger alleges in court papers that Stearns was a prosecutor in the US attorney’s office in the 1980s who would have known, or should have known, of Bulger’s relationship with the FBI, including Bulger’s assertions that he received immunity for his crimes for serving as an informant. Bulger also wants to call Stearns as a witness, according to court records.

The Court of Appeals agreed to hear Bulger’s request that Stearns be taken off the case.

A hearing is slated for Jan. 8, and the appeals court invited prosecutors and Stearns to weigh in.

Stearns said in a filing that, “While I appreciate the opportunity” to comment on the case, “I have nothing to add at this time” beyond what he had previously said in denying Bulger’s request.

In those decisions, Stearns said he did not work in the unit that investigated organized crime, that he had no knowledge of Bulger’s assertion of immunity, and that he could remain impartial.

Prosecutors in US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office have accused Bulger and his lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., of criticizing Stearns in order to delay Bulger’s trial.

But Carney has said he will be ready for the trial in June regardless of which judge is handling the case.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.

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