Clay Superior Court Judge J. Blaine Akers has disqualified himself from presiding over Sonya M. Stroud's case.
Stroud, 40, Brazil, is facing a total of seven class C felony charges of forgery and five class D felony theft charges stemming from an investigation by the Brazil City Police Department into approximately $280,000 in missing funds at Brazil Trucking, Inc.
According to the case file, Stroud allegedly exerted "unauthorized control" over more than 100 company checks during a 10-year period without the permission or knowledge of her employer. The checks are normally used to repay expenses incurred by over-the-road truckers.
Citing there were no criteria or time schedule in place for the defendant to make restitution repayment, Akers turned down a negotiated plea agreement in the case in May 2009. Abiding by trial rules and Indiana case law, Stroud was allowed to withdraw her previous guilty plea after the plea agreement was denied. Court rules prohibit statements made by Stroud during the proceedings from being used against her in a forthcoming trial.
Akers is unable to comment on the details of a pending case, but was able to discuss reasons why he decided to withdraw from the case with The Brazil Times.
"As a judge, I should aspire at all times to ensure the greatest possible public confidence in my independence, impartiality, competence and integrity. My goal of fairness is to both the defendant and to the State of Indiana."
Because the defense believes Akers' remarks about assuring proper restitution and considering other methods to be undertaken may have prompted additional charges to be filed in the case in December 2009, Akers filed the paperwork to remove himself from the case.
"While I have to believe the defendant and her attorney know I would preside over this trial with all fairness to everyone, I want to assure that," Akers said. "I have recused myself from the case in order to maintain requisite impartiality and integrity of the court and presiding judge."
Putnam County Superior Court Judge Charles D. Bridge has been appointed to assume jurisdiction of the case.
Although a "firm trial date" was previously scheduled for Feb. 22, Bridge will need time to familiarize himself with the details of the case, which will delay further court proceedings.
Defense attorney Roscoe Stovall has previously notified the court of potentially filing a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity within the area.
When, and if, the proper paperwork is filed, court procedures allow for a test jury to be pooled to help officials to determine the effects of publicity about the case on other potential jurors who reside within Clay County before deciding on the motion.
Stroud remains in the custody of the Clay County Sheriff's Department to await further court proceedings.