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Federal judge changes course again, recuses herself from former Portage mayor's new bribery case

Federal judge changes course again, recuses herself from former Portage mayor's new bribery case

James Snyder retrial

With his wife Deborah at his side, former Portage Mayor James Snyder talks to reporters at the U.S. District Court in Hammond after he was found guilty Feb. 14, 2019 on two of three counts in his public corruption trial. One of the guilty verdicts was overturned and Snyder faces a new trial.

HAMMOND — The federal judge overseeing the new bribery case of former Portage Mayor James Snyder is again recusing herself just over a week after cancelling her first order to leave the duties to someone else.

U.S. District Court Judge Theresa Springmann again says, "the Court finds that the speedy administration of justice requires that this case be reassigned," according to Thursday's order.

"Accordingly, the Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to reassign this matter to another Article III Judge in accordance with the Local Rules," she said.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly will now preside over the case, court records show. 

The order comes in the wake of Monday's announcement that Snyder's new bribery trial, which was set to begin Dec. 7, has been postponed until sometime after Jan. 29 due to concerns over threats posed by the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

"Based on the current conditions of Lake and Porter County, it is not possible to summon a pool of potential jurors and conduct a jury trial in a manner that does not expose potential jurors, counsel, court staff, and litigants to substantial and unacceptable health risks, specifically, the danger of becoming infected with COVID-19," Springmann said in her order.

The judge said she would set a new trial at a later date.

Federal prosecutors are again trying to prove Snyder, a Republican, solicited a bribe from two Portage businessmen.

The government alleges the then-mayor steered $1.125 million in contracts for the city of Portage to buy garbage trucks from a Portage trucking firm in 2013.

The government alleges Snyder solicited and received a $13,000 bribe from the firm’s former owners a few weeks later.

Snyder has pleaded not guilty.

His law team argues the $13,000 was a legitimate payment for consulting services Snyder provided the trucking dealership to save money on the cost of insurance and information technology.

Snyder was indicated in late 2016 and he was found guilty in early 2019 of bribery and federal tax violations.

The bribery verdict was overturned in late 2019 and Springmann decided last month Snyder must face a new jury on the bribery charge, overruling defense arguments that a second trial was barred by the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.

Gallery: Recent arrests booked into Porter County Jail


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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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