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Judges take turns on bench in death-penalty hearing

Dickie’s case now on 4th judge

POSTED: January 22, 2009 12:11 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Allan Robert Dickie confers with attorney Doug Ramseur on Wednesday afternoon in Hall County Superior Court during a pretrial hearing for Dickie.

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The death penalty case of Allan Robert Dickie will have had four different superior court judges presiding before it gets close to coming to trial.

On Wednesday, Judge Kathlene Gosselin became the latest judge to be assigned to hear a portion of Dickie’s case, after a pingpong ball with her number dropped from a rotating wire basket.

The unusual "Bingo machine" method of randomly assigning a judge was used for the second time since prosecutors filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Dickie in 2007.

Dickie, 20, is charged with kidnapping, rape and murder in the August 2007 stabbing death of Claudia Toppin.

The case grew more complex after Dickie’s lawyers moved for the removal of Judge Jason Deal, the first judge to be assigned the case via pingpong ball. Attorneys claimed Deal called into question his impartiality in the case when he attached jail disciplinary reports to an order for Dickie to undergo a mental evaluation for competency to stand trial.

Earlier this month, a visiting judge from Stephens County decided that Deal should remain on the case, except in matters
concerning Dickie’s competency.

On Wednesday, Dickie’s lawyer, Doug Ramseur, argued that pretrial motions in the case couldn’t go forward until Deal’s order for a mental evaluation of his client was addressed, something visiting superior court judge E.H. "Bucky" Woods never did.

That prompted Deal to ask Hall County Chief Superior Court Judge Andy Fuller to take his place on the bench in Wednesday’s hearing and decide what to do next. Fuller in turn asked Hall County Clerk of Court Charles Baker to bring the hand-cranked Bingo machine to the courtroom.

Gosselin’s role in the case is likely to be limited. She will likely be asked how to proceed with Deal’s order for mental evaluation, an order the defense felt was unnecessary. Dickie’s attorneys have not made his competency to stand trial an issue, and last year he refused to participate in the court-ordered mental evaluation.

The musical chairs with judges takes place before lawyers can get down to the business of arguing dozens of routine pretrial motions that must be heard and decided before the case reaches a jury.

"I don’t think we can go forward with any proceedings before the issue is resolved," Ramseur said during Wednesday’s hearing. "We’re trying to make sure the record is as clean as possible and that we handle things in the appropriate order."

District Attorney Lee Darragh said while he was "very, very reluctant to do anything to cause further delay in this case," he agreed that Deal’s evaluation order had to be addressed.

"I regret that, because I think this case needs to move forward," Darragh said.



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