Judge Recused From Chiquita Trial
CINCINNATI (AP) _ A judge who received campaign contributions from the chief executive of Chiquita Brands International Inc. removed himself from the trial of a former Chiquita lawyer accused of giving stolen company voice mail messages to a newspaper reporter.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Ralph Winkler gave the case to another judge on Monday after disclosing that he had received a $500 contribution from financier Carl Lindner, $500 from his wife and six other $500 checks from people with the same last name.
Lawyers for former Chiquita lawyer George Ventura had asked Winkler to take himself off the case.
Earlier, a special prosecutor was appointed in the Chiquita case because Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters had received contributions from Lindner.
Ventura, a lawyer for Chiquita in Honduras from 1991 to 1996, is charged with stealing voice mail messages in late 1997 and providing them to Michael Gallagher, then a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The newspaper published Gallagher’s stories critical of Chiquita on May 3 but later renounced them because of the theft accusations, apologized and paid Chiquita more than $10 million to settle any claims.
Gallagher was fired, and he pleaded guilty last month to intercepting voice mail. He has been cooperating with investigators. He could face up to 2 1/2 years in prison and a $7,500 fine at sentencing March 19.
Ventura, now a Salt Lake City lawyer, has pleaded innocent to five counts of unlawful interception of communications and five counts of unauthorized access to computer systems. The charges are punishable by up to 12 1/2 years in prison.