Players' cases to be reassigned among judges


June 16, 2005

In a victory for the defense, five Indiana Pacers facing assault charges in the November brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills will get new judges by random draw.

All five had faced trial before Rochester Hills Judge Lisa Asadoorian on Aug. 1. Asadoorian had refused a request by defense attorneys to allow the cases to be separately assigned to other judges by random draw, saying the cases should remain in her court since they stemmed from one criminal act.

But on Wednesday, Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester ruled Asadoorian was incorrect and that the cases had to be reassigned. There are three judges on the 52nd District, third division bench: Asadoorian, Julie Nicholson and Nancy Tolwin Carniak. The random draw is expected to take place this week and likely will mean the trial dates will change for the five men.

"The only thing these cases have in common is that they happened at the same time and in the same place," Mester said in his ruling Wednesday.

Defense attorneys declined to discuss their strategy in seeking to have the cases reassigned, but it is likely they are hoping to keep their clients out of Asadoorian's courtroom.

Asadoorian, unlike many judges, will not consider first-time offender programs that often carry light penalties, nor Cobbs pleas, an arrangement that allows defendants to plead guilty as charged in exchange for a specific sentence, a common practice in most Michigan courtrooms.

Asadoorian also is known for imposing lengthy community service sentences, long probation periods and mandatory substance abuse counseling and anger management courses.

On Thursday, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton said Mester's decision to reassign had little impact on the cases.

"We are comfortable trying our cases, no matter who the judge is," he said.

The Nov. 19 brawl made international headlines after a fan heaved a cup of beer at Pacer Ron Artest. Artest, Anthony Johnson, David Harrison, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson were charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. Four fans also are facing trial on the same charge, including David Wallace, brother of Piston Ben Wallace. Those cases remain before Asadoorian, but their defense attorneys could ask for reassignment as well.

Contact L.L. BRASIER at 248-858-2262 or

Copyright 2005 Detroit Free Press Inc.