The Comanche County Chief District Judge has determined that two former Lawton police officers charged with a 2021 shooting death will face a different judge for their preliminary hearing.
On Wednesday, Judge Scott D. Meaders ruled on a motion made by Gary James, of Oklahoma City, to disqualify Special District Judge Christine Galbraith from presiding over the preliminary hearing for his clients, Nathan Michael Ronan and Robert Leslie Hinkle. The decision followed a May 18 hearing to determine who would preside over the case.
In his ruling, Meaders cited the Code of Judicial Conduct canon stating “a judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
While noting that the court doesn’t find Galbraith harbors any bias or prejudice in this case and shouldn’t be disqualified due to serving in the district attorney’s office at the time the charges were filed in May 2022, the fact she reviewed the police body camera video from the case could present doubt regarding her impartiality despite her confidence to the contrary, the order reads.
The case will be transferred to Special District Judge Susan Zwaan.
The former Lawton police officers are charged with felony first-degree manslaughter for the Dec. 5, 2021, shooting death of Quadry Sanders, 29, during an incident at 1806 NW Lincoln.
Galbraith had declined to disqualify herself from presiding over the preliminary hearing during an April 21 hearing over the matter. The former officers’ preliminary hearing was scheduled for that day before James filed his motion to disqualify on April 14.
In his motion and the disqualification hearing before Galbraith, James alleged not that Galbraith was biased or prejudicial due to her prior role as an assistant district attorney, but that the “appearance of impropriety” was enough to cause the public to lack confidence in any ruling she makes.
James argued in his original motion for Galbraith’s recusal that two prior scheduled preliminary hearings were continued by agreement. At that time, Judge Grant Sheperd was a special district judge overseeing the case, but in January he was appointed to a district judge post and Galbraith assumed his judgeship on Jan. 9.
District Attorney Kyle Cabelka may still file an appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Constitution is awaiting his response to the ruling.
If no appeal is filed, the preliminary hearing will be scheduled for Zwaan’s court.