A Leavenworth County judge says he had an ethical obligation to recuse himself from cases involving a man who was convicted of murder because of concern about fairness to the parties.

A Leavenworth County judge says he had an ethical obligation to recuse himself from cases involving a man who was convicted of murder because of concern about fairness to the parties.

“I felt personally there would be a problem with me proceeding as the judge,” District Judge Michael Gibbens said.

Gibbens said things came up Feb. 5-6 that led to his decision, but the judge did not provide details about what had occurred.
Gibbens has disqualified himself in two cases involving Matthew Astorga.

Astorga, 41, was convicted in 2009 of the first-degree murder of Ruben Rodriguez. The crime occurred Dec. 26, 2008, in Leavenworth.

Astorga received what is known as a Hard 50 sentence. This means he received a life sentence without possibility of parole for at least 50 years.

But he now has to be resentenced in the case because the state’s old Hard 50 law was struck down by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Under a new law, a jury will have to decide whether Astorga should once again receive the Hard 50 sentence.

Gibbens was assigned to the case after taking over Leavenworth County’s adult criminal docket last year.

The judge filed a written order disqualifying himself from the case Thursday. Gibbens also has disqualified himself in another criminal case that is pending against Astorga.

In this case, which has not yet gone to trial, Astorga faces a charge of battery on a county corrections officer. This crime is alleged to have occurred July 15, 2014.

Astorga is accused of spitting in the face of an officer at the jail.

Gibbens said he consulted with District Judge David King regarding his decision to recuse himself from the cases.

King is the chief judge for the 1st Judicial District, which includes Leavenworth County. King also previously served on the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications.

Court Administrator Steve Crossland said Senior Judge Gunnar Sundby has been assigned to the two cases.

Sundby previously presided over both cases while serving as a district judge in Leavenworth County. He retired from his duties as a district judge last year.

As of Tuesday morning, Gibbens was still assigned to a civil case involving Astorga. This case, which is known as a writ of habeas corpus case, involves complaints Astorga has made regarding his treatment at the Leavenworth County Jail.

Gibbens recently has been in the news because of criticism he has received for comments he made in December during the sentencing for a man who pleaded no contest to a charge of electronic solicitation.

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