A long-running challenge to California's death penalty procedures that has resulted in executions being put on hold for five years has been assigned to a new federal judge in San Francisco.
The reassignment to U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg was announced this morning by the Northern California federal court's executive committee.
The 2006 lawsuit by several death row inmates was handled by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose for five years, but Fogel has taken a long-term leave from the court to head the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit claims the state's three-drug lethal injection procedure could cause extreme pain, in violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
A 2006 ruling by Fogel, who found that the procedure then in effect had numerous flaws, has resulted in a moratorium in executions at San Quentin State Prison.
State corrections officials have now revised the procedure and the revamped protocol is expected to undergo court scrutiny within the next few months.
There are more than 700 inmates on the state's death row, with cases in various stages of appeal.
Seeborg, who formerly worked as a federal prosecutor in San Jose, as a private lawyer and as a federal magistrate, was appointed as a trial judge by President Obama in 2009. His courtroom is in the San Francisco branch of the federal court.