A man accused of the drug-induced murder of a St. Johns County resident will face a new judge Thursday after the judge originally assigned to the case was disqualified following allegations of bias and prejudice.

Oscar Novo is charged with first-degree murder for selling fentanyl to 27-year-old Parker Clarkson, who died of an overdose in 2018.

Circuit Judge Howard Maltz was originally assigned to the case but was disqualified in August after the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee granted requests by defendants in two separate cases to remove him.

One of the defendants was Novo. 

Maltz publicly announced in 2017 that he would no longer accept plea deals in cases involving the sale or trafficking of opioids.

When defendants challenged his impartiality and asked that he recuse himself, Maltz refused.

The appeals court’s decision disqualified Maltz from the two cases. It’s not yet clear how their decision will affect his ability to sit in judgment in cases going forward.

The court did not weigh in on the merits of the bias allegations. They simply agreed with the defendants' lawyers that a motion to disqualify a judge must merely be "legally sufficient." 

Judge Lee Smith is assigned the case and will handle Novo's arraignment Thursday at 9 a.m. at the St. Johns County court -- marking the first time Novo faces Lee.

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