Second judge recuses self in McCormick case

By
Sports Editor
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The second federal judge to preside over William McCormick’s lawsuit against the University and two alums recused himself from the case this afternoon.

McCormick’s lawyer, Scott Kilpatrick, motioned for Judge Ronald Lagueux to recuse himself Feb. 11 because a lawyer for the two alums has previously represented Lagueux.

The alums’ lawyer, Joseph Cavanagh, represented Lagueux in 1988 before the Judicial Council of the First Circuit, a body charged with disciplining federal judges. Lagueux was called before the body and admonished after he banned Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz from his courtroom. In a book, Dershowitz had alleged that the Rhode Island’s judicial system was corrupt.

Normally, a lawyer’s past representation of a presiding judge would not be grounds for recusal. But Kilpatrick argued in the motion for Lagueux’s recusal that the relationship between Lagueux and Cavanagh could give the appearance of partiality, especially because Cavanagh may be called on to testify as a witness. McCormick maintains that Cavanagh acted improperly in coercing him to sign an agreement to withdraw from Brown after being accused of rape by one of the alums in 2006.

In a hearing on the issue this afternoon, Lagueux said he believes the agreement is a critical document in the case. He said it had been unusual throughout his judicial career to allow lawyers representing parties in a case to also act as witnesses in that case. Because that scenario may come to pass in the McCormick case, a reasonable person could question Lagueux’s impartiality, he said.  

Lagueux acknowledged his prior hiring of Cavanagh for personal representation and his personal relationship with Cavanagh and Cavanagh’s father, also an attorney. The judge attributed his decision to recuse himself to the strong possibility that Cavanagh will have to testify about his role in obtaining the agreement.

Lagueux  became the presiding judge because the original judge, William Smith, recused himself Jan. 6. after his daughter applied to Brown. At the time, Smith informed the lawyers the case would likely be transferred to a New Hampshire judge after his recusal. But Cavanagh wrote a letter to Smith requesting that Lagueux, who is semi-retired, hear the case instead, and Smith complied. McCormick’s lawyer then discovered that Cavanagh had represented Lagueux in the past.

It is exceedingly rare for even one judge to recuse himself from a case once litigation has commenced. The other federal judge in Rhode Island, Mary Lisi, cannot hear the case because she is married to another lawyer for the two alums.

Lagueux said the case would now in fact be transferred to a judge in New Hampshire.

An officer of the court prevented The Herald from taking notes at the hearing.

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