Panel of Court of Appeals upholds "spoliation" decisions of judge who later disqualified himself from case involving alleged "drinking buddy."
In a complicated case involving allegations of fraud, failing businesses, and tortious interference with business relationships, a judge was called upon to rule with regard to whether one of the parties had deleted evidence from a computer hard drive. The judge found a history of non-cooperation in discovery and ultimately defaulted the alleged perpetrator, William B. Hunt. The consequence was the dismissal of Hunt's counter-claim against the other parties.
Later in the case, one of the parties sought recusal of the judge who had issued the discovery-sanction decisions, citing affidavit evidence that he was a "drinking buddy" of the adversary. The judge immediately recused himself, without explanation. The Hunt defendants then appealed the judge's rulings, arguing that they should be set aside, given the judge's recusal and apparent bias.
The Court of Appeals held that the judge's decision to recuse himself did not void his prior decisions, as there was ample evidence to support the original holdings. The appellate court acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court's emphasis on ruling out personal judicial bias where it creates an appearance of impropriety, but found no such appearance in Srvan Brick & Stone, Inc. v. W B Hunt Corp. Ironically, the panel assigned to evaluate bias in this case consisted of perhaps the most predictable judges in the Court of Appeals. Judges Christopher Murray, Henry Saad and Kirsten Kelly leave us with the impression that they are so beholden to insurance interests that their rulings can be known just from an identification of the parties.