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Judge recuses himself, handing sheriff victory

Friday, March 17, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Legal Affairs Reporter

Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan on Thursday won his long-shot gambit to get a federal judge to recuse himself from a case for perceived bias.
Judge Ruben Castillo's exit from the case of two former jail guards who said they were harassed for backing up inmates' claims of a mass-beating means the trial, which was scheduled to start this month, will be delayed.
The guards, Roger Fairley and Rich Gackowski, have sued Sheahan and other sheriff's officials.
"It was a very serious and highly unusual legal motion, but something we felt was absolutely necessary, and we are pleased that the judge has recognized our position," said Sheahan spokeswoman Sally Daly.
"My clients have waited several years now for justice and will wait however long it takes," said the guards' attorney Matthew Piers. "It once again indicated what an outstanding jurist Ruben Castillo is. Clearly he did not have to do this. The allegations against him were goofy."
'Court has nothing at stake'
Castillo agreed, slamming Sheahan and his attorneys even as he granted their motion.
"The court has no conceivable, actual bias in this case," Castillo wrote. "This court has nothing at stake in this litigation and has only attempted to guide this difficult litigation to a conclusion. On the other hand, defendants' attorneys have gained financially from all of their behavior -- some very questionable -- without any apparent oversight by any Cook County officials." Castillo added, "The public has a right to know what is really going on at the Cook County Jail."
Sheahan had argued that Castillo was "biased" against him and his fellow jail officials because he ruled against Sheahan on so many motions. But Castillo said it was because his lawyers filed so many bad motions seeking to drag out the case, which, at three years, is the oldest on Castillo's docket.
But, Castillo wrote, "All of this court's statements and interactions in this case, taken together, may give pause to a non-legal observer, not versed in the ways of the courtroom and the risks of litigating. . . . This court reluctantly concludes that recusal is the most prudent course."
Castillo said he made "a mistake in judgment" when he said ". . . while this is not a public corruption case, any time taxpayer money is wasted, that to me is the equivalent of corruption."
". . . The court will avoid these types of statement in the future."
The case will now be randomly assigned to a fellow judge. Castillo preemptively apologized to that judge in his ruling.



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