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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ind. Courts - "Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa denies request to step aside on Rockport case"

Here is Tony Cook's just posted Indianapolis Star story. Some quotes:

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa today denied a request that he step aside in a high-profile case involving a controversial coal gasification project in Rockport.

Four environmental groups had filed a motion Tuesday asking the judge to recuse himself from the case. The groups argued that Massa’s longtime friendship with the project’s director, Mark Lubbers, and the judge’s earlier job as chief counsel for Gov. Mitch Daniels, a strong supporter of the $2.8 billion plant, should disqualify him from ruling in the case.

The motion was filed by the Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life and Valley Watch.

In an order today, Massa defended his decision to stay on the case, saying it would be “disabling to this Court if we were required to recuse every time a ‘friend’ came before us as a lawyer or worked as an employee of, or consultant to, a party.”

He acknowledged his friendship with Lubbers, but said the two don’t socialize often. He also conceded that he would have reviewed legislation related to the project as Daniel’s chief counsel, “but I have no independent recollection of having done so, as Governor Daniels signed 757 separate pieces of legislation during my tenure.”

Kerwin Olson of Citizens Action Coalition said the environmental groups were disappointed with Massa’s decision.

“If this particular case is not a text book example of one in which recusal is appropriate and expected, I don’t know what case would be,” he said. “The point of these ethics laws and ex-parte rules is to give the public confidence that decisions made are based on sound public policy and proper legal judgment. These laws and rules are nothing more than meaningless words on paper if the spirit of them continues to be ignored by those expected to honor and enforce them.”

In his order, Massa noted that his recusal would leave a four-person bench to decide the case. Those seeking his removal “can do the appellate math and know that in the event of my recusal, they would only have to convince two judges to prevail, leaving the court split and winning the tie,” he said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 14, 2013 04:56 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts