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City’s motion to disqualify judge denied

Updated December 20, 2018 - 8:53 am

A District Court judge denied Boulder City’s motion to disqualify Judge Richard Scotti in a case involving a former resident’s crosswalk protest because the city did not bring forward a substantive reason.

The city sought to negate Scotti’s Oct. 29 written order that said it vindictively prosecuted former Boulder City resident John Hunt, who was arrested June 8, 2016, after repeatedly walking back and forth in a marked crosswalk to protest a police-sanctioned enforcement event. Scotti also dismissed the case, ruling it a violation of the First Amendment.

The city alleged that Scotti did not follow procedure when issuing his opinion. City Attorney Steve Morris told Judge Linda Marie Bell that the city believed there was an overarching procedural issue that led to Scotti being biased against Boulder City.

Additionally, Morris argued that Scotti and Hunt’s attorney, Stephen Stubbs, participated in an improper communication during a status check hearing Sept. 19 and that Scotti basically gave up the court’s authority by allowing Stubbs to dictate how to proceed.

In her ruling Friday, Dec. 14, Bell wrote that nothing in her order shall be considered an indictment of the procedures in the case and that even if she believed Scotti committed procedural errors, that did not give evidence of bias. She also said the city’s claim of bias was weak and its pleadings made only a brief mention of it.

“At oral argument, the lack of any true evidence of bias became more apparent,” Bell wrote in her decision. “The city only paid lip service to the idea of bias. While it is conceivable that a judge could make procedural errors because of bias for one side, such evidence and argumentation proving this is lacking in this case. Instead, the city only attacked Judge Scotti’s competency as a judge.”

Additionally, she wrote that the remarks of a judge made in a court proceeding “are not considered indicative of improper bias or prejudice unless they show that the judge has closed his or her mind to the presentation of all the evidence.”

“Chief Judge Linda Bell’s ruling is based on the belief that Judge Scotti’s confusion and lack of factual and procedural understanding of the underlying action did not rise to the level of bias towards the city,” the city said in a statement released Monday, Dec. 17. “The city respectfully disagrees and is evaluating how we will proceed forward in this matter.”

“Once again, Steve Morris has embarrassed the city of Boulder City,” Stubbs said after Bell’s decision was filed. “This motion was ridiculous. Instead of personally attacking the judge that correctly decided that Steve Morris committed prosecutorial misconduct, vindictively prosecuted Mr. Hunt and violated Mr. Hunt’s First Amendment rights, maybe, just maybe, Steve Morris should just read the Constitution and stop violating victims’ rights. I hope the City Council acts swiftly to correct these horrible decisions by Steve Morris.”

In making her decision, Bell noted that she could not grant the city’s request to negate Scotti’s Oct. 29 order.

“I only have jurisdiction to disqualify judges,” she wrote. “Even if I were faced with clear and unrelenting evidence of extreme bias leading to unfair rulings, I cannot overturn one of my colleagues’ rulings, as I am not an appellate court. I can only consider whether Judge Scotti will sit for future rulings in this case.”

Bell also wrote that Stubbs’ argument that the city’s motion was untimely and a way to get Scotti’s order negated was “unpersuasive.”

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