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Judge Dietz refuses to recuse himself

Game on.

The Travis County District Court judge overseeing a contentious trial over the state’s school finance system rejected a request by the attorney general’s office to recuse himself from the case.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office asked state District Judge John Dietz to remove himself from the proceedings after learning of emails between Dietz and plaintiffs’ lawyers, some of which state lawyers say “suggest that the judge is coaching the plaintiffs’ counsel in order to improve their case.”

In an order signed Monday, Dietz declined to step aside, instead asking Billy Ray Stubblefield, presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, to assign a separate judge to hear the motion of recusal.

Lawyers for hundreds of school districts slammed the state’s motion as an effort to delay a ruling.

If that were the attorney general’s intent, it worked, said Rick Gray, attorney for the Texas Taxpayer Student Fairness Coalition.

Gray said Dietz likely won’t continue work on the case until the recusal matter is resolved.

A ruling had been expected sometime this summer.

The attorney general’s office “shut it down and the ultimate losers are the schoolkids,” Gray said. “Every day, they stall and delay this is one more day we’ve got kids going through an underfunded, inefficient and inadequate system.”

See here for the background. The main thing I learn from this is that at least one other plaintiff group is on the same page as the David Thompson plaintiffs, who have already said they will “vigorously oppose” the state’s motion. Here’s more from the Statesman:

It is unclear how much delay the recusal motion will add to the school finance case, begun in 2011. Court rules require the motion to be heard “as soon as practicable,” even allowing a hearing to be held by conference call, with briefs and documents to be submitted by fax or email.

If the new judge denies the recusal motion, Abbott may appeal, but an order to remove Dietz from the case may not be appealed.

Before the recusal motion, Dietz had been expected to rule by late June or July.

A judge has been appointed to hear the arguments for this. Hopefully, we’ll get a ruling soon, as well as an updated opinion in the lawsuit.

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