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Motion to recuse Judge Dietz denied

Good.

Denied

State District Judge John Dietz will not be forced off Texas’ ongoing school finance case, a San Antonio judge ruled Monday, handing a victory to school districts suing the state over what they call an unconstitutional lack of adequate funding for public education.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Greg Abbott sought to have Dietz removed, citing evidence that he said showed the jurist improperly coached and encouraged plaintiffs’ attorneys in emails they exchanged earlier this year. After a hearing last week, Fourth Administrative District Judge David Peeples late Monday denied Abbott’s recusal request.

“It appears that the parties and the judge had different understandings on whether there would be back-and-forth discussions between the judge and the prevailing parties on the issues they won,” Peeples said in his ruling.

But he added, “Judge Dietz’s understanding was reasonable, and he acted in good faith.”

“The circumstances shown by the evidence do not justify recusal. The state’s motion to recuse Judge Dietz is respectfully denied,” Peeples concluded.

David Thompson, plaintiffs’ counsel who represents school districts in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, including Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, said he was “very pleased” with the ruling.

“I thought it was about as strong a decision as Judge Peeples could have written and we appreciate his very thoughtful consideration of this important issue.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of Judge Peeples’ ruling denying the motion. It’s clear in his decision that he found no reason to question Judge Dietz’ impartiality, though he did suggest that in cases like this it might be better to do a periodic check to make sure everyone still remembers and agrees to what they originally agreed to. But because there was agreement, and because there was plenty of evidence that the state did not object at any point to it, there was no reason to question Judge Dietz’s actions.

More from the DMN:

“This court emphatically rejects any suggestion that Judge Dietz intentionally or knowingly engaged in ex parte discussions without thinking that [all] the parties had agreed to allow this,” Peeples said in his nine-page ruling.

It is common practice in civil suits for a judge to receive input from attorneys on the prevailing side in writing a final judgment in the case.

Dietz is now expected to resume work on his estimated 350-page decision on whether the current Texas school finance system is constitutional.

[…]

Dietz has already ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a preliminary decision in early 2013, but he withheld his final judgment after the Legislature increased state funding for education in its 2013 session.

The motion by Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office to remove Dietz was seen by many as a last-ditch effort to head off a decision against the state.

Judge Peeples’ ruling can be appealed, but as I understand it only as part of the main appeal to the Supreme Court after final judgment is entered, so the delaying tactics available to Greg Abbott at this point are pretty limited. I look forward to seeing Judge Dietz’s final ruling and for the appeal to get underway so we can get moving on the inevitable solution. PDiddie, the AusChron, and Burka have more.

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