By Lillian Boyd and Shawn Raymundo

A federal judge has granted a group of south Orange County cities’ request to remove Judge David O. Carter from a homelessness lawsuit that names cities including Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

Orange County Catholic Worker, along with the Emergency Shelter Coalition and Housing is a Human Right Orange County, filed the suit on Feb. 27 against Orange County and its cities for allegedly not doing enough to provide homeless shelters.

The cities of Aliso Viejo, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano filed a motion on May 24 to disqualify the assigned District Judge, the Honorable Carter. United States District Judge James Selna granted the request.

The three cities, known as the “City Movants,” listed three complaints to support their request for Carter’s recusal: First, Carter’s engagement in ex parte communications (speaking to some of the parties in the lawsuit without the City Movants present); impartial statements made by Carter; and Carter’s comments made in a conference on cities who would not be attending a hearing that invited all the mayors and city managers in Orange County.

According to the court order granting Carter’s recusal, Carter had stated two weeks prior to the conference, “In the future for the cities who aren’t here—and one outside law firm gave their five cities the advice not to attend, and I won’t name those five cities for you—but it’s gonna be hard in the future if this Court can’t take action…”

The document goes on to allege that Carter praised the “good mayors” who attended and shame the “bad mayors” who did not attend the April 2 conference.

Carter ordered the parties in Housing is a Human Right Orange County et al v. The County of Orange et al for a court appearance, requesting the mayor, city manager and police chief or sheriff of the cities of Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente to attend. During this time, the City Movants had not been served nor appeared.

At the status conference, Carter noted the absence of the cities. U.S. District Judge Selna wrote in the order that Carter’s statements are, at a minimum, problematic.

“The direct statements about the City Movants would sway a reasonable observer based on appearances to conclude the District Judge could not be objective and impartial with respect to the City Movants,” Selna said.

“In attempting to achieve a county-wide resolution, he cannot be faulted for using direct language apprising the parties in that case of realities of the situation and the need to come together. That’s what settlement judges do. It is the unintended and unanticipated juxtaposition of this [south county] case with Catholic Worker that compels much of the result here,” the ruling continues.

San Juan Capistrano City attorney Jeff Ballinger said the city is pleased with the ruling and that Judge Selna “accurately applied the facts of this case to the law and therefore the city thinks it’s the right decision.”

Ballinger added that the case can be judged fairly with Carter now recused.

“With this decision, we look forward to addressing the allegation with this complaint and now with a judge who is fair and impartial,” Ballinger said.

The city of San Juan was officially served with the lawsuit on May 28. The city of San Clemente was served May 24. The Capistrano Dispatch has reached out to the cities of San Clemente and Dana Point for comment and will update this article upon additional information and commentary.

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