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Judge Removes Himself From Suit Against Wilson

Law: William Cahill refuses to step down on grounds of conflict of interest, but rules that the governor properly invoked his right to disqualify him.

September 25, 1996| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — While denying any conflict of interest, a judge has granted Gov. Pete Wilson's request to step down from a suit accusing Wilson of violating public-meeting laws in the University of California's affirmative-action vote.

Superior Court Judge William Cahill said Monday that Wilson was entitled to remove him from the case under a state law allowing each party to disqualify one judge for any reason.

On Friday, Wilson's lawyer sought to challenge Cahill for cause, a move that would have preserved the governor's right to remove a future judge in the case.

Wilson said Cahill had a conflict because his ex-wife served on a fund-raising council for the American Civil Liberties Union and had done some work for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. The ACLU and the Lawyers Committee both represent the student newspaper suing Wilson. The governor also said lawyers for the newspaper had contacted Cahill privately, an allegation they deny.

Cahill refused to disqualify himself on those grounds, but ruled that Wilson had properly invoked his right of automatic removal.

The suit, filed by the Daily Nexus of Santa Barbara and one of its reporters, accuses Wilson of violating a law that requires state agencies to meet and take action in public.

The Nexus contends Wilson contacted individual UC regents privately to line up support before the July 1995 meeting that banned consideration of race and gender in university admissions, hiring and contracting. Wilson denies it, saying he outlined his position to several regents but did not solicit their votes.

Cahill, a 1991 appointee of Gov. George Deukmejian, was routinely assigned the initial proceedings in the case and rejected Wilson's request to dismiss the suit, a ruling left intact by higher courts.

The judge, a registered Republican, has ruled against Wilson in at least two other cases, blocking his attempt to cut wages on state and local government public works projects and overturning his order to allow suspension of the state's Endangered Species Act during floods and other emergencies.

His removal returns the case to Presiding Judge Laurence Kay, a 1983 appointee of Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. Kay could decide to keep the case or assign it to another judge, said Elizabeth Pritzker of the 1st Amendment Project, another lawyer for the Daily Nexus.

The next issue in the case is whether lawyers for the newspaper can question Wilson and individual regents about their discussions before the July 1995 meeting. Pritzker said the governor and the regents have argued that their conversations are confidential.

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