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Angeles County | OFFICIAL BUSINESS / COURTS AND GOVERNMENT

Third Judge Quits in Toxic Pollution Case

January 24, 1998

A private judge, Keith Wisot, has recused himself as a discovery referee in a toxic pollution suit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the third judge to give up a case in the wake of inquiries into a cruise offered by trial lawyers to 11 judges.

Wisot, an administrator with the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Service, wrote Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frances Rothschild that he felt "recusal is the best course of action" for him after his impartiality was questioned.

Wisot did not go on the cruise organized by trial attorneys Thomas V. Girardi and Walter J. Lack. But in response to inquiries from The Times, he informally looked into judges from the mediation service who did go. He concluded they had paid for the discounted trip and had done nothing unethical.

PG & E then questioned Wisot's impartiality and an appellate court suggested he be divested of his responsibilities in the case.

Two judges from the service who went on the cruise had earlier ruled against PG & E on behalf of plaintiffs represented by Girardi and Lack in an earlier phase of the case that resulted in a $333-million settlement paid by the utility.

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