A judge has responded to an effort to remove him from a case filed by a group of Los Angeles firefighters who sued the city asking to be paid pending hearings about possible termination for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, calling the effort untimely and unsupported by any legal grounds.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield on Thursday rejected a statement of disqualification filed by attorney John Howard on behalf of Firefighters4Freedom. The action came nine days after Linfield dismissed the nonprofit group’s suit, calling the case “another in a long line of cases that challenges vaccination mandates” and one that was “equally without merit.” On Dec. 21, Linfield had also denied the organization’s request for a preliminary injunction protecting the firefighters’ rights.

Howard maintained in his court papers that legal errors and comments Linfield made during both hearings warrant setting aside the dismissal and having the motion heard again by another judge. He filed additional court papers on behalf of Firefighters4Freedom asking that judgment not be entered yet in favor of the city, arguing the parties “must agree within the next five days on a judge to decide whether Judge Linfield should be disqualified, and if they cannot agree, the chairperson of the Judicial Council must appoint a judge to decide the matter.”

Linfield had previously said the case would not be dismissed and that Firefighters4Freedom would have the chance to do discovery and go to trial, according to Howard’s filing.

In his sworn declaration in support of the disqualification effort, Howard noted that in Linfield’s opinion on the preliminary injunction hearing, the judge compared the number of coronavirus deaths to the number of Americans killed in the Civil War and other armed conflicts. The judge also disparaged an expert the firefighters hired to provide basic background information about the pandemic, Howard says.

“Judge Linfield’s opinion on the preliminary injunction motion was strong evidence of bias,” Howard states in his court papers. “It reads more like an opinion piece in The Nation than a reasoned judicial decision on the narrow legal issues presented. It had an adversarial tone.”

During the hearing on the dismissal of the case, Linfield collated people who have questioned the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines to those who question whether the Holocaust and the moon landing occurred as well as whether Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, Howard says. The judge also disregarded valid law on the issues, Howard says.

“These legal errors, combined with Judge Linfield’s failure to follow the rules regarding demurrers, will almost certainly lead to reversal on appeal,” says Howard, who noted that last year a panel of the Second District Court of Appeal overturned a $13 million employment case verdict against the UC Regents based on legal mistakes and the appearance of bias in favor of the plaintiff.

“We do not raise these issues lightly,” Howard says. “All plaintiff asked for was a fair process, a chance to gather evidence and to have its day in court.”

But in striking Howard’s statement, Linfield said the attorney waited two months to bring the statement of disqualification. He also said that disagreements with a judge’s rulings are not grounds for removing the bench officer, nor are statements made by a judge expressing a view on legal or factual issues in the proceedings.

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