Just days after a watchdog agency admonished an Orange County Superior Court judge for making comments from the bench implying bias, he referred to a plaintiff in a defamation case as a “snowflake,” prompting a motion to disqualify him and leading to the judge’s recusal, according to court papers obtained Thursday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Derek W. Hunt recused himself Aug. 2 from the defamation lawsuit filed by attorney Mohammad Abuershaid against the county. The comments in question came during a hearing on the case July 8 — just three days after the Commission on Judicial Performance issued an admonishment of Hunt stemming from his handling of other matters.
At issue was the plaintiff’s wish to remain officially in court papers as John Doe, although Abuershaid’s identity has been made public in prior legal claims revolving around lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by retired prosecutor Gary LoGalbo.
In Abuershaid’s lawsuit, he alleges LoGalbo would refer to him as a “terrorist” when LoGalbo was discussing cases the Muslim attorney was handling as a public defender.
On May 25, Hunt moved to remove the anonymity of the plaintiff and set a hearing demanding to “know why he should not dismiss the case for failing to respond to the court’s order to show cause,” Abuershaid’s attorney, Matt Murphy, wrote in a motion to remove Hunt from the case.
Murphy said the attorneys did not receive any notice of the judge’s demand.
During a July 8 hearing, Hunt said the plaintiff wanted to remain as John Doe in the lawsuit because he believed his “professional reputation as a deputy public defender” would be damaged if people knew somebody had called him a terrorist.
Hunt added, `Now, I bet I’m older than everybody on the line here, so it’s true, the world has changed since I grew up. And we have become in my lifetime rather what I consider to be hypersensitive to people’s feelings. You know, I have even heard about young people being described as snowflakes because they are supposedly so insecure that they need to have what are called safe spaces if they are confronted with situations or things that they are unfamiliar with. But I cannot believe that there’s a public policy in the state of California that permits adults to bring lawsuits under fictitious names just because of the transient personal feelings have been hurt or damaged.”
Hunt also said, “I’m talking about adults here. Adulthood means a recognition that life positively brings adversity. It means self-sufficiency. It means strength of mind, courage and wisdom, and resilience. You’re talking about an old-fashioned person here and I believe in those things and honestly I bet those of you who don’t have a case hanging there believe those things too about adults. … Tell your client to step up to the bar and give his name and litigate like a grown-up, and if you do I will give the defendant 14 days to respond to the new complaint.”
Murphy pointed out to Hunt that the attorney’s name has already been made public in news reports, which were based on a legal claim released by the county.
“This is about a man who has a family … and in the modern era … every time a prospective client goes online what they see is this man is accused of being a terrorist by a high-ranking member of the District Attorney’s Office, OK?” Murphy told Hunt. “So that has a direct impact on the ability to make a living. … I believe that referring to him as a snowflake is denigrating. A man with a legitimate legal claim, honestly, your honor, and stating he needs to step up to the bar and we’re worried about his feelings — this has a direct, economic impact on this man who is totally innocent.”
In his move to disqualify Hunt, attorney Matt Murphy wrote, “… In my 29 years of practice I have never encountered an expression of bias like those expressed by Judge Derek W. Hunt on this case.”
After Hunt recused himself, the lawsuit was reassigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Water Schwarm, who will hold his first hearing on the case on Monday.
Hunt was previously admonished for commenting in a legal newspaper about a case he had presided over just as the case about to be considered by appellate justices, according to the commission. In the July 5 admonishment he was criticized for the way he handled four other cases before him.