WASHINGTON (CN) - Text messages a federal judge's law clerk sent to attorneys for ballplayer Alfredo Simon will continue to delay civil rape claims against the pitcher.
Sued under his full legal name, Alfredo Simon Cabrera, the Dominican pitcher has been entangled in legal troubles since 2013 while his team was in town for an April 27 game against the Washington Nationals.
Jane Doe, as she is identified in court records, claims that she got drinks with Simon at a nightclub, then went back to the ballplayer's D.C. hotel room where he raped her.
D.C. prosecutors declined to file charges, however, and Simon has been trying to get a copy of his accuser's testimony to the grand jury in D.C. Superior Court since December 2014. The Reds traded him to the Detroit Tigers that same month.
During an Aug. 5 hearing before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton on three of Simon's motions, one of Walton's law clerks, Maria Fernandez, was in attendance.
It has since come to light that Fernandez sent several text message a day after the hearing to an attorney who works at the firm defending Simon.
Court records state that Fernandez, apparently clerking for Walton no longer, has several ties to Simon's attorneys at Zuckerman Spaeder. Indeed, Fernandez's father is a partner at the firm, and Zuckerman Spaeder attorney Benjamin Voce-Gardner represented her pro bono in a separate case earlier this year.
Just more than 30 minutes after the first of Fernandez's texts to Voce-Gardner, Walton granted Simon's motion for disclosure.
"You're going to owe me a beer, FYI," Fernandez wrote to Voce-Gardner.
"Yes, as of 3:34 today, you owe me a beer (or wine!)," Fernandez continued later.
The filing of Walton's decision is time-stamped 3:34 p.m.
"Dude, it's a joke," Fernandez insisted through text later that day. "Let's catch up soon for real though."
Doe is now seeking to disqualify Walton and has subpoenaed both Fernandez and Voce-Gardner.
Though Walton refused to step aside, it has fallen to U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to sort out Simon's motion to quash his accuser's subpoenas.
Huvelle noted Tuesday that she will review the materials in chambers to determine whether the texts constitute a conflict of interest that warrant Walton's recusal. The ruling notes that Voce-Gardner entered an appearance on Simon's behalf in the civil rape case against him.
"Judge Walton expressly reserved the right to reconsider his opinion based on this court's adjudication of the Joint Motion to Quash," Huvelle wrote. "Moreover, it is the duty of this court to assemble a meaningful and complete record in the event of appellate review."
As to the merits of the subpoenas, Huvelle called them "overbroad, unduly intrusive, and unlikely to lead to admissible or relevant evidence."
Huvelle also determined, however, that the truth about the texts must come out.
She ordered Fernandez and Voce-Gardner to submit to a review in her chambers of all documents "reflecting or referring to communications between Fernandez and any member of Zuckerman Spaeder relating to Doe v. Cabrera."
Right around the time Fernandez texted Voce-Gardner about getting drinks, the clerk also texted a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, her father, according to the opinion.
Simon's accuser insists that Fernandez's "ex parte communications combined with the clerk's other ties to the law firm representing defendant give rise to - at the very least - an appearance of impropriety."
Voce-Gardner joined Simon in moving to quash the subpoena.
When Walton refused to step aside, he noted that there was no need for further discovery into the texts.
Voce-Gardner has argued alternatively that Walton's refusal to remove himself from the case rendered the Doe's desire for discovery moot, and that Huvelle should not be allowed to review the ruling of another District Court judge.
Doe's subpoenas represent nothing more than an effort to "fish" for ways to poke holes in Walton's investigation into the texts, Voce-Gardner argued.
Voce-Gardner did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Silverman Thompson attorney Andrew Slutkin declined comment, citing a gag order.
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