Wide Recusal in Lexis E-File Case Challenged

     ATLANTA (CN) – County lawyers have appealed a startling setback for a mandatory e-filing system owned and operated by Lexis Nexis in Atlanta’s courts. A judge outside the county ruled earlier this month that no local judge could hear the class action against both the county and the giant publisher over fees imposed outside state law.

     DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Castellani on May 4 granted a motion to disqualify and recuse all Fulton County State and Superior Judges from the case. According to the order, “There exists at this point at least an appearance of impropriety, i.e., a situation in which reasonable minds might perceive that the ability of one of the Fulton County State or Superior Court judges to carry out his or her responsibilities respecting the instant action with impartiality, integrity and or competence is impaired.”
     The case was referred to Chief Judge Cynthia J. Becker of the Stone Mountain Circuit. Becker is the administrative judge of the Fourth Judicial Administrative District and will appoint a judge who is not a member of the Fifth Judicial Administrative District, which includes Fulton County, to preside over the case.
     At issue is that Fulton County State and Superior Court judges “are alleged to have participated in the scheme enacted by the defendants to impose a mandatory e-filing system upon litigants in Fulton County State and Superior Courts, charging certain fees in connection therewith; that the judges have participated in this scheme by promulgating a pilot program or otherwise issuing administrative orders authorizing co-defendant Lexis-Nexis Courtlink Inc.’s mandatory e-filing scheme and charge of fees therewith.”
     Attorneys Steven Newton, Shuli Green and Auden Grumet represent W. Phillip McCurdy III, Michael Cawthon, Nelson Picklesimer, Kenneth Clowdus as administrator for the estate of Kenneth Larry Clowdus and The Best Jewelry Manufacturing Co.
      Newton said in an interview that he considered the county’s appeal futile.
     “Fulton County is trying to delay the hearing on the merits, but I don’t think they will win an appeal on this issue,” Newton said. “Judge Castellani’s order was very detailed. It could have not been any more clear. It was not a close call. It was not even an iffy call.”
     The lawsuit, filed Jan. 6, is the fourth claim against Fulton County and Reed Elsevier, owner of Lexis-Nexis Courtlink.
     The Fulton County Superior Court case was originally filed in May 2009, then voluntarily dismissed and refiled on Jan. 6. Newton filed a similar lawsuit against Lexis-Nexis Courtlink and Fulton County in Federal Court. He filed the original federal claim in December 2007 but withdrew it in March 2008, then refilled it in June 2008.
That case was dismissed in March 2009.

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