Gomez defends his involvement in elections case

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ST. THOMAS - Chief District Judge Curtis Gomez is no longer overseeing a lawsuit that seeks to throw out the results from the territory's 2012 election, but in an order issued Monday, he defended his involvement in the case, calling allegations by the plaintiffs that he should have stepped aside because of a conflict of interest "legally deficient."

Gomez became involved in the case Dec. 28 when he denied a petition by the plaintiffs - five unsuccessful candidates from the 2012 election - who asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the swearing-in of the territory's newly elected officials based on the argument that the successful candidates won office in a flawed election.

Gomez denied the motion stating the "plaintiffs have not alleged specific facts showing that they would face immediate and irreparable injury."

Days later, on Jan. 2, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking for the recusal of Gomez based on his rulings in previous cases and based on his family relationship to Judy Gomez, a V.I. assistant attorney general who won election in 2012 to the Board of Education.

The motion for recusal argued that Curtis Gomez "has in the past deliberately violated other litigants' personal liberties and/or has wantonly refused to provide due process and equal protection to all litigants before this court."

It also asserted that Curtis Gomez should not be involved in the case because his sister, Judy Gomez, won election to the Board of Education during the challenged elections cycle and because she also is an assistant attorney general for the V.I. Department of Justice, which has launched an investigation of the 2012 election.

The same day that motion was filed, Curtis Gomez reassigned the case to District Judge Raymond Finch. On Sunday, Finch also denied the plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order to halt the swearing-in.

However, it was not until Monday's order that Curtis Gomez addressed the issues raised in the motion for recusal.

The judge cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling establishing the threshold for recusal: "If a reasonable man, were he to know all the circumstances, would harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality under the applicable standard, then the judge must recuse."

Curtis Gomez knocked down four of the five reasons the plaintiffs used to support their motion for recusal in a single paragraph, ruling their arguments "do not point the Court to any factual indication that the undersigned's administration of this case will be anything other than impartial."

He spent more space addressing the remaining argument concerning his sister's election to the Board of Education.

"On first blush, the third ground for recusal - the potential for a remedy that would require the undoing of Judy Gomez's Board of Education victory - gives the Court some pause," Curtis Gomez wrote.

However, the judge ultimately ruled that argument, too, is "without support in law" because the plaintiffs' request for the court to throw out the 2012 election results "is not an available remedy in this instance."

Hence the argument that Curtis Gomez might act to preserve his sister's election is unpersuasive, the judge ruled.

In reaching his conclusion, Curtis Gomez cited Finch's ruling denying the restraining order request. Part of Finch's order was based on what is known as the political question doctrine, which Finch describes as stating that the decision regarding who is appropriately seated as a member of a particular political body is best left to that political body itself.

On those grounds Curtis Gomez ultimately ordered that the recusal motion is moot.

Though Finch denied the restraining order request, he also denied the government's motion to dismiss the case. No further proceedings were scheduled as of Tuesday night.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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