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A district judge in a forest fire lawsuit didn’t have to recuse himself for allegedly “following” a U.S. attorney involved in the case on Twitter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled July 13 ( United States v. Sierra Pacific Indus., Inc. , 9th Cir., No. 15-15799, 7/13/17 ).
Merely following another Twitter user doesn’t indicate a personal relationship with a party that would require recusal, the decision by Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas said.
Further, public tweets from the U.S. attorney’s account didn’t constitute improper communications with the judge, the court said.
Rather, they “constituted news items released to the general public,” the court said.
Sierra Pacific Industries settled a lawsuit with the federal government after it was sued for its alleged role in the fire, the court said.
It then sought relief from judgment and claimed that District Judge William B. Shubb should have recused himself based on the Twitter activity by an “unknown account,” which wasn’t “identified with a judge or judiciary,” the court said.
Judge Mary H. Murguia and District Judge Jon P. McCalla, sitting by designation from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, joined the decision.
Downey Brand LLP argued for Sierra Pacific. The U.S. attorney’s office argued for the government.
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