A federal judge in Rhode Island recused himself Wednesday from a lawsuit brought by a former Brown University student who says he was falsely accused of raping a classmate and unfairly pressured to leave school, a move likely to send the case to a judge in New Hampshire.
Judge Ronald Lagueux said he based the decision on his relationship with a defense attorney in the case who, he said, would also probably appear as a witness. The attorney, Joseph Cavanagh, represented Lagueux in judicial proceedings in 1988.
"I'm recusing myself because not only did Joseph Cavanagh represent me, but I've known him for a long time, and I have a great deal of respect for him," Lagueux said, explaining his recusal. "A reasonable person looking at this might conclude that I could have some partiality for Joseph Cavanagh as a witness."
Cavanagh represents a woman who accused the plaintiff, William McCormick III, of raping her in 2006, early in their freshman year at Brown. He also represents her father, who is a wealthy Brown alumnus and donor to the school.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes and is not naming the father to avoid identifying the daughter.
McCormick, who denies the allegation, is suing the pair, as well as Brown, which he says never gave him a chance to defend himself. He withdrew from school a month after the rape allegation was made as part of a settlement with the accuser, in which she agreed to let the matter drop if McCormick did not return to Brown. He is now enrolled at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
Cavanagh may have to take the witness stand to answer accusations that he put undue pressure on McCormick to sign the settlement agreement, Lagueux said.
Brown says it acted properly, and the woman, who graduated last spring, maintains that she was raped. The police were never called, and authorities never investigated the rape accusation.
J. Scott Kilpatrick, a lawyer for McCormick, said in court that he filed a motion asking Lagueux to recuse himself at his client's request. He said McCormick became concerned about Cavanagh's history with the judge after the defense attorney asked that the suit go to Lagueux following recusals by the other two judges in U.S. District Court in Providence.
Cavanagh says he made the request because otherwise the case would have been sent to a judge in New Hampshire, an outcome he says he had hoped to avoid.
"I have found that to be awkward, and it would put my client at a disadvantage from a geographical standpoint," Cavanagh said.
The federal court in Concord, N.H., is about two hours from Providence by car.
With Lagueux's recusal, the case will be reassigned to a federal judge in another district, most likely New Hampshire, though that judge will follow Rhode Island rules in hearing the case, effectively sitting as a guest judge.
A four-year vacancy in the Rhode Island court recently prompted the transfer of more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Lagueux, a senior judge, has volunteered to hear some cases to ease the burden of the court's caseload.