Judge in Northstar case won’t recuse himself over wife’s Amazon stock

Receiver to control Northstar finances

Brian Watson is the owner and CEO of Northstar Commercial Partners. (BusinessDen file)

The federal judge who has overseen the lawsuit between Amazon and Denver-based Northstar Commercial Partners for the past 18 months says he will not recuse himself over the fact that his wife until recently owned Amazon stock worth thousands of dollars.

Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia said in a Tuesday filing that he learned on Nov. 23 that his wife held about $22,000 of Amazon stock “not in a mutual fund as he understood, but in a brokerage account.”

He said his wife sold the stock on Dec. 2.

“After reviewing all the facts and circumstances pertaining to these grounds for qualifications and his involvement in this litigation, Judge O’Grady has concluded that disqualification is not required and will continue to preside over this case,” he wrote in the Tuesday filing.

Judges are not allowed to hear cases in which they or their family have a financial interest. But a Wall Street Journal investigation published in September found that 131 federal judges had “improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 court cases around the nation since 2010.” O’Grady was not specifically named in the series of stories.

Amazon’s lawsuit against Northstar accuses the company and CEO Brian Watson of bribing Amazon employees to win development deals for data center projects in Virginia. Watson, who was the Republican nominee for Colorado state treasurer in 2018, has denied any wrongdoing.

O’Grady’s disclosure came in a document titled “Notice of grounds for judicial disqualification.” But he cited several reasons for continuing to oversee the case, as he has done since it was filed in April 2020.

“All interests that provide the grounds for disqualification have been divested; the financial interests held were not substantially affected by any actions taken by the Court and will not after divestiture be substantially affected by the outcome of this litigation; the Court has devoted substantial time to this litigation; and disqualification would substantially affect the progress of the case, and the public interest in the efficient administration of justice,” O’Grady wrote.

O’Grady said that any party in the case could file an objection.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck attorney Stan Garnett, who is among the attorneys representing Northstar and Watson, told BusinessDen he was still considering the new information.

“It is concerning to have a disclosure like this on a case like this,” Garnett said. “It really is a David and Goliath battle, and I represent David.”

He added, “In 40 years as a trial lawyer, I’ve never asked a judge to recuse. But we’ll look at it very closely.”

O’Grady was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007. O’Grady most recently made news over the summer, when he sentenced Daniel Hale, a former intelligence contractor who leaked documents regarding American drone operations to the media, to 45 months in prison.

Receiver to control Northstar finances

Brian Watson is the owner and CEO of Northstar Commercial Partners. (BusinessDen file)

“It is concerning to have a disclosure like this on a case like this,” said an attorney for Northstar and its CEO Brian Watson.

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