Judge recuses himself in Richland superintendent's lawsuit; case to be heard again

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 21, 2013 

U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea

Fired Superintendent Jim Busey's lawsuit against the Richland School District hit a speed bump Monday.

Federal Judge Ed Shea recused himself from the case and dismissed his ruling from Friday denying the district's request the case be moved to arbitration.

He made those rulings during a telephone conference with Busey's attorney, Brian Iller, and Michael McFarland Jr. of Spokane, who's representing the school district.

"(O)ver the weekend, I reflected on the possibility that there could be an appearance of a conflict of interest if I handled this case because family members teach and attend school in the district," Shea wrote in his order. "Accordingly, I believe it prudent to recuse myself and have another judge assigned to this case."

The case has been reassigned to federal Judge Thomas Rice and the district's request for arbitration will have to be argued in court for a second time. Iller and the district could not be reached about the decision late Tuesday afternoon.

Busey was fired in mid-January after the district said it discovered his relationship with a district employee and his attempt to pursue a relationship with a district consultant.

Along with saying Busey violated the so-called morality clause in his contract, the board said he used district-provided equipment to conduct the affair and disrupted the school where the employee worked, among other allegations.

Busey, through his attorney, has said he was discriminated against because the woman he was involved with was not fired. He claims the district denied him due process and conducted a sham investigation to find a pretense to fire him. He is seeking a minimum of $1 million in damages.

McFarland said in court last week that Busey's case should go to arbitration because his contract, which Busey is relying on to support his arguments, requires arbitration for any conflict he has with the board.

Iller said that clause has a narrow focus and that his client's claims don't fall within it.

The Richland School Board did not let Busey's lawsuit stop it from hiring his replacement. Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, is expected this week to sign a contract to be Richland's new superintendent.

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