In an unusual move, a displeased Minnesota District Judge Kevin Burke abruptly changed his mind and denied U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s request to stay discovery in three lawsuits against Starkey Laboratories.
The decision came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Secord told Burke her office was going to seek to have two of the three suits moved to federal court. The argument clearly caught the judge by surprise.
Luger’s office had argued in its motion that discovery should be halted because it might thwart its federal criminal investigation into possible wrongdoing of fired Starkey executives.
Burke said he had fully intended to grant Luger’s May 19 motion, which had unleashed a flurry of legal documents to support the motion, plaintiff responses, affidavits and case law referrals.
The judge said he had read it all and had carefully weighed his decision. Then came what he considered a surprise on Monday.
“The government decided to play a tactic that I find objectionable. I really feel like you guys gave me a lot of stuff and did not keep me informed or give me the written respect in terms of pleadings that I would have expected from the United States. So you are done,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand to Secord and her colleague. “I am not letting you intervene in this case.”
Secord had said Luger’s office would seek to move to federal court the cases against Starkey by fired Chief Operations Officer Keith Guggenberger and fired executive assistant Julie Miller. The third case, brought by fired Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka, is being reassigned to a legal mediator.
During Monday’s 100-minute hearing — at which the judge also discussed but did not decide several other motions in the cases — Burke noted three times that he had fully intended to grant the government’s request to stay discovery.
However, he changed his mind and emphasized that he felt “quite misled” by the “extensive pleadings filed by the federal government.”
Burke said the pleadings never raised the issue about moving the case to federal court.
One of the briefs filed June 15, however, did mention the intent to move the cases.
The judge’s rancor surprised many in court Monday. Even without Secord and her colleague abruptly leaving the courtroom, the hearing was bound to be unusual. There were 11 attorneys present representing either Starkey or the three fired employees.
The attorneys for both sides were ordered by Burke to resubmit a host of previously filed motions by June 30. The motions dealt with a range of requests to either dismiss parts of the wrongful termination lawsuits or to allow select discovery items to proceed.