4th justice steps aside from Jimmy Williams case

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2012 - 9:50 PM

Paul H. Anderson's recusal came after Williams' lawyer aired concerns about the Supreme Court justice's connections to the U.

A state Supreme Court justice has removed himself from deciding whether would-be University of Minnesota assistant basketball coach Jimmy Williams may collect $1 million over a rescinded job offer, three days after Williams' attorney publicly aired concerns about links between the jurist and the state's largest school.

In a short brief Thursday recusing himself from the case and a similar one involving a U student, Justice Paul H. Anderson maintains he can remain impartial. However, he said, he must avoid the appearance of impropriety.

"I have, after careful consideration and thoughtful reflection, concluded that my continued participation in these two cases may risk causing harm to the public's perception of Minnesota's outstanding judiciary," he wrote. "I have devoted 20 years to uphold the objective stated in the [Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct] and I will not allow anything, be it real or perceived, to tarnish the reputation of Minnesota's judiciary."

Three of the high court's seven justices had already recused themselves from the case, likely because of their ties to the University of Minnesota. A substitute judge was brought in to hear the case. It's not yet clear yet whether a second substitute will be appointed or whether orders that Anderson has written related to the case will stand.

Anderson also recused himself from the case of former U mortuary science student Amanda Tatro, charged with violating the university's student code of conduct after she made a series of Facebook posts that were interpreted as threatening and disrespectful. Three justices earlier removed themselves from that case, too, requiring a fill-in. Oral arguments took place this month.

In a Star Tribune article Monday, Williams' attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., expressed concerns that Anderson had already issued orders in the case. Anderson, a U law school graduate, has donated thousands of dollars to the school and is listed as an adjunct professor there. He lectures at law schools on a volunteer basis.

In his memo, Anderson responded to Mark's allegations.

"I regret that my willingness to donate personal funds to the law school and to volunteer my time to annually teach one seminar may be construed to have created such a perception," he wrote. "Both acts were done without expectation of any personal reward other than the satisfaction of knowing that I have helped to provide a better education for the University's students."

Anderson and Mark declined to comment Thursday.

Last fall, the Minnesota Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Hennepin County jury's May 2010 verdict that U men's basketball coach Tubby Smith misrepresented his authority in 2007 by offering an assistant coaching position to Williams, leading him to resign from a similar position at Oklahoma State. Gophers Athletic Director Joel Maturi later nixed the offer to Williams, leaving Williams unemployed.

Of the remaining justices hearing the cases, Justice Barry Anderson is also a U law school graduate and has donated to the school. Justice Helen Meyer completed her undergraduate studies at the U. Substitute justice Waldemar Senyk, a district judge, graduated from law school and undergrad studies there. Only Justice Christopher Dietzen appears to have no educational ties to the U. Oral arguments in the Williams case have not been scheduled.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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