Judge Lopinot punts Cueto defamation suit

Steve Korris Aug. 31, 2007, 6:00am

St. Clair County Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot recused himself Thursday, Aug. 30, from a defamation /false light suit that disbarred attorney Amiel Cueto filed against the Madison County Record.

Lopinot took himself off the case at the beginning of a hearing on a number of pending motions, including the motion of the Record to dismiss Cueto's second amended complaint.

Cueto, who served six years in prison on an obstruction of justice conviction, sued the Record on Nov. 8, 2006, over an item in the Record discussing Cueto's relevance to the candidacy of his brother, Lloyd Cueto, for St. Clair County circuit judge.

The lawsuit was filed one day after the election, in which Lloyd Cueto defeated Paul Evans.

Judges do not have to explain recusals, but Lopinot said he would.

He said Supreme Court Rule 62 requires a judge to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety.

He said Rule 63 requires a judge to disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

He said he did not find Cueto's second amended complaint in the file so he called Cueto's office to obtain a copy. Lopinot said, "It was faxed this morning."

He said it highlighted issues that were not highlighted in the first complaint.

He said a big issue in the second amended complaint was the truth or falsity of a statement in the Record article regarding Cueto's alleged influence in the mid-1990s over a number of judges in the county.

Lopinot justified his recusal by stating, "My father was one of those judges."

He said his father retired in 1999.

He said in light of that, someone could interpret his actions on the case as protecting his father's reputation.

Cueto's second amended complaint challenges two items that appeared in the Record in 2006, claiming they "are part of a series of tortious lies by the Defendant, intended to inflict injury or damage to Amiel Cueto; including being part of an effort by the Defendant to frame Amiel Cueto into prison for a second time."

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