EAST ST. LOUIS – Brian Flynn, city attorney of Belleville and plaintiff in a class action against Chrysler, offered to throw a happy hour reception for a new U.S. magistrate judge who would come to preside over discovery in his case.
Magistrate Judge Gilbert Sison disclosed Flynn’s offer at a discovery dispute conference on Feb. 28.
He said he didn’t realize Flynn was the plaintiff.
Flynn’s suit alleges that remote hackers can seize control of Chrysler vehicles with Uconnect information systems.
Sison said Flynn was an acquaintance through the bar association.
“I see him once or twice a year,” Sison said.
He said Flynn called and made the offer after his selection as magistrate.
Sison said he read the rules and didn’t believe he needed to recuse himself.
But, said he wanted to protect the record by giving the parties a chance to object.
For Flynn, IJay Palansky of Armstrong Teasdale said it was no issue.
For Chrysler, Stephen D’Aunoy of Thompson Coburn said he wasn’t authorized to waive an objection.
“I see him at events,” Sison said. “Three years ago there was a photo of me and him golfing at Forest Park.
“This whole notion of him spearheading a party causes me a little discomfort.”
He called for a break so D’Aunoy could make telephone calls.
D’Aunoy returned without a decision.
Sison said Magistrate Judge Mark Beatty already had recused himself and the only other magistrate is in Benton.
The docket shows no recusal by Beatty, a newly appointed magistrate like Sison.
It shows that the court clerk assigned the case to Beatty on Jan. 8, and reassigned it to Sison two days later “through random draw.”
Sison said he found out just the previous day that Flynn was the plaintiff.
He called another break, but again it produced no result.
Sison said he should have sent email about his potential conflict. He apologized.
“Whether it’s me or another magistrate, it does appear that this litigation is fairly contentious,” Sison said.
He said he didn’t know what the discovery dispute was about, and ordered the parties to hold a substantive conference.
“It seems like some of this stuff could be obviated just by talking,” he said. “If you leave it with me, one of you is going to be upset because I will make a ruling and one of you won’t like it.
“You have some semblance of control when you talk to each other.
“Calling the court shouldn’t be the first thing you do. It should be the last.”
Sison continued the conference to March 7.
District Judge Michael Reagan, who certified Flynn as class representative, has set trial in November.
Reagan won’t preside. He will retire in March.