Judge who became attorney for California water district steps away from the job
Posted: 12/06/2011 06:31:51 PM PST
A former federal judge strongly criticized for agreeing to represent a powerful water district whose cases he presided over has stepped aside after just one week.
Former U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger raised eyebrows and hackles when he signed on to be a lawyer for the Westlands Water District in a state court lawsuit filed by environmentalists.
As a federal judge in Fresno, Wanger presided over numerous cases involving Westlands. Shortly before he retired at the end of September, he made news by excoriating from the bench two federal biologists who testified it was necessary to reduce water deliveries to Westlands and others.
Then Westlands filed court papers Nov. 28 showing Wanger was taking over a case for Westlands.
Although the lawsuit Wanger agreed to work on was not one he had presided over -- it was in state court, not the federal courts in which he had been a judge -- he drew resounding criticism from editorial boards and others for creating at least the impression that his judicial decisions may have been tainted.
In a statement dated Monday but apparently not distributed until Tuesday, the Fresno law firm of Wanger Jones Helsley said, "Recent media comment has raised confusion about the cases upon which former Judge Oliver W. Wanger may work as a private attorney."
The statement added that neither Wanger nor the firm had done any actual legal work for Westlands and that the district is not now a client of Wanger or the firm.
"This decision will avoid misperception and diversion of attention from the merits of the case," the statement concluded.
Wanger was in court and unavailable Tuesday afternoon, his assistant said.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham said the district hoped to work with Wanger "on other issues" in the future.
"The Westlands Water District regrets that we will not have the benefit of Oliver Wanger's assistance in connection with this case," the statement read.