Judge Humetewa: Ties to John McCain Do Not Merit Recusal in Lacey/Larkin Case

U.S. District Court Judge Diane J. Humetewa, the fourth judge to sit on the Lacey/Larkin case. (U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada via Flickr; cropped from original)
In an order filed Friday in federal court in Phoenix, Judge Diane Humetewa rejected the notion that her ties to the late Sen. John McCain, his wife Cindy and the McCain Institute might merit recusal.

In an eight-page order issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa dismissed concerns by the defendants in the Lacey/Larkin case that her connections to the late Sen. John McCain and the McCain Institute might trigger her recusal due to a possible appearance of partiality.

Judge Humetewa says she was unaware of the bitter, years-long feud between Sen. McCain and his wife Cindy (now ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme) on one side and veteran newspapermen Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin on the other. She admits that she has links to Sen. McCain and the McCain Institute, but she does not believe that a reasonable person advised of all the facts would believe her to be biased.

Read: Judge Humetewa’s Order on Recusal in Its Entirety

Of the McCains, the judge writes:

The Defendants next assert that the Court should examine whether its relationship with former Senator John McCain and Ambassador Cindy McCain warrants recusal under section 455(a). The Defendants generally assert that ‘the Court has had long-standing relationships with certain parties who are inextricably intertwined with this complex case’ . . . However, the Court notes that this case does not involve Ambassador Cindy McCain or the McCain Institute as a witness or a party. Defendants correctly note that the Court previously worked for Senator John McCain (in the early 1990s). Following that period of employment, the Court had sporadic interaction with him while serving as the United States Attorney and up through the time of his passing in 2018. Yet, it was not unusual for years to pass without any such contact. Despite the Defendants’ characterization and assumption, the Court has not had the same connection or interactions with Ambassador Cindy McCain. The Court’s prior employment, and professional and personal relationship with Senator John McCain, in and of itself, do not disqualify the Court from presiding over this case. None of the Court’s interactions with Senator McCain, professionally or personally, involved matters related to this case, its subject matters or any of the named parties.

And concerning the acrimony between Lacey/Larkin and the McCains, Judge Humetewa states the following:

In its Motion, Defendants state ‘[t]he McCains’ and the McCain Institute have been outspoken critics of Backpage.com and a driving force behind political efforts to shut down the site’ . . . They then cite to examples of statements made by the McCain Institute and by Cindy and John McCain . . . This is the first time that this Court was made aware of these statements, critiques, or ‘shut-down’ efforts . . . In their Reply, the Defendants then state that ‘[t]here has been substantial resentment and animosity, if not hatred, among Senator McCain, Ambassador McCain, and the McCain Institute and Defendants Lacey and Larkin’  . . . They state that such animus has been ongoing ‘[f]or more than 40 years, [because] Defendants Lacey and Larkin owned the Phoenix New Times, which published hundreds of articles, commentaries, and blog posts critical of Senator McCain’ . . . This, too, is the first time that the Court has been made aware of this forty-year ‘substantial resentment and animosity’ between the McCains and Defendants Lacey and Larkin. The Court has no recollection of reading any of the New Times Articles referenced. Although now having been made fully aware, the Court does not find that its impartiality can be reasonably questioned because there is/was animosity between two named Defendants and Senator John McCain or Ambassador Cindy McCain.

Judge Humetewa adds:

Notably, as a political figure, Senator McCain was and continues to be criticized by individuals (political and non-political), news outlets and the general media. It is illogical that this Court should recuse itself from a case involving a person, entity or organization because they were critical or hostile to the Senator or Ambassador McCain. Indeed, the Court has a responsibility to preside over a matter where there is no legitimate reason to recuse, as in this instance . . . A reasonable person with knowledge of the facts set forth by Defendants and that this Court was not heretofore aware, would be hard-pressed to assume partiality. Accordingly, the Court does not find these facts are a basis upon which it should be recused.

In the order, Judge Humetewa also addresses her relationship with the McCain Institute and other subjects raised by the defense motion. For background on the defense motions that prompted Judge Humetewa’s order, please see the following:

Lacey/Larkin Motion Questions Judge Humetewa’s Ties to John McCain
McCains Cast ‘Long Shadow’ over Lacey/Larkin Case

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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