Judge bows out of case

From the Post Register

District Court Judge Darren Simpson on Monday removed himself from a case involving his primary benefactor during last year’s election.

Melaleuca Inc. is suing its former vice president for marketing, Jeff Wasden, for allegedly violating a separation agreement by recruiting key employees.

Wasden denies the charge and in a counter claim has accused his former employer of breach of contract and Melaleuca Chief Executive Officer Frank VanderSloot of defamation.

On Friday, Wasden filed court documents asking Simpson to leave the case.

Wasden said that because VanderSloot publicly and financially supported Simpson’s campaign, he wouldn’t get a fair trial.

On Monday, three days after Wasden asked him to step down, Simpson initiated a conference call between Melaleuca’s attorney, Curt Thomsen, and Wasden’s lawyer, Ron Swafford.

At that time, Simpson told the lawyers he would leave the case.

According to Swafford, Simpson said the appearance of impropriety compelled him to step down.

Simpson, through his secretary, confirmed Monday that he had left the case but said he didn’t have time to answer questions, such as whether the move sets a precedent that will keep him from ever presiding over a case involving Melaleuca or VanderSloot.

VanderSloot on Friday said he thought Simpson would do a good job but that he could see where people might have concerns about the judge remaining on the case.

Campaign finance records show that VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda, spent nearly $16,000 in helping Simpson defeat incumbent James Herndon.

Seventh Judicial District Trial Court Administrator Burton Butler said Monday that the case had been transferred to District Judge Brent Moss.

Several key issues in the case were scheduled to be addressed today in a hearing. But Deputy Clark Angie Wood said Monday that the hearing would very likely be postponed.

Melaleuca is asking the court to seal all documents in the case. Also, a temporary restraining order that prevents Wasden from disclosing confidential information about the company or its products is set to expire this week.

Melaleuca wants the order made permanent. Swafford said it prevents his clients from speaking to witnesses about his case.

Government reporter Corey Taule can be reached at 542-6754.

From the Post Register

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