Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton is experiencing a bit of real-life drama over a not-so-real friendship. So how does this drama play? The characters: two rival RV dealerships. The setting: a courtroom in which a defamation lawsuit has been slapped on one RV dealership from another. The conflict: the judge (Hamilton) is Facebook friends with attorney Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, counsel for the prevailing dealership.
Judge Hamilton had ruled that Hammerschmidt’s client receive a $4.5 million award from the opposing side. The attorneys for that side are now calling into question Judge Hamilton’s ability to be impartial during the case. Hammerschmidt had removed himself from the case two weeks before the final judgment.
The attorneys for the opposing side and rival RV dealership are seeking the judge’s removal and a new trial in a court petition. They contend that Hamilton’s failure to disclose his social media relationship to Hammerschmidt could have skewed the outcome.
Hamilton has claimed that throughout litigation, he had disclosed his causal friendship with Hammerschmidt to counsel on several occasions, and neither side had seemed to have taken issue with it. In fact, if one looks at the timeline of events, it seems the rival RV legal team had plenty of time to reveal Hamilton’s pseudo friendship was a problem. The non-jury trial commenced in May, a preliminary ruling occurred in September, and a final damages calculation and judgment was made in January. Counsel’s petition to disqualify the judge came almost a month later on February 18th.
Where does it stand now? The case has been given to another judge but that judge may choose to preserve Hamilton’s judgment and sign off on it. The new judge may also order a new trial, which the losing RV dealership would love to play out.