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In the end, it took a Ford to say no to Ford. On Tuesday, an effort by Ford Motor Co. to disqualify a retired Alameda County, Calif., Superior Court judge from a huge class action ran into a wall when a Sacramento County Superior Court judge — ironically named James Ford — denied the automaker’s motion. That decision keeps retired Alameda County Judge Michael Ballachey — who in October ordered the recall of 1.7 million Ford cars and trucks — in the driver’s seat in a retrial of a huge suit by consumers over allegedly defective ignition switches. Ford sought to disqualify Ballachey after he ruled that the company had concealed a dangerous design flaw that can cause some vehicles to stall in traffic. Ford contends that the ignition devices are not defective for the 1983-95 models in question. Ballachey, in ordering the recall as part of an ongoing suit against the company, told Ford lawyers that they were living in an “Alice in Wonderland” dreamland for refusing to admit the ignition devices were faulty. In their disqualification motion, Ford Motor’s lawyers argued that Ballachey’s order showed “total acceptance of plaintiffs’ contentions.” But Judge Ford disagreed, writing in his two-page decision that Ballachey “has expressed the view that the evidence proffered by Ford was, in certain respects, not credible.” “This,” the judge added, “is one of his duties as the trial judge.” Judge Ford, who was assigned to hear the disqualification motion in Howard v. Ford Motor Co., 763785-2, also wrote that Ballachey could have been disqualified had he suppressed evidence based on a biased viewpoint. “This Judge Ballachey has not done,” he ruled. Ford general counsel Donald Lough of Dearborn, Mich., couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, but Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie, whose office defended Ballachey, was pleased with the ruling. “We feel that Judge Ford’s decision was correct,” he said, “and we certainly believe Judge Ballachey is fully able to handle this case fairly.” Ballachey was assigned four years ago to preside over both a jury trial to determine whether Ford violated the Consumers Legal Remedies Act by concealing information and a bench trial to resolve whether Ford’s supposed silence was fraudulent and violated the Unfair Competition Law. As part of their motion, Ford Motor lawyers also complained about Ballachey’s active role in questioning expert witnesses during the first jury trial and his criticism of Ford’s engineers for “stubbornly” defending their ignition system design. “The judge also made clear,” they wrote, “that where there were conflicts in the evidence or other material questions of credibility he disbelieved all of Ford’s facts and expert witnesses.” Ballachey’s lawyers responded by saying judges are entitled to question witnesses and cannot be disqualified simply because their decisions favor one side over another. In ordering a recall, Ballachey said Ford sold as many as 23 million vehicles nationwide with the ignition flaw; however, his jurisdiction does not extend beyond California. Similar class actions are pending in Alabama, Maryland, Illinois, Tennessee and Washington. The ignition device was put on 29 models between 1983 and 1995, including Tauruses, LTDs, Rangers, Broncos, Mustangs and Escorts. During that period, the Taurus was one of the top-selling cars in America. Before Ford customers in California get their cars repaired under Ballachey’s recall order, a court-appointed expert is expected to suggest how to fix the vehicles early next year. Associated Press contributed to this story.

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