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In the judicial equivalent of “You can’t fire me — I quit,” a federal judge has stepped down from handling a medical malpractice case after finding that while there was no merit to any of the plaintiff’s accusations of bias, the accusations had nonetheless brought the case to a standstill. “In view of plaintiff’s irrational fixation on my alleged bias, her personal attacks on my presence in this action are hindering, rather than facilitating, the conclusion of this case,” Senior U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote in his 15-page opinion in Reshard v. Main Line Hospitals Inc. In his opening pages, Kelly explained why he denied plaintiff Connie Reshard’s motion asking for the judge’s disqualification. “Plaintiff fails to offer any facts or allegations that the court harbors personal or extrajudicial bias against her. Plaintiff’s allegations relate to prior rulings and actions taken by the court in the course of its participation in this case,” Kelly wrote. Kelly concluded that “no reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances, would harbor doubts concerning the court’s impartiality.” But in the second half of the opinion, Kelly explained why he decided to voluntarily recuse himself. “It is clear to me that my involvement in this action has turned into an impediment. Currently, the case is at a virtual standstill,” Kelly wrote. Kelly noted that Reshard is pursuing two appeals from his pretrial rulings. Reshard, a lawyer from Washington, D.C., is representing herself in the medical malpractice suit against Lankenau Hospital and six doctors. She could not be reached for comment. In the suit, Reshard, 54, claims that complications occurred during an April 2000 surgery to remove fibroid tumors in her uterus and that doctors later performed an experimental procedure on one of her arteries without her consent. The suit says nurses and doctors ignored Reshard’s complaints of pain and problems and instead discharged her soon after. The problems only worsened, Reshard claims, soon after forcing her to be readmitted to the hospital, where she was placed in intensive care and given two units of blood. Four days after she was discharged from Lankenau Hospital the second time, Reshard claims, her untreated pulmonary embolisms forced her to spend an additional 10 days in Georgetown University Hospital, near her home. Kelly said in his April 16 opinion that during the year Reshard’s case has been pending, the court “has attempted to conduct this action as efficiently as possible.” Kelly noted that he had dealt with “numerous hearings, telephone conferences, motions and orders, requiring the court’s attention on a daily basis.” But despite his taking a fair approach at every step, Kelly said, Reshard claims that the judge’s conduct “displays a pattern of partiality against her and in favor of defendants.” In her motion, Reshard contends that Kelly has shown his bias in his rulings on discovery issues and in his scheduling a telephone conference despite a message from Reshard that she was having a medical emergency. At one point, Reshard claims, the judge advised one of the defense lawyers to file a motion seeking sanctions against Reshard. In his ruling, Kelly noted that his first task was to accept all of Reshard’s allegations as true when ruling on whether such facts would call for a judge’s recusal. Kelly found that the motion fell short. “Assuming plaintiff’s allegations are true, there are no statements or allegations based upon personal, or extrajudicial, bias. Thus, plaintiff fails to offer any facts or allegations that the court harbors personal or extrajudicial bias against her,” Kelly wrote. But in an “addendum” to the opinion, Kelly said he wanted to “set the record straight” by explaining the truth behind some of Reshard’s accusations. “By clarifying some of plaintiff’s allegations, the court is able to show that there has not been any bias or prejudice,” Kelly wrote. Kelly said Reshard’s claim that the judge had advised a lawyer for Dr. Michael Glassner to file a motion for sanctions was “inaccurate.” Instead, Kelly said, the sanctions motion was mentioned first by the lawyer. “Counsel asked me if I would like to address the issue during the telephone conference or if I would prefer to address the issue in a motion. I stated that if counsel was planning on filing a motion then it would be better to file a motion rather than raise the issue over the phone,” Kelly wrote. “By offering an accurate account of events and, more importantly, placing them properly within context, it is evident that plaintiff has proffered a distorted rendition of what really occurred. By presenting what was said out of context, plaintiff has made an innocent and impartial exchange between myself and Dr. Glassner’s counsel out to be an improper and prejudicial instruction to counsel to file a motion for sanctions against plaintiff.” Similarly, Kelly found that Reshard’s account of the judge’s response to Reshard’s medical emergency on the day of a telephone conference was inaccurate. In Reshard’s motion, Kelly said, the “account of events is incomplete and patently untrue.” The truth, Kelly wrote, is that the court “accommodated plaintiff, without issue, by canceling the original telephone conference and re-scheduling it. At no time did the court ever have a telephone conference regarding this action without the inclusion of plaintiff. Plaintiff’s contention otherwise is not a distortion of the facts, but is completely false.” But despite finding no merit to any of Reshard’s accusations, Kelly found it made sense to take himself off the case. “It appears that plaintiff has mistakenly interpreted my efforts to efficiently advance this litigation as some sort of prejudice or bias against her. My efforts in advancing this action are not based upon prejudice or bias, but are premised upon judicial economy, saving the parties valuable time and expense, and in the interest of allowing this action to come to a just conclusion,” Kelly wrote. “At this stage of the case, in light of plaintiff’s recent filings, it appears that plaintiff is now shifting her litigation and disdain towards the court.”

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