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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

Judge Christiansen recuses self from TPS case

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Robert Christiansen yesterday recused himself from a lawsuit filed last week against Toledo Public Schools because a district attorney made an "insulting" comment to him.

Judge Christiansen was to resume talks with attorneys to resolve the suit filed by the Toledo Public Schools teachers' union against the district to stop the layoffs of all substitute teachers.

In lieu of a court hearing, the judge was trying to mediate the dispute. He met for several hours Tuesday with attorneys representing the district and the union, and asked them to return yesterday to court.

However, Judge Christiansen abruptly canceled the mediation session and removed himself from the case, citing a conversation that occurred moments earlier with the school district's attorney, Theodore Rowen.

"Coming back from lunch today, Mr. Rowen approached me and made a comment that I find so insulting. I'm so angry. I cannot proceed with this case," Judge Christiansen said.

He continued: "I have a policy that anytime I am thinking about whether or not to stay on a case, I get off it."

Judge Christiansen would not discuss Mr. Rowen's comment.

Superintendent Eugene Sanders, who was asked by Judge Christiansen to appear for the mediation session, was among the district officials in the courtroom when Judge Christiansen recused himself. After Judge Christiansen removed himself, the case was assigned to Judge Frederick McDonald.

Mr. Rowen, an attorney with the Toledo law firm Spengler Nathanson, would not comment on the conversation that prompted the judge's recusal from the case. Mr. Sanders could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit stems from the layoff notices sent in July to about 400 substitute teachers. The union contends the action violates its collective bargaining agreement with the district.

School officials said the notices complied with an agreement made in December with the union, so contract teachers who were laid off would receive priority for long-term substitute teaching positions.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said talks continued yesterday with district representatives, and a proposal was offered late in the day to the district to settle the case.

"The board representatives indicated they would respond to a proposal from us. We are waiting for a response," she said. "They have an opportunity to settle this. If it doesn't occur, we will look for the earliest possible scheduling with Judge McDonald."

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