Milwaukee Archdiocese lawyers dispute conflict claim leveled at judge

(Journal Sentinel) Lawyers for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s $50 million-plus cemetery trust say efforts to force a federal judge to set aside his recent decision in favor of the church and recuse himself from the case border on frivolous and amount to judge shopping, according to a new brief filed in the lawsuit.

The brief, filed this week by attorneys for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the trust’s sole trustee, says U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa has no financial interest in the cemeteries — contrary to claims by the archdiocese’s bankruptcy creditors — and the issue is moot because the case is already headed to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The pending motions targeting Judge Randa are a thinly disguised attempt to shop for a new district court judge who will agree with the (creditors) committee on the merits,” attorneys Jennifer Vandermeuse and Brady Williamson argued in the brief.

“The Court of Appeals will ultimately decide for itself whether the committee has any… right to pursue the trust funds,” they said.

Attorney Marci Hamilton, who represents the creditors committee, said Randa has “emotional, religious and financial interests in the cemetery litigation.”

“We’re not at all persuaded by what they have filed,” she said.

Randa’s decision came in a side lawsuit in the bankruptcy, filed by Listecki to keep its creditors — primarily sex abuse victims — from getting any of the funds that had been set aside for the perpetual care of gravesites in the 10-county archdiocese.

Then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan created the trust in 2007 with permission from the Vatican, and moved the money — which the church insists had always been segregated for cemeteries — into the account the following year.

Creditors argued that Randa had a financial interest in the case because he has numerous relatives buried in the archdiocese’s cemeteries and purchased his parents’ crypts there. They argued that Randa is essentially a creditor in the bankruptcy because Listecki filed a bankruptcy claim on behalf of all who own cemetery plots.

Listecki’s attorneys argue that Randa’s purchase of his parents’ crypts 38 years ago does not meet the legal standard for financial interest, and that the creditors’ motions would impose a religious test on the judiciary.

“The motions, taken to their logical conclusions, impermissibly impose a religious test on this judge — and the next and the next,” they said.