Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois waited more than three months after W.C. Fore sued the state Port Authority to disclose that one of the port commissioners, a potential witness in the case, also serves as a personal attorney for Bourgeois.
Port Commissioner Jim Simpson, a Gulfport lawyer, has served for almost three years as attorney for Bourgeois regarding the estate of the judge’s deceased father. Bourgeois called attorneys for Fore and the port to his office July 11 to let them know.
The upshot is that a new judge, Roger Clark, has been assigned to the case and a rehearing is scheduled for Sept. 23.
Fore filed his lawsuit March 30, seeking $8.9 million in damages because the port denied him a $44 million construction contract even though he was the low bidder. The contract went to Necaise Bros. Construction Co., which submitted a bid $126,766 higher than Fore’s. Necaise is working on the construction project.
Bourgeois held a hearing in the case May 5. He was expected to decide whether the port followed the law in awarding the contract. If a judge rules against the port, a jury could decide what damages Fore is owed. He is asking for $8.9 million in lost profits.
After the meeting with Bourgeois, Fore’s attorney, Taylor McNeel, consulted Fore, who wanted the judge to remove himself from the case. McNeel asked that Bourgeois enter an order recusing himself, according to court records.
When the order was not entered, McNeel filed a formal motion Aug. 10 asking for the judge’s recusal. Bourgeois recused himself five days later, saying he “determined certain matters exist which would prohibit” him from presiding.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that even previous representation of a party in a lawsuit can mean a judge should remove himself from a case. Judicial ethics require judges to avoid even an appearance of impropriety.
McNeel adopted a deferential tone in his motion asking Bourgeois to recuse himself. The motion said, “Fore has the utmost respect for this court and Fore does not question the integrity of this court.”
McNeel pointed out that Simpson is a related party in the case because he serves on the five-member commission that awarded Necaise the contract and also said in his motion that Simpson could be a crucial witness at trial.
Simpson was not at the May hearing. While he was aware the case had gone to court, Simpson said he did not know which judge was handling it. He said he has since apologized to port members for the delay his representation of Bourgeois has caused.
Bourgeois said he can’t comment on the case while it is pending, but would be willing to explain once it is resolved why he waited more than three months to mention his attorney-client relationship with Simpson.