Judge says he’ll recuse himself from Cordillera case
July 25, 2012
EAGLE – District Court Judge Fred Gannett said Wednesday that if Cordillera Club owner David Wilhelm’s attorneys want him to recuse himself from the case, he’d do it, but only if they file legal documents requesting it.
Gannett, an avid golfer, belongs to the Ironbridge golf club in the Roaring Fork Valley. Ironbridge is in bankruptcy and been for four years, Gannett said during Wednesday morning’s hearing.
A letter from Wilhelm’s attorneys, Tamara Seelman, Michael McCloskey and Matthew Nugent, claims that Gannett’s Ironbridge membership, plus statements he reportedly made during a golf game with people not connected to the Cordillera case, could reflect bias.
Gannett said he disagrees with both the content and the context in which his statements were presented in a letter and affidavit.
“On the basis of the law, I don’t believe or see in myself any bias against anyone in this case,” Gannett said. “The comment was taken drastically out of context, and was subject to some manipulation by someone who has no part in the case.”
In a letter to Gannett, Wilhelm’s attorneys say they have “grown concerned regarding whether there exists an appearance of bias, which could blemish a fair and impartial trial of this matter.”
Gannett will step aside so the case can continue to move forward, he said.
“A motion will come to me and I intend to sign it. As soon as I get the motion I’ll draft the order,” Gannett said.
During a recent hearing, Gannett told the parties he felt he needed to make some disclosures, said Chris Celentino, Wilhelm’s bankruptcy attorney.
“On the basis of those disclosures he invited us to let us know what we thought about it. This is our response to the judge’s disclosure and invitation to take a position. Judge Gannett brought it up to us. We started the investigation, and we appreciate the judge’s disclosure,” Celentino said.
Gannett has plenty to do without the Cordillera case. His docket carries 1,200 cases and he will be set for trial for most of next year.
Along with the Cordillera Club’s bankruptcy, Wilhelm faces contempt of court motions stemming from his alleged failure to provide information to the court.
The contempt hearing is scheduled in two weeks. Wilhelm’s attorneys asked for a six month delay, Heckman said.
“They will do anything they can to avoid the contempt hearing,” said Tom Wilner, one of the 610 former Cordillera Club members suing Wilhelm for violating their membership agreement.
“They filed for bankruptcy in federal court, and now are moving to have the judge recuse himself. I don’t think this will delay it,” Wilner said.
The real focus is the bankruptcy, Wilner said.
“No amount of legal wiggling will help Wilhelm, because Wilhelm won’t be able to create a feasible reorganization plan,” Wilner said.
Membership has plunged in the last year, and it won’t increase as long as Wilhelm is part of the plan, Wilner said.
“He won’t get new members to join if he’s part of it, so he cannot succeed in a reorganization plan,” Wilner said.
Gannett disclosed at the outset of the case that his wife is an officer with Alpine Bank, although not in any capacity that would involve Cordillera’s $12.7 million loan with the bank. Wilhelm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the day that loan came due.
Brett Heckman, the plaintiff’s attorney, asked Gannett to reconsider and remain with the case.
“The defendants have consistently tried to get the case out this court, to federal court, then asking you to recuse,” Heckman said to Gannett.
For the second year in a row, Cordillera’s Valley course is the only one of the four Cordillera golf courses open, along with that course’s facilities.
Last spring Wilhelm promised to open all four golf courses, but opened only the Valley course and laid off dozens of workers.
Some of the members sued him in a class action lawsuit, saying the Wilhelm Family Partnership collected $8 million in membership dues last year and paid themselves almost $1 million, while failing to open three Cordillera golf courses. The members say that violated the membership agreement.
Their lawsuit could total $108 million.
Wilhelm sued them for $96 million, claiming they were trying to drive him out so they could take over.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.