Judge removed from Oswego Lake access case

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (KGW) — The judge in charge of a legal battle to decide the future of public access to Oswego Lake has been removed from the case, delaying a trial that was previously set to begin this week.

The defendants in the lawsuit requested that Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Ann Lininger be removed from the case and replaced by another judge after they found evidence suggesting that one of the plaintiffs had emailed her about the lawsuit in 2014 and she later met with the plaintiffs to discuss it.

Lininger was serving as a state representative at the time and was not appointed as a judge until three years later, but the defendants argued that her failure to disclose the communication history when the case was assigned to her in 2020 called her impartiality into question.

RELATED: Trial will answer long-running Oswego Lake public access question

The case centers around a 2012 Lake Oswego city ordinance that prohibits people from entering the lake from the city’s three downtown parks. Plaintiffs Mark Kramer and Todd Prager challenged the rule in court, arguing that since most of the rest of the lake perimeter was private property, the ordinance effectively blocked access to a public waterway.

The defendants are the City of Lake Oswego, the State of Oregon and the Lake Oswego Corporation, a waterfront property owner consortium that manages the lake. The lawsuit began in 2012 and went all the way to the State Supreme Court before being sent back to Clackamas County Circuit Court in 2020.

Lininger divided the case into two phases; one to determine if the lake is a public waterway under Oregon law and the second to determine if the city’s ordinance is reasonable. Lininger ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in phase 1, concluding that part of the lakebed and all of the lake water is public property.

RELATED: Public has a right to access Oswego Lake, judge rules

The defendants said the information about the 2014 meeting emerged during discovery ahead of phase 2. They first wrote to Lininger at the end of June and asked her to recuse herself, but she declined to do so. The defendants later filed a motion to have her replaced. An advisory jury trial for phase 2 was originally scheduled to begin this week, but was delayed in light of the removal motion.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ryan was brought in to oversee a hearing Tuesday morning, and ultimately ordered Lininger removed from the case, according to reporting from the Lake Oswego Review, Willamette Week and OPB.

Lake Oswego Corporation general manager Jeff Ward told KGW on Thursday that he didn’t yet know whether the change of judge would have any impact on the already-decided portion of the case. Lininger’s assistant said last week that her removal could potentially trigger a hearing over the status of the first phase of the case, according to the Lake Oswego Review.

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