U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy recused himself this week from presiding over a lawsuit that alleges Greg Mortenson fabricated facts to make money for himself and induce “unsuspecting individuals” into buying his books.
Molloy requested that Richard F. Cebull, chief judge for federal courts in Montana, reassign the case.
Molloy’s recusal comes after he disclosed that he had attended a lecture that Mortenson gave at the University of Montana. He also bought “Three Cups of Tea,” which Mortenson co-authored, and read parts of it. His family members have also purchased the book.
“The judge has expressed concern that he has been ‘tainted’ because…his family members are class members and that nothing can be done to ‘unring the bell,’” said a plaintiffs’ brief filed Monday.
Currently, the lawsuit says the plaintiffs are bringing the class-action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and “all consumers throughout the world” who purchased “Three Cups of Tea” or “Stones into Schools” since Jan. 1, 2006.
The plaintiffs’ brief said that other judges may also have to recuse themselves if they or their family members have purchased the book. To make sure the problem won’t be recurring, plaintiffs requested to amend part of the lawsuit so that the definition of class, or the people described as eligible to join the lawsuit, excludes the judge and any family members.
Defendants, however, met that request with a “resounding” no, according to the plaintiffs’ brief.
Also in the plaintiffs’ brief, Michele Reinhart, a democratic legislator from Missoula, notified the court she was dropping her claims as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Reinhart is about to graduate from law school and decided it would be “in her best interest” to be dropped from the suit because she is looking for a job as a legal clerk.
Reinhart originally filed the lawsuit with Jean Price, a democratic legislator from Great Falls, in May. Price dropped out of the lawsuit in June, and now Montana attorney Dan Donovan and former Illinois teacher Deborah Netter are the only named plaintiffs.
Defendants in the case include Mortenson, David Oliver Relin, who co-authored “Three Cups of Tea,” Penguin Group Inc. and MC Consulting, a business owned by Mortenson.
The lawsuit was filed after media reports from “60 Minutes” and Jon Krakauer’s online book, “Three Cups of Deceit,” alleged that Mortenson had made up parts of his bestselling books. Other allegations included that Mortenson misused money and benefited excessively from the Central Asia Institute, the nonprofit he co-founded, and that some CAI schools overseas did not exist or were abandoned.
According to its website, CAI is a nonprofit organization with two purposes: “to establish and support education in remote mountain communities of Central Asia and to educate the public about the importance of these educational activities.”
Carly Flandro may be reached at 582-2638 or email@example.com. Information from the Associated Press contributed to this story.