PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — Two federal judges, during the past three business days, have removed themselves from presiding over a lawsuit filed against the city and two police detectives by Rye resident Oneta Bobbett.
In her four-count civil suit, Bobbett claims she reported a credit card dispute to Portsmouth police, which led to her arrest for charges that were dismissed in August 2015 and annulled in March 2016. During the course of her pending criminal case, Bobbett claims, she “was engaged in a contentious divorce” from her husband who had “close personal ties” to Portsmouth police officers, including going to a strip club with one of them. During divorce proceedings, she alleges, private information from her police-seized phone was “funneled to” her husband to be used against her during the divorce.
Bobbett filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire on June 27, 2017, the same day the case was assigned to Judge Joseph DiClerico Jr. The judge has since issued orders in the case, including in March when he ruled Bobbett had “sufficiently alleged” the city and detectives “acted with malice” when they prosecuted her, while the judge allowed the suit to proceed.
On Friday, DiClerico filed an order with the federal court stating, “Due to a recent conflict that has arisen, this case is to be assigned to another judge.” No specifics are cited and lawyers for the city and Bobbett — Charles Baeur and Benjamin King, respectively — both said they did not know the reason.
Also on Friday, the federal court clerk’s office announced the case had been assigned to Judge Landya McCafferty. But on Monday, McCafferty filed an order of recusal with the court stating, “I hereby recuse myself from presiding over this case. The case shall be assigned to another judge.”
On Tuesday the case was reassigned to Judge Steven McAuliffe.
According to the federal court clerk’s office, generally speaking judges may recuse themselves if they are familiar with a party, a lawyer, or a law firm affiliated with a case, including when they become new to a case.
The city and detectives this month filed a motion seeking dismissal of three of four counts in the civil suit, while Bobbett’s ex-husband, Jonathan Bobbett, reported to he “did not receive any information, directly or indirectly, from any police officer or other personnel associated with the city of Portsmouth.”