News & Politics

Sidwell Friends Lawsuit: Three Judges Recused From Case So Far

Elite private school’s ties go deep in Washington’s legal community

Is there any merit to the $10-million lawsuit filed against Sidwell Friends School by a man whose wife had an affair with the school’s staff psychologist? It’ll be a while longer before anyone can say, because three DC Superior Court judges in a row have recused themselves from the case.

Since the complaint was first filed two weeks ago, judges J. Ramsey Johnson, Craig Iscoe, and Gregory E. Jackson have each declined to hear the case due to conflicts of interest.

The suit itself, filed by Arthur Newmyer, the father of a now-six-year-old Sidwell Friends student, alleges that both Newmyer and his daughter suffered “severe emotional distress” after Sidwell psychologist James Huntington and Newmyer’s wife, Tara Newmyer, carried on an affair for more than a year. Newmyer claims that not only did Sidwell officials know about the affair and do nothing to stop it, but Huntington was actually treating the Newmyers’ daughter at the time—adding allegations of medical malpractice to the mix.

But Sidwell Friends is not only a top school for the offspring of powerful Washington politicians (including the Obama daughters); it’s also a popular place for well-to-do members of DC’s legal community to send their children. The tawdry lawsuit has had a slow start in the court system while judge after judge has been forced to step aside.

When the complaint was first filed on May 12, Johnson was assigned to preside over the case, but he immediately recused himself. The only reason Johnson officially gave was “good cause,” but presumably his conflict was due to the fact that his son is set to graduate from Sidwell next month, and both Johnson’s and his wife’s names appear on a list of recent donors to the school.

The case then went to Judge Craig Iscoe, who also quickly recused himself. He didn’t list a reason for the court record, but Iscoe’s younger son graduated from Sidwell in 2006.

Next up was Judge Gregory E. Jackson, who has such strong ties to Sidwell that he even mentions it on his official bio [PDF]: Jackson himself received a scholarship to attend the school and graduated from there in 1969.

As of late Wednesday, the case is now assigned to Judge Michael L. Rankin, a Mississippi native who’s lived in Washington since the late 1960s and has been on the bench at DC Superior Court since 1986. Does Rankin have Sidwell ties? We haven’t been able to find any so far but certainly wouldn’t be shocked either way. In the meantime, a scheduled preliminary hearing in the case has had to be pushed back yet again, to August 26, after the most recent recusal.

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