Judge refuses to disqualify himself from hearing State Farm case

Published 7:14 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A federal judge refused Tuesday to disqualify himself from hearing a bid to certify a class-action lawsuit against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. over the insurer’s handling of claims after Hurricane Katrina.

State Farm had questioned whether U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. can be impartial in the case because a federal magistrate judge and a federal court clerk in Mississippi could be plaintiffs in a class action against the company.

Senter already had recused himself from hearing the individual lawsuits that U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge John Roper and Terri Brown, a clerk for U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr., filed against State Farm.

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Senter said Tuesday he will exclude Roper and Brown from participating in the proposed class action, but he declined to recuse himself from presiding over the case.

Senter is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday from attorneys on whether to allow a class action against State Farm by policyholders whose homes were completely destroyed.

Senter also plans to hold a separate hearing Wednesday on the terms of a proposed settlement that calls for State Farm to pay at least $50 million to roughly 36,000 policyholders whose claims can be reopened, reviewed and possibly paid. State Farm wasn’t seeking to disqualify Senter from hearing that case.