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Judge removed in Children's Pool case

The judge overseeing the case involving the La Jolla Children’s Pool seals has been removed, pushing back an Oct. 6 hearing date.

Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann removed himself in response to a challenge by the Animal Protection and Rights League (APRL), which recently filed a claim on behalf of the Pacific harbor seals.

“Based on his posture throughout the litigation, it seems he was heavily leaning toward dispersing the seals,” said attorney Bryan Pease, who is helping represent the APRL. “We want a judge to look at the facts; look at the law and apply it and not legislate from the bench.”

Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor has been assigned the case. No new hearing date has been set.

Paul Kennerson, an attorney representing the plaintiff who wants to disperse the seals, thinks the judge’s removal is a mistake.

“Losing Hofmann is particularly painful because the case is at, or very close to being at, the end,” he said. “So, bringing another judge up to snuff on what’s needed in the case at the point where we’re at the turnstile of a near-final ruling is enormously wasteful.”

In July, Hofmann had ordered the city to disperse the seals within 72 hours or face daily fines. But, later that day, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill giving San Diego City Council the authority to designate the pool as a marine mammal park.

In response to the bill becoming law, Hofmann delayed his order until Oct. 6 so the city could present its case for why the new legislation negates the dispersal.

The litigation has been going on for five years. At issue is a 1931 state trust that was granted to the city of San Diego and requires the area to be maintained as a bathing pool for children.

In the 1990s, seals began to occupy the pool in large numbers, creating waste that caused the area to be unhealthy for human use. Valerie O’Sullivan sued the city in 2004, seeking to return safe swimming conditions to the pool.

Judge William Pate ruled in her favor, ordering the city to disperse the seals, dredge the sand and reconfigure the beach. When Pate retired, Hofmann took over the case.

“We’ve got four years invested in Judge Hofmann,” Kennerson said. “Four years of knowledge that he’s got about the background that is lost and wasted and has to be rebuilt in a new court.”

Pease, however, said Hofmann showed a bias when he issued his dispersal order despite the fact Senate Bill 428 had passed both houses of the legislature with an overwhelming majority.

“It seemed to us he was rushing to try to get this done even though the state was saying the city shouldn’t have to do it,” Pease said. “It’s not a question for a court to take on a legislative role like that.

“Some statements he made during the proceedings made it seem that he clearly was not favorable to this new legislation.”

Send your comments to Doug.Sherwin@sddt.com

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