By Adam Kaufman
August 12, 2021
Circuit Court Judge Steven M. Fahlgren disqualified himself on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, from further participation in the proceedings concerning access to Port of Fernandina records.
Christopher Ragucci, individually and as CEO of Nassau Terminals had asserted in a Motion before the Court and in a sworn affidavit that: “Judge Steven Fahlgren is biased and/or prejudiced against me and my company, Nassau Terminals, LLC. And I fear such bias and/or prejudice prevents Nassau Terminals and me from receiving a fair and impartial hearing…”
Fahlgren wrote that he was constrained by law only to review the Motion for the sole purpose of determining its legal sufficiency: “The Court is not permitted to deny the allegations supporting the motion as untrue, reject them as unfounded, or comment upon them at all.” Fahlgren underscored that “[e]ven when the allegations are untrue, outrageous, or scandalous, judges should not try to defend their honor or reputation when reviewing and ruling upon motions for disqualification.”
Fahlgren, as obligated by Florida law, ruled “the motion to be legally sufficient under the low bar set” for a Motion to Disqualify and accordingly disqualified himself.
On August 6, 2021, Fahlgren, after an examination of documents Ragucci claimed to contain “trade secrets,” ruled that those documents could be released to “Chip” Ross. Ross initiated a Public Records request for Port of Fernandina documents and filed for a Writ of Mandamus on June 8, 2021 when records were not provided to him pursuant to the Public Records Act.
On Saturday, August 7, Fahlgren’s judicial assistant provided a copy of the contested documents to Ross.
On Tuesday, August 10, Ragucci, by his attorney, filed the Motion to disqualify Fahlgren. A hearing before Fahlgren to determine whether sanctions would be imposed upon Raggucci and Nassau Terminals for civil or indirect criminal contempt was scheduled for August 27, 2021.
The Motion recounted Fahlgren’s rulings during the hearings in this matter and his decision process with regard to the documents alleged to be “trade secrets.” The Motion alleged their release is “causing irreparable harm” to Nassau Terminals, LLC.
The Motion noted that Ross corresponded with the Fahlgren on August 8, concerning the production of documents.
The Motion stated: “Given the Court’s reticence to curb Petitioner’s quixotic pursuit of any documents he deems unilaterally ‘relevant’ to his initial requests, Nassau Terminal has more than a reasonable doubt that they will continue to be subject to rulings in this matter which are inherently prejudiced against them and in contravention of their statutory rights.”
Ragucci’s attorney argued that “there is a well-grounded and objectively reasonable fear [Nassau Terminals] will not receive a fair and reasonable trial.”
Falhgren returned the case to the Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court, James Daniel, for re-assignment.