MONTGOMERY — Three attorneys accused of judge shopping while suing the State of Alabama over its Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act (VCAP) apologized to U.S. District Judge Liles Burke on Friday.

VCAP was signed into law in April 2022 and prohibits doctors in Alabama from performing transgender operations or prescribing cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers to individuals under 19. 

U.S. District Judges W. Keith Watkins, R. David Proctor and Jeffrey Beaverstock said in a report unsealed in March that the plaintiffs' attorneys suing Alabama attempted to manipulate which judge heard the VCAP lawsuit by trying to dismiss and refile their original lawsuit with a different court. Most of the attorneys are associated with left-wing groups.

Burke questioned 11 attorneys in the case in hearings on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Those attorneys are Michael Shortnacy, Kathleen Hartnett, Asaf Orr, Scott McCoy, Latisha Faulks, Carl Charles, Jeffrey Doss, Melody Eagan, Shannon Minter, James Esseks, and Jennifer Levi.

The three days of hearings generally focused on why attorneys challenging VCAP in April 2022 dismissed their initial lawsuit after it was transferred to Burke and then filed a similar lawsuit with a different plaintiff. 

Most attorneys questioned admitted Burke’s reputation as a conservative judge was a factor in dismissing the lawsuit. Ironically, after attorneys filed another lawsuit challenging VCAP, Burke, a Trump appointee, granted a preliminary injunction in May 2022. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the injunction in January.

The attorneys also blamed their confusion over why the case got transferred from U.S. District Judge Annemarie Axon to Burke as a reason for their dismissal of the initial lawsuit.

Burke said in court that concerns expressed from attorneys about how the case was transferred to him were “word play I’m afraid.”

“You clearly thought something was happening that was bad for your clients,” Burke told Eagan on Friday.

Eagan argued she was allowed to dismiss the case under Rule 41 of the federal rules of procedure. Burke also asked Eagan various hypothetical questions, including whether a white male lawyer could repeatedly dismiss a case under Rule 41 to avoid appearing in front of a black female judge. 

“I believe that is permitted,” Eagan said in court. “It may be considered to be distasteful, but under the language of Rule 41, that would be allowed. You can dismiss for any purpose. If you can dismiss for any purpose, I’m not sure how there is an improper purpose.

Attorneys representing Doss and Eagan asked Burke to resist sanctioning their clients based on their apologies and the inquiry into their actions over the past two years being sufficient punishment.

“I wouldn’t do what we did then again,” Doss said in court on Friday. “We probably overreacted two years ago. It was an emotional reaction.”

Burke said before adjourning on Friday that he’d decide whether sanctions were warranted at a later date.

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