MONTGOMERY — U.S. District Judge Liles Burke continued questioning attorneys on Thursday over a panel’s investigation they engaged in "judge shopping" while suing the State of Alabama over its Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act (VCAP). 

In April 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey signed VCAP (SB184) into law, which prohibits doctors in Alabama from performing transgender operations or prescribing cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers to individuals under 19. VCAP went into effect on May 8, 2022, but was blocked by U.S. District Judge Liles Burke a few days later. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the injunction in January.

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.

The hearings are expected to conclude on Friday.

Burke questioned attorneys Michael Shortnacy and Kathleen Hartnett, on Monday. He questioned Asaf Orr and Scott McCoy on Thursday morning. Burke said in court he didn’t see a sanction “in your future” for Orr due to him not being one of the ultimate decision-makers among the attorneys in the case and giving an “unqualified apology” to the court previously.

Orr testified he expressed misgivings to another attorney in the case in April 2022 about dismissing and refiling the case and that it “could be perceived as judge shopping.”

“I didn’t want the perception to be out there that we dismissed for an improper purpose,” Orr said. 

Burke is still scheduled to question Latisha Faulks, Carl Charles, Jeffrey Doss, Melody Eagan, Shannon Minter, James Esseks and Jennifer Levi later on Thursday and Friday in federal court in Montgomery. The hearings could result in sanctions or disciplinary actions against some of the attorneys.

Shortnacy said on Monday Eagan told other attorneys on a call shortly before the case was voluntarily dismissed that Burke was a “bad draw” for their case due to him being a conservative and a Republican. Shortnacy also testified that other factors contributed to dismissing the case, like the plaintiffs' attorneys’ “confusion” over how the case was transferred from multiple judges to Burke.

Burke said on Thursday he hasn’t decided whether he's going to sanction any of the attorneys yet.

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