A Boone County judge recused himself Wednesday from a lawsuit involving the University of Missouri medical school.
Judge Jeff Harris stepped aside after an attorney for Rachel Brown, a former associate dean of the medical school, brought up a relationship Harris has with a possible witness in the case. Dr. Robert Churchill, a former dean of the medical school, had a close friendship with Harris’ late father-in-law, Michael Perry.
Brown is suing the school over racial discrimination following her ouster in 2016. She accused the school’s leaders of pushing her out over her vision for recruiting students and addressing the school’s diversity issues.
Paul Gardner, Brown’s attorney, said Churchill is a “significant” witness in the case. Gardner claimed Churchill made “slanderous” statements about Brown to Dr. Patrick Delafontaine, a former medical school dean. Gardner said he felt Harris had presided over the case fairly so far, but said the existing relationship had concerned Brown.
Churchill retired from the medical school in 2012.
Harris said he felt he could preside over the case fairly, but would consider stepping aside if the relationship gave Brown pause.
Antwaun Smith, an attorney representing MU, said he did not oppose the request.
Presiding Judge Kevin Crane will now assign the case to another judge in Boone County.
A trial has not yet been set in Brown’s lawsuit.