BOSTON -- Lawyers for the man who lost control of Demoulas Supermarkets this year after a lengthy and complex legal battle are now questioning the judge's impartiality in the case.
Lawyers for defendant Telemachus (Mike) Demoulas say the judge who awarded control of the Tewksbury, Mass., chain to the family of Demoulas' late brother, George, engaged in ex parte communications -- improper, extrajudicial contact -- with the opposing counsel.
Witnesses interviewed by a private investigator say in sworn affidavits that Middlesex Superior Court Judge Maria I. Lopez sat next to and in several instances spoke to the plaintiffs' counsel, Robert Gerrard, in a local bar/restaurant.
The witnesses, including the restaurant manager, head waiter and a regular customer, say Lopez and Gerrard were in close proximity in the Charles Restaurant on Beacon Hill here at least two dozen times between 1993 and 1995.
A court official told SN that Lopez was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment. Gerrard was also unavailable for comment.
According to affidavits in the case, Lopez dated and later married the owner of the Charles Restaurant. Witnesses said they often saw Gerrard at the restaurant, reading legal papers on the bar. Some witnesses said they considered it "unusual" for a judge and an attorney engaged in such a high-profile case to frequent the same restaurant. They also said in their affidavits that Gerrard stopped frequenting the Charles Restaurant in summer 1995, shortly after Lopez made a major ruling in favor of the George Demoulas family.
Lawyers for Mike Demoulas said in a motion filed June 25 in Middlesex (Mass.) Superior Court and with the Judicial Conduct Commission that Judge Lopez's interaction with Gerrard constitutes a violation of the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct and could result in her sanction or censure by the Supreme Judicial Court. The defendants are asking the court to recuse Judge Lopez from the case and vacate all prior orders.
The case began in 1990, when the family of the late George Demoulas filed suit against Mike Demoulas, his family, and Demoulas Supermarkets. The plaintiffs claimed their ownership interest in the company had been wrongfully reduced from 50% to 8% through a series of stock sales and transfers between 1971 and 1987 that were unbeknownst to them.
In 1996, Judge Lopez ordered control of store and real estate holdings -- 45 Market Basket stores and 50 shopping centers valued at approximately $850 million -- back to the family of George Demoulas. Earlier this year, she awarded damages totaling $206 million in cash to the family of George Demoulas.
Demoulas Supermarkets operates 57 stores under the Demoulas and Market Basket names in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with estimated annual sales of $1.6 billion.