Judge in fraud case against El Cajon councilman recuses himself

The San Diego Superior Court judge overseeing the civil fraud and defamation lawsuit against El Cajon Councilman Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho has stepped away from the case, a decision that will delay the trial by months.

Judge Timothy B. Taylor issued his recusal last week, days after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that he called Kalasho’s behavior “a disgrace” and threatened to have him locked up if he did not respond more appropriately to questions from plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“As the result of recent events in the case, and after a long weekend of reflection, the undersigned, on his own motion, hereby recuses himself from the hearing or taking any further action in relation to this case, effective immediately,” Judge Taylor wrote.

The decision effectively delays the trial until next year. The case, which initially was filed in May 2017, had been scheduled for a jury trial Nov. 16.

Kalasho is being sued by two participants in the Miss Middle East USA beauty pageant, an event that is sponsored by a for-profit chamber of commerce run by the council member out of his Fletcher Hills home.

One of the women accused Kalasho and his wife of pasting her face on photos of naked women posted online. The other said Kalasho offered her the crown in exchange for sex, according to the complaint.

Two other plaintiffs, a lawyer and a group of restaurant owners, accused the Kalashos of creating fake social-media profiles to disparage their businesses.

The Kalashos have denied all of the charges. The councilman filed a cross-complaint last year, and it was dismissed shortly thereafter.

The hearing last month at which Judge Taylor admonished Kalasho was called to examine the personal holdings of the defendants. Lawyers for the plaintiffs complained that the councilman was slow to explain his personal assets and some loans he took out against his properties.

“This is a disgrace,” Judge Taylor said in court after hearing a transcript of the questions posed during what’s called a debtor’s review.and Kalasho’s responses. “Sir, you are a public official elected by the people of El Cajon. You’re treating this like a game.”

Two weeks later, Judge Taylor issued a bench warrant against Jessica Kalasho for failing to appear in court. The litigation has been assigned to Judge Kenneth J. Medel. A case-management conference is scheduled for January.

Previously

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1708 @sdutMcDonald

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