LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas judge who ordered a new trial in a lawsuit over a $1 million lottery ticket that a woman says she mistakenly discarded announced Friday that he won’t preside over the case.
Judge Thomas Hughes said his "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" given what he called attacks against his integrity made by an attorney for a woman who plucked the ticket out of the trash and claimed the jackpot.
Hughes initially ruled this month that the prize money did not belong to that woman, Sharon Jones. Instead, he said the money belonged to Sharon Duncan, who said she bought the ticket and threw it away after she said an electronic scanner told her it wasn’t a winner.
On Thursday, Hughes ordered a new trial without much of an explanation. That same day, Jones’ attorneys filed paperwork asking Hughes to recuse himself from the case. Jones’ lawyers wrote that Hughes had "provided evidence that he had bias and was incapable of making an impartial determination in this case."
In announcing he would step down from the case, Hughes also elaborated on his decision to order a new trial. He said Jones’ attorneys failed to make timely objections at the trial this earlier month and that the objections "if made, would have prevented any judgment being entered in favor of Sharon Duncan." He also cited "deficiencies in the pleadings filed by" lawyers for Duncan and another woman who works at the convenience store where the ticket was purchased.
Jones’ attorneys said they’re happy to get a new trial with a new judge.
"We’re certainly thrilled that we get to try this in front of a new and different judge," one of the lawyers, Winston Collier, said.
Duncan’s attorneys didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.
Duncan said she purchased the "Diamond Dazzler" ticket at a convenience store in Beebe, about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock. She said the store’s electronic scanner indicated she was not a winner, so she discarded the ticket. Jones subsequently picked up the ticket and claimed the winnings for herself.
The state’s Lottery Commission has defended the machine and says its equipment functions properly. The store’s manager sued Jones, claiming she illegally took the ticket from the bin. Duncan joined the lawsuit after the judge determined she may be the true owner of the ticket.
The Joneses said earlier this month that they had about $490,000 remaining from the $680,000 they received, after taxes, in the jackpot. They said that aside from buying a pickup truck, they gave tens of thousands of dollars to their children and thousands more to a relative who has a child with Down syndrome.