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Judge sticks to his guns on Ford Motor recall

By David Kravets Associated Press Writer
Saturday October 28, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO – A California judge who ordered the recall of 1.7 million Ford Motor Co. cars and trucks said Friday he would stand by the decision. 

“I’m not likely to change my mind,” Alameda County Superior Court Michael E. Ballachey said. 

Ford had asked Ballachey to reconsider almost three weeks after he ruled that the automaker concealed a dangerous design flaw that can cause some vehicles to stall in traffic. Ford said the ignition devices are not defective for the 1983 through 1995 model years in question. 

Ballachey’s recall order, which won’t become effective until a court-appointed expert decides how to repair the faulty ignition devices, was the first from a state judge. Government agencies normally order recalls, but Ballachey said California law gives him that power. 

The recall order came in response to a class-action suit filed on behalf of millions of former and current Ford owners in California. 

After Ballachey said the recall would move forward, Ford attorney Richard Warmer asked Ballachey to remove himself from the case — the second time Ford had made that request. 

“I didn’t do it last time and I’m not doing it this time,” Ballachey said in a terse tone from the bench Friday. 

After the hearing, Warmer told The Associated Press that Ford believed the judge was biased against the automaker. 

“We don’t believe he is impartial,” Warmer said. 

It was not the first time that Ballachey appeared upset with Ford. When he ordered the recall Oct. 11, he said Ford was living an “Alice in Wonderland” dream for repeatedly denying the vehicles were dangerous. 

Ballachey said Ford sold as many as 23 million vehicles nationwide with the flaw, but his jurisdiction does not extend beyond California. Similar class-action suits are pending in Alabama, Maryland, Illinois, Tennessee and Washington. 

The judge said as early as 1982 Ford knew the vehicles were prone to stalling, especially when the engine was hot, but failed to alert consumers and repeatedly deceived federal regulators. 

The ignition device was put on 29 models between 1983 and 1995, including the Taurus, LTD, Ranger, Bronco, Mustang and Escort, the company has reported. During that period, the Taurus was one of the top-selling cars in America. 

Ballachey said he expects a court-appointed referee to suggest how to fix the vehicles by March. 

He also said he would call a jury, perhaps in April, to hear the case. Before that, however, he must decide whether jurors should have a trial to decide for themselves whether the devices were faulty, or whether the jury can rely on the judge’s findings and move directly into a punitive damages phase of trial.