Newhall Land Development Inc. has failed in its bid to remove the judge who ruled that Newhall Ranch needs further environmental review.

The motion by Newhall Land asked that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones be disqualified from further ruling on cases related to the more than 20,000-home development planned west of Santa Clarita, according to documents obtained Friday by The Signal.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenda Sanders ruled Jan. 10 that Newhall Land’s challenge failed to establish any basis for Jones’ disqualification.

The disqualification proceedings were conducted by an Orange County Superior Court judge to prevent potential conflicts of interest. This is a common practice in such matters, said Frederick Bennett, Jones’ court counsel.
Bennett praised Sanders for her thorough review during the proceedings.

“We’re very grateful that Judge Sanders devoted the time and effort necessary to rule correctly,” Bennett said. “In these cases you need a judge who can cut through a mass of paperwork and examine the issues, and (Sanders) left no stone unturned.”

Jones ruled against Newhall Land on Oct. 15, citing environmental concerns over Newhall Ranch, which has been proposed for nearly 20 years and has received permits from Los Angeles County to move ahead. Jones’ ruling halts any progress toward construction, at least for now.

Jones was set to rule on two other cases related to Newhall Ranch — the Landmark Village and Mission Village portions of the overall project — after hearings were complete.

Both of those portions are facing environmental lawsuits from environmental groups in and around the Santa Clarita Valley.

Newhall Land had alleged that Jones’ dispute over a lot split in her Placerita Canyon neighborhood, as well as her cooperation with members of the Sierra Club during that dispute, constituted sufficient bias to remove her from ruling on Newhall Ranch cases.

Jones petitioned both the Santa Clarita Planning Commission and the City Council to deny the lot split, which divided a two-acre parcel into two parcels to allow for the construction of an additional house on the land. The commission agreed with Jones’ position, but the City Council granted the split.

Newhall Land alleged that Jones — who claimed the land division violated local standards and would negatively affect the area — never disclosed her involvement in the proposed subdivision during any court proceedings.

Jones’ involvement in a development dispute with her neighbor represented a conflict of interest, Newhall Land alleged.

Sanders rejected that line of reasoning in her ruling, writing Newhall Land’s allegations were based on “attenuated relationships and speculation.”

Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the decision was disappointing. Newhall Land now has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the disqualification.

But regardless of the outcome, Jones was recently reassigned in Los Angeles Superior Court and is no longer the presiding judge in cases related to California Environmental Quality Act challenges against Newhall Ranch, Lauffer said.

Newhall Land has appealed Jones’ order for an environmental review of Newhall Ranch. That appeal is pending.

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