The federal judge presiding over Facebook's "sponsored stories" lawsuit has abruptly quit the case a day before a scheduled hearing to discuss a proposed settlement.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh filed papers today to recuse herself from the lawsuit, which claimed the social-networking giant violated California law and plaintiffs' right to privacy by publicizing their "likes" in advertisements without asking them, compensating them, or allowing them to opt out.
Koh's one-page court filing (see below) said the case would be referred to another U.S. District Court judge by the assignment committee. The filing did not indicate the reason for her recusal, but Koh has been kept pretty busy lately by the barrage of filings in the Apple-Samsung patent spat, in which the iPhone maker has accused the Korean electronics giant of copying the look and feel of its products. Samsung has countersued and filed multiple motions in multiple cases to suspend injunctions that ban the sale of devices in the United States.
Still, the timing is curious as the announcement comes as the case winds down toward a settlement hearing tomorrow in San Jose, Calif. Facebook had reportedly already reached a settlement agreement in which it would pay $20 million to charity.
Facebook's sponsored-stories ads essentially display a user's name, picture, and a tagline asserting that the person "likes" a particular advertiser. These particular ads initially appeared only in Facebook's right column, but in January the social network moved them directly into users' news feeds, identifying them as "sponsored" stories.
CNET has contacted Koh's office for comment and will update this report when we learn more.