Question about judges recusing themselves

Earlier today, I was noodling around on an adjoining county’s court records website, and saw a divorce case that not only appeared to be extremely messy, but at one point, about 10 judges said, “I recuse myself.” I know that means that they won’t hear the case because they could be biased, so I assume things got REEEEALLY bad?

I don’t know any of the people involved; what prompted this was that their disabled son died, and I remembered seeing a story about him on a local news broadcast.

Could be something as simple as one or the other party works at the courthouse, or is an attorney who has appeared before a bunch of the judges, or belongs to the same club, or otherwise has an association with a sizable share of the bench in that locale. If things are getting nasty, all of the judges may want to avoid even the appearance of any possible impropriety or conflict of interest.

One of my friends was in a similar situation. He only knew the Judge by sight, and the Judge wouldn’t have known him from Adam, but for his residential address. And it was just a traffic matter. And he was pleading guilty anyway.

Of course Wiki has an article: Judicial disqualification - Wikipedia

A judge or magistrate should recuse herself if her fairness and impartiality in that case might reasonably be questioned. One should not recuse on a whim, or at the mere suggestion that there might be a conflict of interest; most courts are sensitive to the risk of counsel doing a little judge-shopping or trying to force a judge they don’t like off a case.

I’m a magistrate of a large municipal court, and have only had to recuse myself in a handful of cases: when a lawyer was a close personal friend, when a plaintiff was a club which I frequently attended, and when a plaintiff was a company in which I owned a good bit of stock. In another case, I learned before trial that one side was calling as an expert witness a friend of mine with whom I had once briefly shared an office when I was a prosecutor. I disclosed this to both parties and said I believed I could be fair and impartial in deciding the case, but would nevertheless recuse myself if either side wished it. They conferred, told me that neither side had any objection, and I heard the case. I ended up ruling for the side which called the expert witness, carefully explained why in my written decision, and there was no objection to or appeal from my ruling.

Judges recuse themselves for all sorts of reasons (financial interests; relationships with parties or witnesses; relationship with the attorneys; etc.)

I only recall a couple of times where I’ve seen numerous judges recuse themselves from the same case and that was where one of the parties kept filing judicial complaints after adverse rulings (i.e., Judge A enters an adverse order, so the Plaintiff files a judicial complaint asserting bias. Judge A recuses himself and its reassigned to Judge B. Judge B enters an adverse order, and so on). I don’t now recall what made it stop, maybe last available judge has to keep the case. But I saw it happen more than once. A messy divorce seems like a plausible candidate for such an issue.

That last example, if I have understood it correctly, is a good example of when judges should *not *recuse themselves.

Merely making an adverse ruling on a matter of law or procedure does not mean bias or the reasonable apprehension of it (even given that the test is about appearances rather than actual bias). It happens all the time in trials. If every objection which went the wrong way for a party could prompt a successful bias application, litigation would be impossible.

Maybe after the first judicial complaint a judge might recuse herself, but where a pattern is apparent, it becomes clear that the litigant is merely judge-shopping, and is probably a vexatious litigant. Various jurisdictions have ways of dealing with vexatious litigants.

Of course if there has been a finding adverse to a party’s honesty on a question of fact in an interlocutory issue, or in a previous case, and the question of credibility falls to be decided anew in current litigation, that is a different matter. A judge who has previously said that a party is a liar will most likely have to recuse herself in later litigation where credit is an issue.