As a general rule, judges are required to disqualify themselves from hearing a case when the judge's impartiality might reasonably be called into question. There is a fundamental right to an impartial tribunal, and a biased judge robs a party of due process of law.
Situations Where Disqualification is Appropriate
The following example situations would warrant the judge to disqualify themselves:
- If the judge has a personal interest in the outcome of the case or has a family member or close relative who is a party to the case
- If the judge has more than a minimal financial interest in the outcome of the case
- If the judge has a close social relationship with a litigant, lawyer, or witness in the case
- If the judge was previously a lawyer on the same or a related case or was associated with the lawyers on the case or a related case
- If the judge has been a material witness on the case or a related case
- If the judge has prior personal knowledge of disputed facts in the case
- When the judge's campaign coordinator or campaign committee member is a party or lawyer in the case
Situations in Which Disqualification is Not Automatic
The judge is not automatically disqualified in a case involving someone who was an ordinary contributor to the judge's election campaign. However, the contribution is a factor in determining disqualification.
The judge does not have to remove himself/herself automatically from case involving a litigant who has previously filed an ethics complaint against the judge.
Procedures for Removing Judge
The judge has discretion in deciding whether to recuse himself/herself voluntarily remove (recuse) from a case. In addition, a party can file a motion to disqualify the judge if the party thinks the judge is biased. The party has to have a reasonable factual basis for believing the judge is not impartial. A judge's decision not to disqualify himself/herself can be appealed. In some states, the parties can waive any grounds for disqualification and agree to allow the judge to hear the case.