April 23, 2009
"A More Than Reasonable Belief"
The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that the trial judge in a domestic relations matter had improperly failed to recuse himself from the case. The judge had been a law partner of the attorney for the party seeking recusal and the "assertion was based on the breakup of the law firm in which the judge and the defendant's trial attorney were partners, and the resulting acrimonious litigation between the judge and her attorney."
The judge had taken the bench in 1996 and listed his former partners on his disqualification list. He had accused another partner of improper withdrawals from the firm's business accounts. He removed the former partners from the recusal list after eight years.
The court looked to the allegations in the prior law firm litigation and concluded that "this judge should not have sat on this case. That is because the acrimonious relationship between counsel and the judge, including prior litigation which included charges of assault and unethical conduct, give rise to more than a reasonable belief by an objectively reasonable litigant that the judge could not be fair and impartial."
Case remanded. (Mike Frisch)
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