Friday, June 3, 2011
A district court judge's admitted bias against a party's attorney required recusal and reversal of the judge's rulings, according to a decision issued today by the Nebraska Supreme Court. The attorney represents the party in a land dispute.
The attorney had testified against a colleague of the judge in judicial discipline proceedings. The accusations involved the coach of the softball team of the colleague's daughter. The colleague (Judge Florom) was later removed from office. Our earlier coverage is linked here.
Here, the court did not address whether the judge's decision was correct; rather, the court concluded that the bias had tainted the process:
We have explained that a trial judge should recuse himself or herself when a litigant demonstrates that a reasonable person who knew the circumstances of the case would question the judge's impartiality under an objective standard of reasonableness, even if no actual bias or prejudice is shown. By [the judge's] own admission, the so-called Florom fiasco caused him to have a personal bias against the [client's] attorney. While [the judge] did not announce his bias until after Florio was removed from judicial office, a reasonable observor would conclude that this same bias was present when [the judge] decided the parties cross-motions for summary judgment.
The court found that it was "unlikely that [the judge] was ignorant of the ongoing disciplinary proceedings against a colleague."
AllGov had this description of the Florom fiasco:
Judge Kent E. Florom of Nebraska was kicked off the state’s 11th Judicial District bench by the state Supreme Court because he abused his position to help his daughter’s softball team. Florom, who served as a judge for 19 years, accepted the position of assistant coach for the team. When the coach, Sharon Kramer, was accused of stealing from the local high school booster club, Florom spoke with the county attorney, Rebecca Harling, about the possibility of Kramer paying restitution rather than being charged with a crime so that she would not miss any softball games.
The alleged bias was against the school board member. (Mike Frisch)