August 14, 2012
No Hermits Need Apply
The Washington State Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial in a matter in light of the (undisclosed on the record) relationship between the judge and opposing counsel.
The case involved the end of a nine year intimate relationship between the parties. The opposing counsel and judge had been in a two-attorney partnership and had other ties.
A dissent noted that the relationship was known to the attorney for the dissatisfied litigant and would impute that knowledge to the client.
This appeal came about because a disgruntled litigant, unhappy with ending up with three times as much property as his former partner, decided to attack the decision- maker. Unable to find the "dirt" he assumed he would find, the litigant then focused on the judge's former relationship with opposing counsel and ignored his own counsel's relationship with the judge. Unless a judge in a small community was a hermit or a newcomer to the region (neither of which is a good foundation for the position) before assuming the bench, the judge will necessarily have had relationships -- business or personal -- with most of the attorneys in the community. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Those relationships will also be known to most members of the bar, either through direct experience or from disclosure in other cases. It is not inappropriate for a trial judge to consider those facts -- whether raised by the litigant or not -- when ruling on a motion to recuse.
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