Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boating Recusal Issue Explored

Also from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:


1. Must a judge recuse from all cases involving a  bank whose loan collection official is the judge’s close personal friend,  whether or not the bank official appears in the case as a witness or bank  representative, where the official is a member of a local social club to which  the judge belonged until three years ago and the official frequently socializes  with the judge and the judge’s spouse in each other’s homes, around town and  while boating?

ANSWER: No,  but the judge must recuse from any cases in which the judge’s friend appears as  a party, witness or representative of the bank, or any case in which the judge’s  impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

2. If the judge is  not required to recuse from the bank’s cases, must the judge disclose the  relationship to the parties in cases involving the bank?


3. Must a judge  recuse from cases involving the attorney and law firm which represented the  judge, the judge’s mother, and the judge’s brother in a personal injury case which  settled without going to trial?

ANSWER: Yes,  for a reasonable period of time.

4. Must the judge,  upon no longer being required to recuse from cases involving the attorney and law  firm, disclose that relationship to the parties in a case in which that attorney  or law firm appears?

ANSWER: Yes,  for a reasonable period of time.


The  inquiring trial judge is a friend of the sole or primary loan collection  officer at a local bank.  The judge and  the friend were both members of a local social group until the judge resigned from  the group approximately three years ago.   The judge and the friend frequently socialize in each other’s homes with  their spouses and around town and while boating in excess of a dozen times each  year.  The bank appears in court on a  variety of matters, including collections, foreclosures, and repossessions.  The judge’s friend has never appeared before  the judge as a witness or bank representative.   

Historically,  the judge has been recusing from the bank’s cases without requiring a hearing.1  Recently, the judge granted a motion to  disqualify from a case in which the bank was a party, wherein the motion  asserted essentially that the judge “had a past and ongoing social relationship”  with the bank’s primary or sole collection officer.  The judge asks if recusal is required or  whether the judge may simply disclose the relationship in all future cases in  which the Bank is a party and then rule on any motions to disqualify which may  be filed.

In  an unrelated inquiry, the judge states that, until recently, a local insurance  defense attorney and the attorney’s law firm represented the inquiring judge,  the judge’s mother, and the judge’s brother in a personal injury case against  them.  The case settled without going to  trial.  The judge has been recusing from  all cases involving that firm without a hearing and plans to do so for two  years after the firm concluded its representation of the judge and the judge’s  family members.  The judge asks whether  recusal is required in such circumstances without a motion to disqualify or  hearing.  The judge further asks how long  it is necessary to disclose the representation by the attorney and the firm in  cases where the attorney or the firm appears.

The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

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