So When Should A Judge Recuse?

Your spouse represents one of the parties in a case assigned to you. Should you recuse? Of course. But what if someone hires the firm where your spouse works after bad rulings from you in an attempt to disqualify you as the judge? That is a harder question to answer as illustrated by this story from Florida, By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

A federal judge who has routinely ruled against the state in election-related lawsuits has withdrawn from overseeing a challenge to a new state statute aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to Floridians convicted of felonies.

U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker on Wednesday filed an order disqualifying himself from the case, saying his wife works for the same law firm as an attorney who recently signed up to represent two of the defendants, including Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

George Meros of Holland & Knight LLP filed a notice with the court Tuesday, saying he would represent Lee and Broward County Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci. Walker’s wife, Karen, also works for the firm.

In his order Wednesday, Walker, who serves as the chief judge of Florida’s Northern District, hinted that the move to hire Meros may have been intended to force Walker off the case, writing that “the conduct at issue here is deeply troubling.”

Walker pointed to a 2015 lawsuit in which defendants hired Holland & Knight mid-way through the judicial proceedings. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit accused the defendants of “judge shopping” by intentionally hiring a lawyer from the firm where Walker’s wife worked so another judge would be assigned to the case. Walker did not recuse himself, but asked for an opinion from another judge in the matter.

Senior District Judge Maurice Paul instead disqualified Holland & Knight from the case, allowing Walker to remain in charge of a contentious legal battle over a fuel surcharge fee being charged by a waste removal company.

In his April 2016 decision keeping Walker as the judge in the case, Paul wrote that Holland & Knight “should be disqualified because of the potential for manipulation of the judicial system, the lack of need by defendants for this particular counsel, and the potential delay and loss of judicial activity,” a finding Walker referred to in Wednesday’s order.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals “has outlined a process to differentiate legitimate judicial recusal necessary under federal law from frivolous recusals brought on by unscrupulous shenanigans,” Walker wrote.

While Walker asked another judge to weigh in on his recusal in the fuel surcharge case, the federal judge said he “will not employ that process” now.

“Although the conduct at issue is deeply troubling, I am relieved of those concerns by confidence in my collegues on this court to preside over the remainder of this case and judge it fairly and wisely,” he wrote.”

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