Ask the Model Code: relationships and recusals

Dear Model Code:

When does a personal relationship demand recusal?

Sincerely,

Judge Maybe Too Close

 

Dear Judge Maybe Too Close:

Good question. Being a judge can be isolating but doesn’t require a solitary existence. You all have friends, family and contacts, and every once in a blue moon they might appear before you in court. There’s a simple standard to refer to here.

Rule 2.11 of the Model Code states that a judge is to be disqualified “whenever the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” While a judge may feel s/he can handle a proceeding fairly, the standard is whether a reasonable person would feel the judge can be fair and impartial, given preexisting relationships. Recusal is required whenever the judge’s personal relationship with a member of the proceeding would appear to an objective observer to raise questions about impartiality.

Would a reasonable person question your impartiality with the restaurant waiter you spoke with once? Probably not. Would a reasonable person question your impartiality with a family member, significant other, close friend or business partner? You betcha.

Another portion of the Model Code, Rule 2.4, states that a judge should not allow outside interests to influence their conduct or judgement. The rule also says judges shouldn’t even “convey the impression” that other persons may be in a position of influence.

For specific examples of recusals, you can refer to: State v. Wakefield (intimate relationship); Domville v. State (social media friend of prosecutor); In Re Badeaux (close personal friend); or In the Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ziegler (spouse involved in case).

Recusal worthiness is in the eye of the beholder. If it looks to an independent and objective observer to be a conflict, recusal is required.

Sincerely,

The Model Code of Judicial Conduct


Presiding judges don’t just rule over their cases, they rule over their entire courthouse. This can involve decision making on budget complications, human resource issues, and other management challenges. Management Skills for Presiding Judges teaches communication, leadership and management skills to guarantee your court has a strong leader.

Offered Oct. 9-13, 2017, in Reno, NV

Click here for more information and to register

path
NJC News
Patience is the companion of wisdom - quote of ancient Christian theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine printed on grunge cardboard
Here are some of the things judges keep on their benches for inspiration or admonition

Our April Question of the Month asked judges what signs, quotes, totems, lucky charms, etc., they keep on t...

Old brass weight scale near lighting candles on dark background
Remembering Pam Bresnahan

The College lost a friend who was one of the legal community’s most prominent and respected practitio...

A statement from President Aldana on recent anti-Asian violence

The National Judicial College is dedicated to making the world a more just place by educating and inspiring...

Courtroom
Welcome to the Bench, March 2021

Congratulations to the following judges who are either new to the bench or have recently been elected, appo...

How the descendants of African slaves became Indians

Last month the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation handed down a decision that likely surprised many peopl...

View All News

Download a PDF of our complete 2021 course catalog

Download