Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Judge Should Recuse Himself if Party Has Reasonable Fear of Bias, Regardless of Actual Bias

In Aberdeen Prop. Owners Assoc. Inc. v. Bristol Lakes Homeowners Assoc. Inc. (4D08-4467), the Fourth DCA reversed the circuit court and ordered the circuit court judge disqualify himself due to the defendants reasonable fear that it could not receive a fair trial. It is not necessarily relevant whether the Judge could in fact provide the party with a fair trial. In this case, the trial judge had a personal situation somewhat related to the issue before the court and, therefore, the party had a reasonable fear it would not receive a fair trial. The Fourth DCA held:
Rule 2.330(f) requires a judge to enter a n order granting disqualification if the motion to disqualify is "legally sufficient." The motion is legally sufficient if it shows the party’s well-grounded fear that the party will not receive a fair trial. See Enter. Leasing Co. v. Jones, 789 So. 2d 964, 968 (Fla. 2001); Livingston v. State, 441 So. 2d 1083, 1087 (Fla. 1983). It is not a question of what the judge feels, but the feeling in the mind of the party seeking to disqualify and the basis for that feeling. See Goines v. State, 708 So. 2d 656, 659 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998) (“[T]he facts underlying the well-grounded fear must be judged from the perspective of the moving party.”), disagreed with on other grounds by Thompson v. State, 949 So. 2d 1169 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007), quashed, 990 So. 2d 482 (Fla. 2008); Wargo v. Wargo, 669 So. 2d 1123, 1124 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996). Of course, the party seeking disqualification has the burden of showing that the party has a well-grounded fear of not receiving a fair trial. See Adkins v. Winkler, 592 So. 2d 357 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).


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