By Hayes Hunt
Recently, the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York refused to recuse herself from a case simply because her husband and his clients may have been the victim of the defendant’s efforts to hack a computer system. Similarly, a Philadelphia judge acquitted a defendant/police officer and his verdict raised “concerns” that the judge was married to a police officer.
Since 2009, when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc. 556 U.S. 868 (2009), the issue of recusal has been a hot topic in civil and criminal litigation. In Caperton, the Supreme Court ruled that a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by not recusing himself in the case. Recusal in the case was sought after the appellant’s chairman and principal officer gave a substantial donation to the justice’s election campaign.
28 U.S.C. § 455 governs disqualification of federal judges. Pursuant to § 455, a judge “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” (emphasis added). A judge’s disqualification also is required in particular circumstances. A judge is required to recuse himself when: (1) he has personal bias or prejudice towards a party; (2) he served as a lawyer in the matter; (3) he previously practiced with a lawyer involved; (4) has a financial interest in the matter; or (4) a person with whom he or she has a relationship is involved as a lawyer or party in the proceeding.