What is the standard to be applied when a judge faces a recusal motion? The Tennessee Supreme Court answered that question yesterday in Bean v. Bailey, No. E2007-02540-SC-S10-CV (Tenn. Mar. 26, 2009).
Here is the standard:
a recusal motion should be granted when “the judge has any doubt as to his or her ability to preside impartially in the case” or “‘when a person of ordinary prudence in the judge’s position, knowing all of the facts known to the judge, would find a reasonable basis for questioning the judge’s impartiality.’” Davis, 38 S.W.3d at 564-65 (quoting Alley v. State, 882 S.W.2d 810, 820 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994)). Even if a judge believes he can be fair and impartial, the judge should disqualify himself when “‘the judge’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned’” because “the appearance of bias is as injurious to the integrity of the judicial system as actual bias.” Id. (quoting Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, Canon 3(E)(1)).
Here is a summary of the ruling:
After a thorough review of the record, we believe that the past acrimonious relationship between Judge Wilson and members of Mr. Rogers’ law firm provides a reasonable factual basis for doubting Judge Wilson’s impartiality. Judge Wilson requested twice that the T.B.I. investigate Mr. Rogers for criminal conduct and accused Mr. Rogers and members of his firm of tampering with political polls and having knowledge of a wiretap on Judge Wilson’s phone. Both Judge Wilson and Mr. Rogers filed claims for misconduct against one another. Numerous hostile meetings took place between Judge Wilson and members of Mr. Rogers’ firm, and further, the public had knowledge of the parties’ antagonistic relationship. Reviewing the quantity and quality of these contacts between Judge Wilson and members of Mr. Rogers’ law firm, we are unconvinced that the passage of time removes the appearance of bias and prejudice.
In this case, we conclude that a person of ordinary prudence in the judge’s position, knowing all of the facts known to the judge, would find a reasonable basis for questioning the ability of Judge Wilson to be fair and impartial. We therefore disqualify Judge Wilson from this case and remand this case to the presiding judge of the Third Judicial District for reassignment pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 11, VII(c). present or future cases involving Mr. Rogers’ law firm. Should motions for recusal be filed in other Judge Wilson should exercise his discretion to either grant or deny them in a manner consistent with this opinion.