Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Family Law Procedure
Florida family law litigation rarely involves jury trials. This means cases are decided solely by the judge presiding over the case who hears testimony and reviews evidence. When a party believes the judge is biased or otherwise will not decide a case fairly, what can be done?
A case just published on December 6, 2018 from the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Florida examines the standard for disqualification of a judge in a family law case. In Wright v. Wright, 5D18-3354 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018), the wife appealed an order denying her motion for disqualification. Specifically, the wife alleged that at a hearing on a motion for temporary relief in her family law case, the judge “suggested to Husband's counsel to file a motion to allow Husband access into storage sheds to discover certain assets that Wife allegedly was selling to a third person and to serve this person with a "motion and a hearing on [a] rule to show cause, and [the judge would be] happy to drag him in [to court].” The wife also alleged the “judge dissuaded Husband's counsel from seeking to amend his pleadings to interject Husband's business entity into the litigation.”
In reversing the decision to disqualify the judge, the appellate court held, “‘Trial judges must studiously avoid the appearance of favoring one party in a lawsuit, and suggesting to counsel or a party how to proceed strategically constitutes a breach of this principle’ [. . .] Here, assuming Wife's allegations to be true, the judge's suggestions to Husband's counsel on how to proceed reasonably created the appearance of favoring one party and, thus, was a departure from the judge's role as a neutral arbiter.” The appellate court further held “the standard for determining the legal sufficiency of a motion to disqualify is whether the facts alleged, which must be assumed to be true, 'would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.’”
Disqualifying a judge in a Florida family law case is a drastic step which sometimes must be taken to protect a party’s right to a fair trial. If you believe you have grounds to disqualify a judge in your case, start with a consultation with a Miami family law attorney to determine the merits of your case.