Disqualification in routine matters

In case there had been any question, the New York Court of Appeals reiterated that a judge’s duty to disqualify applies in all types of proceedings, no matter how routine and even if uncontested. The Court explained:

The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct create no distinction between contested and uncontested/ministerial matters. The perception that these attorneys were in a position to be accorded preferential treatment is based on their relationships to the judge, not the type of proceedings.

The case was In the Matter of Doyle (New York Court of Appeals June 26, 2014), in which the Court, accepting the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, removed a judge for presiding over nine surrogate matters involving a lawyer who was her close friend and personal attorney; a lawyer who was or had been her campaign manager; and a lawyer who was her former attorney.  The judge had argued that, given the unique nature of surrogate’s court practice, where many proceedings are submitted on consent and the surrogate’s actions are often dictated by statute, she believed that there could be no appearance of impropriety or favoritism. The Court stated that the absence of an opposing party does nothing to lessen the appearance of impropriety and, “in such situations, the judge has an equal obligation to guard against the impression of favoritism.”


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