by Patrick Gaffney

As an attorney who practices family law in Clearwater Florida, I have written a recent blog on the subject of the recusal of a judge.  It is a dilemma that an attorney can find him or herself in when appearing before the court.

It sometimes happens that the judge will say something that causes one of the parties to believe that the judge is biased against them.  This typically occurs in circuit court, which is the trial court level.

Generally speaking, if the allegation to recuse a trial judge is facially sufficient and the motion is procedurally proper, the trial judge is required to be recused.

This is not the case when a justice of the Florida Supreme Court is sought to be recused. This distinction became clear recently in a matter involving Justice Barbara Pariente.  Justice Pariente is an interesting person.  In March 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical double mastectomy and a full course of chemotherapy.  During her treatment, she was noted for never missing an oral argument or judicial conference.  Her decision after treatment to sit on the bench without wearing a wig during televised court proceedings, was widely hailed as a breakthrough for other women in treatment.1

An inadvertently recorded exchange on the bench between two Florida Supreme Court Justices led Gov. Rick Scott to ask Justice Barbara Pariente to recuse herself from a pending case on Scott’s authority to appoint three new justices—including Pariente’s replacement—to the court.

Nine days after the motion was filed, the request was rejected with a one sentence order: “The Respondent’s Motion to Disqualify Justice Pariente is hereby denied.”

According to Philip Padovano, a former trial and appellate judge, the rules regarding recusal that apply to trial judges do not apply to appellate judges and state Supreme Court justices.  There is no rule, and there is no statute.  If the Supreme Court denies a motion to recuse one of its justices, there is no recourse.2

This recent episode reflects the fascinating nature of legal practice, and the nuances that are revealed.

1 Wikipedia:  Barbara Pariente.

2 Blankenship, Gary.  “Court declines recusal request in justice selection case”.  The Florida Bar News.  December 15, 2017.