Accusing a Judge of Bias, Prejudice, or Misconduct

In the most recent post on this blog, I discussed  Zavodnik v. Harper, 17 N.E. 259 (Ind. 2014)  in which the Indiana Supreme Court delineated what it considered reasonable restrictions on a Pro Se litigant. In this same case, the Supreme Court made a second ruling which I find  quite helpful in dealing with both Pro Se litigants and litigants represented by an attorney (maybe your own client) who are disgruntled by the Judge’s decision in their case.  The court held that judges presiding over a case are not required to disqualify themselves from a case simply because a litigant has accused them of bias, prejudice or misconduct.  Essentially, the Court held that unfounded accusations, abusive tactics, or attempts to manipulate the system should not convince a judge to remove themselves from the case.  To the contrary, “judges have an affirmative duty to preside over cases unless disqualification is mandatory.” The Court further explained ” A Judge shall hear and decide matters assigned to the judge, except when disqualification is required by Rule 2.11 or other laws.”

We have all had clients who disagree with an adverse decision in their case (child custody cases in particular).  Sometimes these clients are quick to accuse the court of bias or prejudice as it is the only reasonable explanation for an adverse ruling in their minds.  This type of rationalizing is probably more common with a Pro Se litigants and can really become disruptive to the flow of a case.  I appears the Supremes have taken note and establish a “duty” that judges remain on a case under these circumstances.

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