Legal Question in Family Law in Rhode Island

State of RI Family Court. After 2 years of one judge being on a divorce case, he recused himself today and would not respond when asked why. "You can ask but I am not responding." The judge a few months ago even denied my ex-wife's motion for him to recuse himself. Question: Do we have the right to know why he has recused himself?

Asked on 4/16/14, 8:10 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Christopher Pearsall Law Office of Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire

I don't believe this question has ever been asked before or addressed by our RI Supreme Court. Nonetheless I will try to answer it based upon a logical thought process.

A judge typically recuses himself or herself when he or she believes that it is not reasonably possible for the judge to remain impartial in the case based upon something that has happened in the case, in their life or based upon a relationship they have with someone in the proceeding.

A judge is supposed to "avoid even the appearance of impropriety" as the decision maker in the family court. Only the judge himself or herself can determine whether he or she should be recused or not and usually a judge cannot be forced to recuse themselves from a case. In other words, it must be voluntary. Since this may relate to anything from something such as the discovery that the judge's brother has a financial contract with one of the parties, to the judge's own belief that based upon their own recent experience about a certain event they cannot keep an open and unbiased mind on a particular issue, the decision for recusal is one that is personal to the judge. Based upon this, it is reasonable and logical to believe that you cannot force the court to reveal the reason for the recusal because to do so might cause attorneys or parties to claim that any prior bias or prejudice a judge might have had related to their case as well.

The court system does not exist to perform it's function by going backwards but by making adjudications on cases and moving constantly forward. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that since compelling any judge to state his or her reason for recusal would mean that all judges would have to state their reasons, some of which may involve their own private beliefs, and which may cause hundreds if not thousands of cases to be reopened and revisited, it is reasonable and logical to believe that you cannot compel the court to reveal the reason for the recusal just in the same way that you cannot force a judge to recuse himself or herself.

Clearly this is based on reasoning and not on case law. I know of no case, law, administrative order, ethical ruling or any other legal directive that would allow you to compel the court to provide a reason for a recusal.

I'm sure this is not what you want to hear. Feel free to look further but I believe this to be the correct answer based upon what I know of judicial recusals.

My very best of luck to you in your family law matter.

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Answered on 4/16/14, 12:12 pm

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