A Judge Should Not Preside Over A Particular Matter When There Is An “Objectively Reasonable Belief” That He May Be Biased Or Unfair
The April 23, 2009, published appellate decision in Chandok v. Chandok addressed a setting where the trial Judge should have disqualified himself from hearing a divorce case.
In Chandok, the appellate decision reversed the trial court judge’s decision not to remove himself from the matter, vacated the judgment entered by that judge as a result of the trial, and remanded the matter for a new trial before a different judge.
In the opinion written by Judge Stern, the appellate court concluded that Judge Torack in Bergen County should never have sat on any cases involving his former law partner because of the history of bad blood between him and his former law partner which resulted in litigation between them and threats of unethical behavior (even though those claims dated back 11 years).
The appellate court ruled that “[t]he mere appearance of bias may require disqualification” so long as the belief of unfairness is “objectively reasonable” (relying on Panitch v. Panitch, 339 N.J. Super. 63, 67 (App. Div. 1990).
Faced with the history between the Judge and his former law partner, an objectively reasonable person could believe that the Judge might not be fair or impartial and even though the application for removal was made by the lawyer late in the matter, it should have been granted.