• No "Judicial Discovery" Required When Considering Judge Recusal
  • October 26, 2009 | Author: Paul N. Farquharson
  • Law Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Abrishamian v. Barbely, No. 1370 (Md. October 5, 2009) (October 2009)

    The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the trial court judge need not recuse himself when the judge's brother had rendered legal services to Appellee Barbely years earlier. No judicial discovery is required in deciding whether recusal is required.

    In late 2004, Barbely was driving through a shopping center when he struck Abrishamian, a pedestrian. Abrishamian's leg and knee were severely injured, prompting the instant lawsuit. During a pre-trial conference with the trial court judge, both parties learned that the judge's brother had performed legal services for Barbely approximately seventeen years prior. It also seemed that the same brother performed other legal services to a certain "Vicky Barbely," whom Appellee Barbely admitted knowing but never identified the exact relationship. Abrishamian moved for recusal, and the trial court denied the motion.

    A judge's refusal to recuse himself is evaluated on an abuse of discretion standard. The appellate court will disturb the trial court's ruling only if no reasonable person would have adopted that position, when the court acts without reference to any guiding rules, or when the ruling does not flow logically from the findings.

    Judicial recusal is codified in the Canons of Judicial Conduct at MD. RULE 16-813. "Recusal is required where a judge knows that a family member ‘has a significant financial interest in . . . a party to the proceeding[,]' and where an individual within the judge's third degree of relationship ‘is known by the judge to have a significant financial interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding.'" Abrishamian, No. 1370, at 5 (citing MD. RULE 16-813 Canon 3D(1)(c), (d)(i, iii)).

    The record showed that at the time the judge's brother rendered legal services to Barbely, the judge and brother were in private practice together. There was nothing to indicate that the judge continued to have any direct interest in the law firm, so the relevant question is whether the brother maintained any interest that would implicate RULE 16-813 to require recusal. Facts showed that the brother's legal fees were earned and paid over ten years before the instant matter went to trial. Further, there was nothing to show that the brother continued to have an interest in this case or the parties. Thus, the brother maintained no significant financial interest in the parties in this proceeding that required judicial recusal.

    Abrishamian further argued that the judge failed to make sufficient inquiry into the potential grounds for recusal. He took the position that the record must show all relevant facts concerning the judge's relationship with his brother and the law practice, and the brother's relationship with the parties to the instant matter. The Court of Special Appeals rejected this argument and explained that the trial court need not perform judicial discovery in exercising its discretion. It is sufficient to show that the court analyzed relevant facts known to it.