Risk Update

Judicial Conflicts Allegations — Law Clerks & Facebook Friends

Feds Fight To Keep Judge Whose Ex-Clerk Works On Case” —

  • “The government urged a Pennsylvania federal court Friday not to disqualify the judge presiding over its decades-old Clean Water Act lawsuit, arguing that the judge can be impartial even though an assistant U.S. attorney working on the case once clerked for her.”
  • “In a 12-page response brief, the federal government argued that the defendant, property owner Gizella Pozsgai, filed a ‘meritless’ motion seeking to disqualify U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody due to her relationship with Assistant U.S. Attorney Landon Y. Jones III, who clerked for the judge 14 years ago. ‘The fact that a judge’s former law clerk is representing a party in a case before the judge is not sufficient to make a reasonable person question the judge’s impartiality,’ the brief said.”
  • “Jones declined to recuse himself or provide a list, but he admitted that he’s interacted with the judge on a few social occasions over the years and he’s attended a few ‘law clerk reunion’ events, including the judge’s portrait unveiling.”
  • “Shortly afterward, Pozsgai’s counsel filed a motion to disqualify the judge, pointing out Jones’ own admissions and multiple public ‘extra-judicial statements’ that Judge Brody made expressing her strong familial sentiments toward former law clerks.”
  • “The government noted that courts routinely conclude that a former law clerk’s appearance does not create a ‘reasonable appearance of partiality.’ Also, the government argued disqualifying such judges would burden the courts and lead to a flood of frivolous disqualification motions.’Disqualification would penalize law clerks for their service to the judicial system, and cause judges to suffer a limitation in their recruitment of future law clerks,’ the brief says.”

And from the always insightful Professor Alberto Bernabe: “Wisconsin Appellate Court disqualifies judge because of a ‘Facebook friendship’” —

  • “At the end of last year, I reported that the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion holding that sometimes, the relationship between a judge and a litigant or lawyer might be a basis for disqualification of the judge but that there is no reason that Facebook “friendships” should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.”
  • “I am writing about this today because I just read that the Wisconsin Appellate Court has issued an opinion disqualifying a judge because of an undisclosed ‘Facebook friendship.'”
  • “The case is called In re Paternity of BJM, and you can read the opinion here.”