Risk Update

Judicial DQs — More Motions and Movement to Disqualify Judges

Why Judges Keep Recusing Themselves From a N.Y.C. Vaccine Mandate Case” —

  • “The city’s teachers, who sued over vaccine requirements, said the judges assigned to the case owned thousands of dollars of Covid-19 vaccine-maker stock, which could affect their rulings.”
  • “Over two weeks, the teachers’ lawyers have asked three successive judges assigned to the case to recuse themselves and have it reassigned. The lawyers cited financial disclosure forms, listing each judge as owning thousands of dollars of stock in Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, whose share price, they argued, could be helped or hurt by their rulings.”
  • “‘The ownership of this stock constitutes a direct financial conflict of interest in the outcome of this case,’ the lawyers wrote on June 9 to Judge Valerie E. Caproni, the first judge assigned to the case.”
  • “The escalating dispute highlights a question that has drawn increasing scrutiny in the news media, the courts and in Congress: When should judges disqualify themselves from cases?”
  • “Several ethics experts who examined the dispute in the teachers’ case said the successive recusal requests showed how lawyers might find it advantageous to seek a judge’s disqualification if it served a strategic purpose.”
  • “Under the law, judges must step away if they own even one share of stock in a party to a lawsuit, said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law. “The one-share rule is easy,” he said. ‘It’s a bright line. It either exists or it doesn’t exist, and there’s nothing to argue about.'”
  • “In the teachers’ case, however, the parties were public officials and the city education department — not a company. Then, Mr. Gillers said, the question is whether the judge’s financial interest ‘could be substantially affected’ by a ruling, which is vague.”
  • “There was disagreement among the experts over whether the judges needed to withdraw. Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School, said it seemed to her that none were required to do so.”
  • “‘The chance that this lawsuit in New York would affect the stock prices of a company like Pfizer, which has a market cap of around $300 billion, are negligible,’ she said. ‘It seems that the judges were instead caving to unreasonable assumptions about their ability to be fair.'”
  • “But James Sample, a Hofstra University law professor, said the issue of appearing impartial is real. ‘Do I think that Judge Caproni and Judge Ramos could have been fair in hearing this case? Absolutely,’ he said. ‘But hearing the case once it was clear that they own significant positions in an interested party fails the optics test. And in recusal law, the optics test matters.'”

Louisville judge disqualified from Breonna Taylor protester cases” —

  • “Kentucky’s Supreme Court has disqualified a Louisville judge from presiding over several cases regarding people who were arrested in the summer of 2020 during a protest regarding Breonna Taylor’s death.”
  • “The court cited Judge Josephine Buckner’s potential bias based on her previous employment and social media posts.”
  • “According to the motion for removal, the prosecution said Buckner should be disqualified from presiding over the protestors’ cases because she worked for Louisville Attorney Sam Aguiar’s law firm while he represented Taylor’s family.”
  • “Other members at the law firm also represented other protestors who had been arrested that summer, the Commonwealth said.”
  • “In response to the prosecution’s affidavit, Buckner confirmed that she did work for Aguiar before her appointment to the bench. However, she says her previous employment with the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, which defended the civil action regarding Taylor’s death, ‘is as relevant to the present case as her previous employment with the Aguiar firm.'”
  • “The Commonwealth further argued in their motion that Buckner shared three Facebook posts relating to Taylor’s death between August 2020 and June 2021. Three of the posts were made by Aguiar and Lonita Baker, who also represented Taylor’s family.”