Three decades ago, there was a popular TV comedy featuring four senior women sharing a home here in sunny South Florida. The eldest occasionally tried to impart her “wisdom” by telling stories from her youth, urging her listeners to “picture it,” and then describing the setting. So, in that tradition… picture it: you’re in a courtroom in your divorce case –- on your own — facing the judge and your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer. Both you and the other side have made motions asking the judge to do certain things. While you’re in the hearing, the judge suggests to your spouse’s attorney what motions that lawyer should file. The judge also makes a suggestion that that attorney not file another motion that the lawyer was contemplating.
That would be pretty intimidating, would it not? You’re there on your own and your spouse has counsel but it is your spouse’s side that the judge seems to be helping out. Would you think that you have any recourse? The reality is that you do have options in a circumstance like that. One option to which you should definitely avail yourself is retaining legal counsel. Having a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side can help level the playing field.
This scenario allegedly happened in a real-life case recently. A wife and a husband were in court in their divorce case disputing the wife’s alleged improper sale of certain assets contained in storage units. The husband had a lawyer; the wife didn’t. The judge in the case allegedly suggested that the husband’s lawyer file a motion to show cause and that, as part of that request, the judge “would be happy” to haul into court the third party to whom the wife allegedly sold the assets. The judge later allegedly offered an opinion that the husband’s lawyer should avoid filing a different motion the lawyer was considering.
Eventually, the wife retained counsel and the wife pursued a case for disqualification of the trial judge. Disqualification, in this context, means that the judge cannot hear anything else, or make any more rulings, in your particular case. In Florida, the law says that a judge “must studiously avoid the appearance of favoring one party in a lawsuit.” Anytime the judge in a case begins suggesting to one party or one side’s attorneys “how to proceed strategically,” that is generally considered to be a fairly clear-cut instance of favoring that party.
So, in this wife’s case, if the trial judge actually did suggest the husband’s lawyer file a show cause order, and did dissuade the lawyer from filing an additional motion, then those actions would create an appearance that the judge was favoring the husband by helping his lawyer and would constitute what’s called “a departure from the judge’s role as a neutral arbiter.” When a judge takes actions that appear to be a departure from a position of neutrality, then the harmed party has a valid claim for pursuing that judge’s disqualification from her case.
Certainly, both parties in a family law case want certain things. One is to have the case decided by a fair and impartial judge. Sometimes, though, cases and hearings get infected by errors. Even judges are human and sometimes make mistakes. To protect yourself, be sure you have knowledgeable legal counsel on your side from the start. The South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been providing clients with the strong and skillful representation they need to get positive results for years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
What Happens to Marital Assets that Were Diminished or Spent Completely During the Course of Your Florida Divorce Litigation?, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 13, 2018
What It Takes to Prove That the Judge in Your Florida Child Custody Case Should Be Disqualified from Your Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 27, 2018