February 24, 2020 Top Story

Judicial Bias May Implicate Lawyer’s Ethical Obligations

Preemptive ruling raises questions regarding competent representation duty

By Kelso L. Anderson

A judge’s expression of bias toward a litigant necessarily implicates judicial canons prohibiting such conduct. But, according to ABA Section of Litigation leaders, such conduct should also prompt counsel for the affected litigant to consider his or her ethical obligations to act competently and diligently toward representing the client. Section of Litigation leaders cite the decision Real State Golden Investments, Inc. v. Larraín as a cautionary tale in this regard.

Broken scales of justice

Broken scales of justice

iStockphoto by Getty Images

A Clear Example of Judicial Bias

In a per curiam ruling, a Florida appellate court in Real State Golden granted the petitioners’ writ of prohibition seeking to disqualify a trial judge after the judge made comments during oral arguments on a motion to intervene. During the hearing, the trial judge had preemptively denied a motion to stay the pleadings, despite the fact that the petitioners had not filed or even suggested they would file such a motion. The exchange between the trial court and counsel for the petitioners went as follows:

            Court: So, it’s denied and Motion to Stay, denied.
            Counsel:
There was no Motion for Stay.

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