New Tennessee Opinion Reviews Law on Motions for Recusals: Sets High Bar for Proof

A good rule of thumb for determining if a lawsuit has come off the rails is if one of the litigants files a Motion for the judge in the case to recuse himself. That’s a motion saying, essentially, that this particular judge is so biased against one party that the judge can’t rule fairly in the case.

I’ve been asked to file these in the past, and I always refuse because, if you attack a judge’s impartiality and you lose, then you’re stuck with that same judge. 

So, I read this Tennessee Court of Appeals case from last week with some interest, because it is the first time I’ve seen the law on recusal motions spelled out with this much detail. And, of course, it’s in a divorce proceeding, where emotion runs high.  (Side note: This is a completely insane divorce–login to Davidson County CASELINK and look at the pleadings. God help us all.)

In the decision, the Court focuses on whether the trial court entered the proceedings with a bias, such that it “prejudged” the litigants based on “interest, partiality, or favor” resulting “from extrajudicial sources and not from events or observations during litigation of a case.” Mere adverse rulings are not enough to justify recusal.

Nine times of out ten, a motion for recusal is filed by a party who is losing the lawsuit, and they equate the judge ruling against them as the judge being biased. This new opinion supports the position that they are not the same. Most of the time, the judge will rule against a party because they’re wrong, not because the judge doesn’t like them.

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