ABA Code of Jud. Conduct Canon 3(C)(1)(a) provides: A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party. In order not to undermine the public confidence in the judiciary, the requirement of impartiality pertains not only to actual impartiality, but also to the appearance of impartiality. In an effort to evaluate what may be a frivolous claim, the District of Columbia requires under D.C. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 63-I, that a party alleging bias to file, in good faith, an affidavit asserting the basis for the claim prior to the proceeding. When this is properly done, such judge shall proceed no further. The alleged bias or prejudice must arise from an extrajudicial source and not simply from evidence presented to the court.
The government's neglect petition was filed on evidence that the appellant mother's children were frequently beaten with belts and extension cords that left permanent scars and that the mother had given her tacit approval to the beatings. On appeal, the court reversed and remanded the cause for new proceedings before a different trial judge because the trial judge's conduct, which was clearly demonstrative of a significant level of bias, left an impermissible taint on the proceedings. The court remanded the cause for new proceedings before a different trial judge.
Did the trial judge's conduct clearly demonstrate a significant level of bias against appellant mother?
The court found that there was evidence in the record to support the trial court's conclusion that the children were neglected and abused. However, the court concluded that the undue inquiry into the mother's sex life and the other statements on the record indicating a significant level of bias could not be deemed harmless. The court found that the trial judge's conduct clearly demonstrated a significant level of bias reflecting personal distaste towards the mother, which fatally tainted the trial. Finally, the court held that D.C. Code Ann. § 16-2301 was not unconstitutionally vague but provided the requisite flexibility for a trial judge to determine neglect and abuse based on individual circumstances.