In order to preserve the integrity of the judiciary, and to ensure that justice is carried out in each individual case, judges must adhere to high standards of conduct. Thus even if there is no bias in fact, an appearance of bias or prejudice requires recusal if it is sufficient to raise a question in the mind of "the average citizen" about a judge's impartiality. The bias or prejudice must be personal in nature and have its source beyond the four corners of the courtroom.
Appellant husband appealed from two orders of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, one granting appellee wife an absolute divorce and resolving custody, child support, and other issues, and a second denying the husband's motion to terminate child support and finding the husband in contempt for willful failure to pay. Appellant husband argued that the trial court erred in failing to conclude that the delay in receiving the transcript of a hearing on the husband's prior motion to modify child support adversely affected the husband's substantial rights. On appeal, the judgments of the trial court were affirmed.
Did the trial judge err in refusing to recuse himself from the case due to alleged bias?
The appellate court concluded that, under the circumstances presented, where the husband was made aware that the trial court would not approve of the husband's proposed reconstructed statement within six weeks of its filing, the husband was not adversely impacted by the alleged 16-month delay in obtaining the subject transcript. The husband also argued that the trial judge erred in refusing to recuse himself from the case due to alleged bias, and therefore all orders entered by the trial judge were void. The appellate court disagreed, noting that the trial court's order reflected neither personal bias nor prejudice against the husband. The trial judge did not rest the child support award on personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the parties' divorce, custody, and child support proceeding, but considered such things as the wife's increased income and potential income and the Child Support Guidelines.