What Happens When A Judge Expresses Personal Bias

June 1, 2017

An independent and honorable judiciary is thought to be indispensable to justice.

In New Jersey, judges are not elected as the governor (with the approval of the senate) appoints all judges. Judges are expected to uphold the integrity and independence of the Judiciary and under New Jersey judicial cannon, it is expected that a judge should not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.

Partiality, Biases, and Prejudices

It is also judicial cannon that a judge should be impartial and should not discriminate because of race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, language, marital status, socioeconomic status, or disability [New Jersey Cannon 3 A(5)].

Judges are expected to accord every litigant the full right to be heard according to law.

A judge is expected to disqualify him or herself if:

  • The judge has a personal bias or prejudice towards a particular party or a party’s lawyer
  • The judge has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.

But what happens when a judge expresses a bias concerning an entire race, color, age group, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, language, disability or marital status?

A Biased Kentucky Judge

Judge W. Mitchell Nance, a Kentucky family court judge who sits in Barren and Metcalfe counties, has announced he will no longer hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties” because he believes allowing a gay person to adopt could never be in the child’s best interest.   Judge Nance has advised the local bar that he would recuse himself from all adoptions involving gay people citing a Kentucky judicial ethics rule that says a judge must disqualify himself or herself when he or she has a personal bias or prejudice.

In the case of Judge Nance, this leads us to a few questions:

  • How can a judge that expresses such a clear bias fairly and impartially preside over any case involving an LGBT litigant, party, or witness?
  • How much does a personal bias pervade the judge’s ability to carry out his or her daily responsibilities?
  • What about cases with gay children or a spouse coming out of the closet?
  • What if one litigant has a homosexual relative, gay employer, gay babysitter, or has friends in same sex relationships?
  • At what point should a judge in a situation likle thsi step down

A judge with such a bias would have to disqualify himself from any litigation involving gay people. Otherwise, his or her judgment and impartiality will be called into question in every case that involves an LGBT person.

Questions Regarding Fair Treatment?

If you, or someone important to you, has questions about getting fair treatment during a divorce, custody case, or any other litigation involving family members, contact our New Jersey family and divorce attorneys at Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, Trigg, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC for more information.