Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to recuse: conflict of interest


To disqualify or remove oneself as a judge over a particular proceeding because of one's conflict of interest. Recusal, or the judge's act of disqualifying himself or herself from presiding over a proceeding, is based on the Maxim that judges are charged with a duty of impartiality in administering justice.

When a judge is assigned to a case, she reviews the general facts of the case and determines whether she has any conflict of interest concerning the case. If a conflict of interest exists, the judge may recuse herself on her own initiative. In addition, any party in a case may make a motion to require the judge to recuse herself from hearing the case. The initial presiding judge usually determines whether or not the apparent conflict requires her recusal, and the judge's decision is given considerable deference. Some jurisdictions, however, require another judge to decide whether or not the presiding judge should be disqualified. If a judge fails to recuse himself when a direct conflict of interest exists, the judge may later be reprimanded, suspended, or disciplined by the body that oversees Judicial Administration. In addition, in some cases where a judge presides over a matter in which he has a direct conflict of interest, any criminal conviction or civil damage award in the case may be reversed or set aside.

Generally, a judge must recuse himself if he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party to the lawsuit or has personal knowledge of the facts that are disputed in the proceeding. The Code of Judicial Conduct, a judicial ethics code drafted by the American Bar Association in 1972 and adopted by most states and the federal government, outlines situations in which a judge should disqualify himself from presiding over a matter. Canon 3C of the Judicial Code outlines these situations, including the judge's personal bias or prejudice toward a matter or its participants, personal knowledge of the facts that are disputed in a case, a professional or familial relationship with a party or an attorney, or a financial interest in the outcome of the matter. Most interpretations of the code mandate a judge's disqualification or recusal if any of these factors are present.

In some cases the parties to a proceeding may waive the judge's disqualification and allow the judge to preside over the case. The judge's disqualification is waived when both parties agree to the waiver or when one or more of the parties continues to participate in the proceedings.

The term recusation was at one time considered an exception to jurisdiction, the effect of which was to disqualify the particular judge by reason of the judge's interest or prejudice in the proceeding.

Further readings

Abramson, Leslie W. 1992. Studies of the Justice System: Judicial Disqualification Under Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. 2d ed. Chicago, Ill.: American Judicature Society.

Comisky, Marvin, and Philip C. Patterson. 1987. The Judiciary—Selection, Compensation, Ethics and Discipline. New York: Quorum Books.


Canons of Judicial Ethics; Judicial Conduct.


v. to refuse to be a judge (or for a judge to be requested by one of the parties to step aside) in a lawsuit or appeal because of a conflict of interest or other good reason (acquaintanceship with one of the parties, for example). It also applies to a judge or prosecutor being removed or voluntarily removing himself/herself from a criminal case in which he/she has a conflict of interest, such as friendship or known enmity to the defendant. (See: recusal)


to remove from participation in a court case because of potential prejudice.
References in periodicals archive ?
During the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter, McGahn argued to Sessions that there was no reason or basis at that time for him to recuse.
The White House takes seriously the need for appointees to resign, recuse and divest where required," a White House spokesperson told IBT in response to questions about whether Cohn has recused himself from any Goldman-related matters before the NEC.
Finally, this Article explains why these conflicting decisions illustrate the need for better recusal standards, including standards not only for when judges must recuse themselves, but also for when judges must not recuse themselves.
BEIRUT: The head of the Criminal Appeals Court, Judge Joseph Samaha, is likely to recuse himself from the case of former Minister Michel Samaha because the two men are related, the National News Agency reported Friday.
A CFTC official told the press that the letter of non-participation stated that Gensler would recuse himself from MF Global as it moved into an enforcement investigation.
But on August 25, she rebuffed all criticism of her performance, saying she did not recuse herself because of conflict of interest, but because of the appellate court's decision to overturn her ruling that the case needed further investigation by prosecution.
There, a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court refused to recuse himself from the appeal of a $50 million verdict entered against Massey Coal Company, even though the CEO of Massey had contributed $3 million to the justice's election effort, or more than two-thirds of the amount the justice raised to defeat the incumbent.
During the closing days of the session, Brownback said he would remove his block if Neff would agree to recuse herself from cases involving the issue of same-sex marriage.
He needs to recuse himself from any reviewing of gay-themed cinema.
AGUA DULCE - As the county Regional Planning Commission prepares this week for what could be its final vote on the expansion permit of rural Agua Dulce Air Park, opponents are pressing two commissioners to recuse themselves from the issue, citing bias.
In October Assistant Prosecutor Jenna Sands asked the judge to recuse himself if he wasn't going to consider all the evidence.
Which means we may need to wait until his confirmation hearings in January to learn what Alito was thinking when he failed to recuse himself from a 2002 case involving three companies owned by the Vanguard Investment Funds--in which he had more than $500,000 invested.