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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 ?
The question presented to the Untied States Supreme Court was whether the justice's failure to recuse himself violated due process.
That raised the fear that the justice would recuse himself from deciding the merits and the case would end in a 3-3 deadlock.
The justice did recuse himself, but the court was able to achieve a majority and the case was decided 4-2.
Second, the judge who owns stock in the tobacco company and the judge whose spouse is a partner in the tobacco company's law firm should recognize the need to recuse if the appeal is assigned to them, in the unlikely event that automatic screening in the Clerk's Office fails to trigger recusal.
The federal law governing judicial recusal requires a federal judge to recuse from hearing a case involving a publicly owned company if the judge directly owns even one share of stock in the company.
But what if a judge who owned one share of Altria Group failed to recuse in an appeal involving Philip Morris USA?
On the one hand, moving to recuse all judges who ought to refrain from participating in the case might be superfluous, because some or all of those judges may not be on the panel assigned to decide the case, either due to chance or to their own independent, behind-the-scenes recusals.
Whenever a party asks an appellate judge to recuse after the judge has already concluded to her own satisfaction that she may appropriately hear and decide the merits of an appeal, the party risks being perceived by the judge as second-guessing her own resolution of the issue.
Newdow filed a motion asking Justice Scalia to recuse from participating at oral argument and voting on the outcome in the Pledge case, a recusal request directed to an appellate judge will cause the judge to refrain from participating in a case in which the judge otherwise would have participated.
And appellate courts with regularity hold that trial judges have abused their discretion in failing to recuse because, in the appellate courts' view, the trial judges' impartiality reasonably might be questioned.
If they give me something in writing, I will recuse myself from now on,'' Dunn said Thursday.
Board member Jerry Gladbach also urged Dunn to recuse himself Wednesday night, citing past instances when other directors left the room to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.