Supreme Court recusal over spouse’s interest again at issue

Last February, Congressional Democrats sought to have U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from the inevitable challenge of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2008. While Thomas himself had no history with the bill, his wife, Ginny, is a lobbyist that represents groups trying to overturn the controversial health care reform package.

So, the Dems argue, the Thomas family is profiting handsomely from opponents of the law, therefore, Justice Thomas should recuse himself.

A similar situation has developed here in Michigan in the challenge over the constitutionality of Gov. Snyder’s emergency financial manger bill.

The new law is being challenged in the Michigan Supreme Court. Opponents of the law have moved for the recusal of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Markman because his wife is defending the law in a federal suit. [The Detroit News].

Markman’s wife, Kathleen, who works for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, is one of two lawyers representing state officials in a federal lawsuit in which a city of Detroit pension fund alleges the emergency manager law is unconstitutional.

A recusal by Markman would be significant because it would erase the 4-3 majority on the court held by justices nominated by the Michigan Republican Party.

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Casual Friday revisits Lawmiss

Judicial recusal, Ohio-style: Remember lawmiss, aka Shirley Strickland Saffold, the Cleveland judge who (allegedly) took to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer website comments to anonymously rip litigators who appear before her?
Obviously, the attorney she ripped, Rufus Sims, sought her recusal, which she refused, claiming that he had no proof.

While Saffold clung tight to her alibi that her daughter wrote those comments, Ohio Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer gave her the hook [Cleveland.com]:

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Acting Ohio Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer removed Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold from hearing the case of accused serial killer Anthony Sowell Thursday.

Pfeifer made the ruling based on comments posted on cleveland.com about the Sowell case. The comments were posted through a username created with an AOL e-mail address used by Saffold. The judge has denied making the comments, and her 23-year-old daughter has said she posted them.

Pfeifer found no evidence to suggest that Saffold made the postings, but he found the comments have “created a situation that ‘poses an impediment to the judge’s ability to resolve any remaining legal and factual issues in a way that will appear to the parties and the public to be objective and fair.’ “

Finally: Apparently, there’s a Michael Jackson imitator from Allen Park who took his imitation goes too far [The News Herald]:

Picture 3

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Point/Counterpoint sparring on judicial recusal

The Detroit Free Press has offered an editorial debate on the recent judicial recusal rules set by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Arguing in favor of the new rule, is University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law professor and former chair of the Attorney Grievance Commission Larry Dubin:

The Michigan Supreme Court’s recent adoption of new rules regarding the disqualification of judges and justices will assure a greater probability of the dispensing of impartial justice, particularly among the otherwise contentious fractions of our high court.

And his opponent, arguing against the new rules from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Tim Baughman.

As a college student of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I am familiar with the cry, "Question authority." It is a principle that courts ought to employ before they exercise power; that is, they should question their authority to do what it is they would like to do. The failure to do so is the principal failing of the new recusal rule adopted by a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Those who favor the rule that allows a majority of the court to oust another justice or justices from sitting in a case have not taken this first fundamental stop, nor has the majority of the court. No unit of government — and one would expect this particularly of the judiciary — may impose its will absent some grant of authority.