A Florida Appellate court ruled this week that friend requests by judges to parties appearing before them can lead to the judge’s recusal. According to the appellate court, a friend request
place[s] the litigant between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case or risk offending the judge by not accepting the ‘friend’ request.
This ruling arose from a divorce proceeding in which the judge, prior to entering a final verdict in the case, sent a friend request to the wife. The wife’s attorney later claimed that since the friend request was not accepted the judge retaliated against her client. Specifically, the wife’s attorney claimed that the judge gave the wife an inordinate amount of the marital debt and saddled her with an excessive alimony award.
Ultimately, the appellate court assigned this case to another judge and found that the wife had a “well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.”