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Emotional viral video raises a serious issue in criminal cases

When a judge is sitting in a criminal courtroom and controlling the process that will decide your fate, it is easy to forget that they also lead personal lives. Judges often live in the same community as the defendants in their courtrooms. A video recently went viral that depicted an unusual school reunion between a judge and a defendant in Florida.

It had been decades since the judge and the defendant last saw one another, but the judge tentatively recognized him as a former classmate and old friend. "Did you go to Nautilus?" she asked. When he replied in the affirmative, the man broke down in tears and she fondly told those present that the two had played football together and that he had been the "nicest kid in middle school."

While the emotional moment in this video passed quickly and without incident to the case, relationships in the courtroom have the potential to cause problems. What happens when a judge has an outside relationship, be it to a prosecutor, defendant or outcome?

F.S.A. § 38.02 provides an avenue for defendants to request that a judge disqualify himself or herself based on a potential conflict of interest. The judge will review the request and determine whether he or she is able to continue to preside over the case without bias. Although judges make the final determination, an adverse decision is appealable.

What are potential conflicts?

  • Family relationships: If a judge or another person related to him or her by blood or through close acquaintance (defined as an affinity within the third degree) is related to the prosecutor, you can suggest disqualification.
  • Interest in the outcome: If the judge has either a personal or financial interest in the outcome of a case over which they preside, you can suggest disqualification. This could include sitting on the board of a business or having made a significant investment in a company related to the case.
  • A witness: If the judge is a material witness to the case, you can suggest disqualification.

At the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A., we go to great lengths to help ensure that our clients receive a fair trial. This includes recognizing the rare occasion when it may be necessary to disqualify a judge either due to family relationships, interest in the outcome of the case, or prejudice against the defendant.

Visit our white-collar crimes page to learn more about our Orlando, Florida, law firm and the cases we defend.