What to Do When a Judge Is Unfair

By Maggie Lourdes - Updated January 29, 2018
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Judges are held to high legal and ethical duties. They must treat all people in their courtrooms with fairness and impartiality. Judges who show favoritism in court or who commit judicial errors that create unfair results face consequences. Judges must avoid even the appearance of favoritism so that the courts remain respected, reliable forums for justice.

Conflict of Interest Recusal

A party to a lawsuit may ask a judge to voluntarily recuse, or remove, himself from a case if the party believes he has reason to question the judge’s impartiality. For example, a judge may recuse himself if he is friends with or relatives of a party who appears before his court. A recusal is also appropriate if a judge's personal feelings may cloud his professional judgment. For example, a judge who loses a spouse because of a doctor's mistake may be unable to rule with fairness and impartiality on a similar medical malpractice case.

Motion for Reconsideration

A party who believes that a judge has rendered an unfair ruling can request that the judge reconsider her decision. A motion for reconsideration includes a written brief and oral argument before the judge. A party, or his attorney, must present the legal and factual reasons for why a ruling is unjust. Generally, the party must file the motion for reconsideration within 14 days after a judge makes an objectionable decision. You should contact your court about deadlines because they can vary.

Filing an Appeal

Generally, a person who is unhappy with a judge's final ruling can appeal the decision to a higher court. In a California civil case, for example, you would appeal the trial court's final judgment to the California Court of Appeal. The appeal must be based on solid facts and law. For example, a party may believe that a judge's ruling was unfair because the judge applied incorrect law, ignored evidence, expressed prejudice or appeared intoxicated during trial. If an appellate judge determines that a ruling is unfair, she may overturn it or she may order the lower court judge to rehear the case to correct his previous error or misconduct.

Filing a Grievance

A judge must adhere to ethical codes of conduct, which requires him to treat people in his courts with dignity and fairness. Judges who behave rudely or who tilt decisions based on their personal interests or biases may be subject to professional discipline. A party may file a formal grievance against state or federal judges. A party may file a grievance against a federal judge with the clerk of the federal appellate court. A grievance against a state judge is lodged with the state's judicial tenure commission. In most states, you can file a grievance online using the commission's complaint form or simply write a letter to the commission. Include a detailed description of the misconduct and the names of any witnesses to the events described.

About the Author

Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.

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