This decision opens by stating, "we are called upon to consider the appropriate course of action where a party is accused of contriving to engineer the recusal of a district judge by hiring a close relative of the judge as counsel." (Slip opinion at 2.) More specifically, "it is well documented that Judge Clemon [of the Northern District of Alabama] has been forced to relinquish numerous cases because of the participation of Price [his nephew] and/or a firm in which he is a partner." (Id. at 3.) How numerous? Well, in 1995, the Judge had had to recuse himself fifteen times in the prior two-and-a-half years. (Id. at 5.)
It's not that the Northern District of Alabama is lacking in lawyers or that Price commonly represented the defendant in the current case. Oh, no. The lower court found that
Based on a computer analysis by court staff, Price was retained in only four of the 204 cases in which BellSouth was sued in the Northern District of Alabama since 1991. Although the 204 cases were divided among 19 different judges, three of the four Price cases were initially referred to Judge Clemon, forcing his recusal. The court found the fourth case to be of dubious value, since the appearance was entered only after [the recusal controversy started in the present case].
(Id. at 11.)
And in the present case, the defendant already had perfectly good attorneys, from the same town, representing them in a related case in a different district. Not surprisingly, the lower court disqualified Price from representing the defendant in this case, and the Eleventh Circuit upheld it.
First, if you're like me and reading this, you're wondering what it is about Judge Clemon that makes BellSouth so eager to avoid him. Is it just that he has a reputation for being pro-plaintiff—make no mistake, judges do have reputations, but tough, you're still not allowed to judge-shop? Well, maybe, but all the way down in the concurring opinion I find this fact, in a response to the dissenting opinion:
It is also not clear that having a nephew or cousin present a case to a judge is more damaging to the orderly administration of justice than scheming to obtain the services of the judge's relative to force the judge's recusal, especially where a party may be seeking to avoid the one African-American judge resident in the district.
(Id. at 58) (emphasis added).
Did I mention this was a potential class-action lawsuit over racial discrimination?
Second, and what I really wanted to point out about this decision:
I am just fascinated at trying to imagine what the family relationships must be like here—weren't you trying to imagine holidays or family reunions in the Clemon/Price family? Was there prior bad feeling between the two, is this generating bad feeling, or is considered nothing personal? There's a fascinating story in there somewhere, and I doubt I'll ever know it; gossip doesn't travel well from the Northern District of Alabama to the Northern District of New York, where I practice, and, of course, it's really none of my business. But I confess, I wonder all the same.