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Stevens v. Americana Healthcare Corp., 919 So. 2d 713 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2006)

After Plaintiff brought suit against a nursing home, the trial judge indicated that he was personally acquainted with three of the witnesses expected to testify at trial. One was a nursing home administrator; the other two were physicians. The trial judge described himself as being “very good friends” with one of the doctors. The judge knew the administrator from serving together on the local school board. The trial judge said most judges in the area knew one of the physicians so a motion for disqualification would prompt him to request that the Chief Judge appoint a Senior Judge from another area. The trial judge made these disclosures during a hearing. Plaintiff’s counsel was unable to contact his client to discuss the matter. In the interim, the trial judge indicated that he would write an Order of Recusal and indicate to the administrative judge that if he appoints another judge, he might want to think about one from out of town. Approximately two weeks later Plaintiff filed a motion to disqualify the judge based on his disclosures. The judge denied the motion, finding that his acquaintance with some of the witnesses was not a sufficient basis for disqualification. On appeal, the court held that disclosure of the acquaintance was proper and that, by itself, knowing several witnesses would not trigger disqualification. However, the judge’s remarks in inviting a motion for disqualification and in offering to write an order of recusal would have caused a reasonable person to conclude that the judge intended to grant a timely motion for disqualification. Under these circumstances, the judge could not reverse course and deny the motion he had invited and offered to grant.

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