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COA: Judge’s late recusal not reversible error

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An Adams Circuit Court judge who learned that he had previously represented a defendant on trial in his courtroom acted appropriately when he recused himself but denied a mistrial, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The matter came before the appellate court in David Mathews v. State of Indiana, 01A02-1203-CR-207. Mathews claimed that judge Adam Miller should have declared a mistrial when Mathews notified the judge that he had represented him in a prior criminal case.

Mathews told the judge about the prior representation after a jury trial in which Mathews was convicted of Class D felony intimidation and Class B misdemeanor public intoxication, but before arguments on whether Mathews would be ruled a habitual offender.

Upon notification, Miller recused himself and said in court, “My representation of you on an underlying offense that has never been presented to the jury as of yet has no impact on the first phase of this trial so I will deny the request for mistrial.”

“Given that Judge Miller did not serve as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, i.e., the matter involving the public intoxication or intimidation charges, we cannot say that Rule 2.11(A)(6) required recusal prior to the habitual offender phase of the trial or that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Mathews’s request for a mistrial,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the unanimous panel.

Judge Rudolph Pyle III concurred with a separate opinion in which he wrote, “The language and examples provided with the rule presuppose that a judge has knowledge of an event that calls into question his or her ability to be fair and impartial.

“In this case, the record reveals that neither the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, nor Mathews himself was aware of the judge’s prior representation of Mathews until after the completion of the first phase of the trial. At that point, the judge correctly disqualified himself from the case. Therefore, because there was no knowledge during the trial, there was no duty to disqualify.”


 

 

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