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Indiana attorney gets award for work on recusals

IL Staff
December 31, 2009
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A partner at an Indianapolis law firm is being recognized by the National Center for State Courts for his work on judicial recusals, and he has some ideas that state chief justices and Indiana's top court could find interesting.

George T. Patton Jr. of Bose McKinney & Evans, a Washington D.C.-based partner in the litigation group who co-chairs the firm's appellate group, praises the Indiana Supreme Court's leadership on judicial recusals and its code of conduct, but thinks that one change might be worth exploring here.

With five justices, one recusal could leave the court with a 2-2 split decision because of the four remaining to decide a case. Other states have adopted policies allowing lower appellate or trial judges to fill in for recused judges, and Indiana would benefit from that practice, Patton said.

The other suggestion Patton has for chief justices nationally is to adopt the American Bar Association's model judicial canons, something Indiana did and put into effect in January 2009.

His recommendations come after a June decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 2252 (2009), which offered guidance on how judges should recuse themselves in cases where they've received campaign contributions from litigants or have an interest. Patton considers it at the top of the list in state court impact and in the top five of all federal and state cases that will likely be remembered in the future.

Patton's work stems from an amicus curiae brief he crafted and filed on behalf of the Conference of Chief Justices - something that had a significant impact on the high court's decision-making in Caperton. That brief was mentioned eight times in the opinion, he said.

Since that ruling, Patton has closely monitored the national scene on how state courts are coping with Caperton. So far, he hasn't observed any "flood of recusal motions" as some feared could happen as a result of the decision. The topic has also spurred congressional hearings on the issue of recusals in recent months, and Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington professor Charles Geyh has testified on the issue.

For his work, Patton is receiving the NCSC's 2009 Distinguished Service Award, considered the organization's highest recognition that is presented annually for contributions to the judicial administration field.

Patton will receive his award Feb. 2 at the chief justices' conference in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He'll give a 30-minute presentation entitled "Recusal: Where Art Thou?" which also delves into his previous work on the related SCOTUS decision of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002) that addressed judicial free speech issues and has led to conflicting caselaw on judicial canons nationally.

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