There are occasionally situations in which a judge’s impartiality in a particular case could be questioned, and as such the judge will step down from the case.  This is known as recusal. 

Both federal and state laws require that judges recuse themselves in certain situations.  Some of these situations are clear, such as when the judge is related to any parties in the case, has previously represented any of the parties, or has a financial stake in the outcome of the case.

The problem is that the laws governing recusal are not entirely clear.  For example, federal law says that judges must recuse themselves if they have a “personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.”  However, the decision on whether recusal is proper is left to the judge, who may not feel that they have a bias.  This has led to criticism over some judges’ objectivity.

Finally, even if recusal is proper in a particular case, the recusal rule can be ignored if all the parties and the judge agree.  If recusal is avoided this way, a full and complete record concerning the grounds for recusal must be made available for the appellate court.