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January 12, 2016

Motions to have an administrative law judge recuse himself or herself from presiding at a disciplinary hearing


Motions to have an administrative law judge recuse himself or herself from presiding at a disciplinary hearing
New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection v Giacia, OATH Index No. 211/16, [Memorandum Decision]

In the course of an employee disciplinary proceeding, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection asked New York City Office of Administrative Tribunals and Hearing Administrative Law Judge John B. Spooner to recuse himself, alleging that Judge Spooner was bias against the agency.

The Department had earlier made similar motions in two prior cases presided over by Judge Spooner in which it alleged Judge Spooner had made statements demonstrating “enmity towards the agency.”

Judge Sooner found that the statements attributed to him did not suggest bias or prejudice against the agency but were simply relevant to determining the appropriate penalty, noting that the fact that he had agreed with some of the arguments made by the employee’s counsel when assessing the penalty to be imposed was not a basis for finding bias against the Department. The Department’s recusal motions in those hearing were denied.

Judge Spooner noted that OATH rules provide that an OATH administrative law judge “shall be disqualified for bias, prejudice, interest, or any other cause for which a judge may be disqualified in accordance with §14 of the Judiciary Law.”*

None of the remarks quoted, said Judge Spooner, demonstrate “bias” or “prejudice” against the Department, noting that “The remark that the Department alleged displayed some 'animus toward [the Department]' was based upon statements made during the disciplinary hearing “to explain the factors considered in arriving at a penalty recommendation and for no other purpose, any more than sustaining disciplinary charges would be a basis for finding bias against all employees.”

Citing Jump v Jump, 268 AD2d 709, Judge Spooner noted that, in general, “a judge’s presiding over and rendering decisions in prior cases involving one of the parties has not been held to warrant recusal or disqualification.”

In People v Glynn, 21 NY3d 614, the Court of Appeals said that “Unless disqualification is required under Judiciary Law §14, a judge's decision on a recusal motion is one of discretion.”

*§14 of the Judiciary Law provides for the “Disqualification of judge by reason of interest or consanguinity.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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