Party Seeks Judge’s Recusal After Post-Judgment Modifications Denied
- July 14, 2014
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The a recent post-judgment modification case, Hoffman v. Hoffman, the Defendant, Bruce Hoffman appealed from a 2013 Family Court Order which denied his Motion to recuse the Family Court judge and also denied his request that the court require the Plaintiff, Frances Hoffman, to provide him with a Case Information Statement (CIS). The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The parties in the case were married in 1981 and obtained a legal divorce in 2000. The Final Judgment of Divorce incorporated the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). Following the divorce, the Defendant instituted many post-judgment actions against Plaintiff usually to terminate or modify his child support and alimony obligations. All of the Defendant’s Motions were denied. In the case at hand, the Defendant filed a Motion in 2013 requesting the recusal of the Family Court judge and require the Plaintiff to provide him “. . . with her completed CIS with attachments within [three] days.” The judge denied the Motion and provided a written statement detailing her reasons for doing so. In her statement, the judge stated that the Defendant sought her recusal because she had previously denied “hearing his request for [reimbursement of] $1,363,800.45.” The judge found that this “denial is not a basis for a recusal.” Further, she held that her prior involvement in the Defendant’s case did not prevent her from producing a fair and unbiased hearing or judgment. Concerning the Defendant’s request for the Plaintiff’s CIS, the judge held that the Plaintiff submitted her completed CIS to the court and requested that it remain confidential, but did recognize that without access to the document the Defendant may not be able to prove that a modification of his child support or alimony obligation is warranted. In balancing the equities, the judge stated that she “wanted to review the financial information submitted so that [she] could excise irrelevant matters before demanding the parties exchange information,” as the Defendant had harassed the Plaintiff with over fifty filings and appeals since 2001. Therefore, the judge denied the Defendant’s Motion “at [that] time” to permit her review of the materials. The Defendant appealed. According to the Appellate Court, the disposition of a recusal Motion is “entrusted to the ‘sound discretion’ of the trial judge whose recusal is sought.” Panitch v. Panich, 339 N.J. Super. 63, 66 (App. Div. 2001). Recusal is appropriate “when there is any . . . reason which might preclude a fair and unbiased hearing and judgment, or which might reasonably lead . . . the parties to believe so.” R. 1:12-1(g). Further, “Bias cannot be inferred from adverse rulings against a party.” Strahan v. Strahan, 402 N.J. Super. 298, 318 (App. Div. 2008). The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion in the Family Court judge’s denial of the Defendant Motion for recusal. Next, the Appellate Court dismissed the Defendant’s appeal from the trial court’s denial of his request for the Plaintiff’s CIS because it is “well settled that a judgment, in order to be eligible for appeal as a final judgment, must be final as to all parties and all issues.” R. 2:2-3(a)(1). The Family Court judge’s decision was interlocutory until she reviewed the financial information. If you are seeking post-judgment modification of your divorce judgment, alimony award, or child support obligation it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modifications, divorce, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit the DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.