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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Excuse Notes

January 4, 2021

New York law now requires judges to give some justification for their recusal requests. Try these on for size.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 right with a creative challenge: come up with legitimate-sounding excuses for bailing on a trial.

I bring this up because the state of New York has just enacted a law requiring judges to provide written reasons for recusing themselves from cases. The purpose of the bill is “to increase the transparency of judicial recusals.”


I have no idea. After all, if a judge bails on a case, it’s no-harm, no-foul. The judge no longer has an effect of the matter. If anything, you need the transparency for a judge who refuses to opt out. That’s the judge who could muck things up.

So this seems very mysterious to me. The explanation provided in the bill’s “justification” is that, “without written order specifically justifying the recusal, it is difficult to tell whether the disqualification was really necessary.”

Yeah, but who cares as long as the state hasn’t run out of judges? This is a head-scratcher.

The next sentence in the “justification” refers to a dispute between the city of Hempstead and the former operator of a golf course. Three judges disqualified themselves from hearing the case, and the state senator who introduced the new law is from the district that includes Hempstead. Apparently, he really wanted to know what was going on with those judges so he got the rest of the Legislature to go along with the new law.

What I really wanted to know after hearing about this was whether you had to have a good excuse for recusal. Or even a real excuse for recusal. Surely this new law had to have some requirements for this written record. Surely a judge couldn’t weasel out of this new requirement.

Surely, I was wrong.

You don’t have to have a good reason and there’s a giant loophole: “No judge shall be required to provide a reason for such recusal when the reason may result in embarrassment, or is of a personal nature, affecting the judge or a person related to the judge within the sixth degree by consanguinity or affinity.”

So no one will have to come up with a written excuse.

Besides, who’s going to challenge a judicial excuse or non-excuse? Does anyone think it’s a good idea to force a judge to hear your case? Is that judge going to think kindly of you during the trial?

There’s not even a penalty for not writing an excuse note. At the very least, a visit to the principal’s office should have been included in the law.

Silly and pointless as this is, I love a creative challenge. As a public service, come up with excuses that New York judges can use to comply with this new law. I have a few.

Conflict of disinterest:This case is too damn boring.

The dog ate my briefs: I need to take him to the vet.

I’m hungry: You don’t want a hangry judge.

I will now attempt to answer the question that’s been nagging at you for the last couple of minutes: what’s the difference between consanguinity and affinity?

Consanguinity is descent from the same ancestor. Affinity is a relationship by marriage. Both involve Kevin Bacon.

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