Zimmerman Judge Discloses Potential Conflict

Circuit Court Judge Jessica Recksiedler, who has been assigned the case of George Zimmerman, held a quick status conference by telephone with the lawyers today to disclose her husband's law partner will be commenting on the case for CNN. The video of the hearing is here. (new link, old one removed by network.)

The judge hearing the George Zimmerman case today announced that her husband works for the law firm of Mark NeJame, who's been hired to act as a CNN analyst for this case.

Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler said she had an ethical obligation to disclose that and allow Zimmerman's attorney or the special prosecutor to ask her to step down.

(Added:) The news didn't get it quite right. He doesn't just "work for" the analyst's firm, he's a partner in the firm. The judge used the words "works with" not "works for."

Mark O'Mara says the issue "concerns him" and he may ask for another judge next week. A bond hearing has been set for April 20, one week from today. [More....]

The Judge should be oblivious to cable news coverage. If her husband's firm is commenting on the case, it makes it personal. I'm a little surprised she didn't step down on her own, since apparently, her husband has no intention of leaving the firm and the firm has no intention of not commenting for CNN on the case.

Florida's Judicial Canons of Ethics:

Canon 3 (E)(1)

(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where:

[c] the judge knows that he or she individually or as a fiduciary, or the judge's spouse, parent, or child wherever residing, or any other member of the judge's family residing in the judge's household has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding or has any other more than de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding;

(d) the judge or the judge's spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person:

(iii) is known by the judge to have a more than de minimus interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding;

Under this rule, a judge is disqualified whenever the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, regardless of whether any of the specific rules in Section 3E(1) apply.

Canon 5D(1)

In addition, a judge should discourage members of the judge's family from engaging in dealings that would reasonably appear to exploit the judge's judicial position. This rule is necessary to avoid creating an appearance of exploitation of office or favoritism and to minimize the potential for disqualification.

Canon 2

A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge's conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.

....The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances that a reasonable inquiry would disclose, a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality, and competence is impaired.

So the judge is in a position where her husband's boss will be publicly commenting on her professional judgment in a high-profile case in which the entire country is following all developments. Does that create an appearance of impropriety?

O'Mara has to consider the alternative pool of judges before making his decision on whether to request another judge. It's like picking a jury, when you are down to your last challenges. Before you excuse the next juror, you look to see who is left in the pool and weigh the risk that the one you really don't want will be called next. Sometimes you take the risk, other times you keep the juror you're not crazy about.

I also question the wisdom of CNN in hiring a commentator with this kind of connection to the judge. Will he fail to criticize the judge for a poor ruling or cast her in a better light because her husband is a partner in his firm? I'm not sure I would trust his analysis to be impartial or unslanted.

On a related note, it's good to know CNN is paying some of its commenting lawyers. Most appear for free. (Disclosure: I've been both, a paid and unpaid legal commentator.)

Update: It gets more complicated:

When Zimmerman and his family were looking for a lawyer, O'Mara told the judge, they talked to NeJame and even signed paperwork. NeJame, however, decided he'd rather be a case analyst for CNN, O'Mara said. NeJame then gave O'Mara's name and those of other attorneys to the family, and they chose O'Mara, he said.

So the CNN analyst/lawyer in the Judge's husband's law firm consulted with Zimmerman and his family, who would obviously have disclosed privileged details of Zimmerman's life history and actions. Client consultations with lawyers for the purpose of seeking representation are privileged, whether the lawyer is ultimately retained or not.

Judge Recksiedler had not yet been appointed to the case. But now that she has, there may be the appearance that her spouse's law firm has privileged information on Zimmerman and the case. Aside from the CNN issue, this could create an appearance of impropriety.

I doubt a law firm jumps into or rejects taking on such a high profile case without first discussing it. Here, the firm lawyer weighed the desirability of being a participant versus a paid analyst in the case. It's unlikely he would not have discussed this decision with his firm. There is at least the possibility that the Judge's husband was privy to the discussion among lawyers in his firm which may have included details from the privileged consultation with the Zimmermans. The Judge's husband, not knowing his wife was going to get the case, and not practicing criminal law, may have inadvertently shared the information with the Judge, who should not be privy to the information.

This is why ethical canons for lawyers and judges prohibit the "appearance of impropriety" without requiring actual impropriety took place.

Update: I just watched the hearing video. It was hard to hear, but it sounds like Zimmerman and his family signed papers with the CNN Analyst/lawyer acknowledging they knew he would be commenting on the case, and O'Mara is concerned they may continue to share information with him as the case progresses for the purposes of getting their views heard. O'Mara seems more concerned with whatever ongoing relationship may exist between his client's family and the lawyer/analyst than the information that was shared in the past. He says he's still looking into the nature of the ongoing relationship. The judge asked that he make a decision on whether to seek to recuse her as soon as possible and before they get into the bail hearing set for next Friday.

O'Mara sounded like he was torn over which way to proceed. He may feel some personal loyalty to CNN Analyst/lawyer NeJame, since it was NeJame who referred Zimmerman to him for representation. Yet he has to make a decision based on what's best for his client, even it results in challenging the Judge, whose husband works with NeJame.

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    I saw NeJame commenting on CNN (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Anne on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:47:43 PM EST
    the night Angela Corey gave her press conference, so the relationship existed before the judge was ever assigned to the case; since I don't usually watch CNN, though, I have no idea whether he was commenting on this case prior to the decision to charge Zimmerman.

    Either way, I do wonder why she didn't take herself out of the potential pool before the case was ever assigned.

    Do you think that if O'Mara decides to go with her that he thinks the other judges that could be assigned present more of a problem for his client's chances?

    According to various (none / 0) (#30)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:14:47 PM EST
    analyst types, that's exactly the issue.  There are apparently only something like 5 judges in the circuit (or whatever it's called), and if she goes, he may get one he thinks would be worse for his client's chances.

    I am not a lawyer (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Repack Rider on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:45:28 PM EST
    ...But this is a slam dunk conflict of interest.  The husband's boss is an idiot, and his employee sounds like one also.  

    You might think the obvious conflict would have occurred to one or the other of the married couple.  What DO these people talk about at dinner?

    Her husband is a partner (none / 0) (#10)
    by jbindc on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:46:52 PM EST
    Okay (none / 0) (#13)
    by sj on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:03:45 PM EST
    You just made me think of the apochryphal "family" dinner where every one is focused on their cell phones.

    There's probably a commercial like that, right?


    Well, you can watch my kids ... (none / 0) (#37)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:02:25 PM EST
    ... "interact" with their cousins whenever everyone gets together.

    When my own cousins and I were their age, our parents used to have to tell us to please keep the noise down.

    Now, we have to ask them to please talk to one another person to person, rather than just relentlessly exchange text messages with each other from across the living room or den.

    The upside of oall this "chatter" is that when they eventually decide to become lawyers, nobody will have to prompt one to document conversations with an electronic or paper trail, since they'll already be well used to it.


    She can't hear the case (5.00 / 5) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:03:08 PM EST
    She should not even wait for the parties to object.

    This is nuts.

    ask her to step down.

    He didn't because (5.00 / 2) (#33)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:18:26 PM EST
    he doesn't know who would replace her.  He's got to try to figure that out before he asks for a recusal.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire, y'know?

    Under FL state law, if she doesn't recuse herself, (none / 0) (#25)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:05:13 PM EST
    as we agree should, and if either party files a challenge, has that party any recourse as to the next judge assigned?  

    Article from 2009 re subject. (none / 0) (#38)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:42:29 PM EST
    Doesn't appear FL had a peremptory challenge procedure then.  Was considering changing.  Wonder what happened?  link

    More info. Senate report. (none / 0) (#39)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:50:42 PM EST
    O.K. Finally found the pertinent FL statutes: (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:08:17 PM EST

    Judge being challenged decides if challenge is valid.  No peremptory challenge of judge.  Once initial judge successfully challenged, different, more difficult standard re challenge of second judge assigned.  


    I'm not really seeing that, BTD. (none / 0) (#46)
    by Peter G on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:10:19 PM EST
    See my comment #44 below.  Could you spell out why you disagree?

    Nejame comments on every big local (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by ruffian on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:47:27 PM EST
    case around here. His partner's wife the judge must have to sit out a lot of cases. Too bad for her.

    Just to clear up the timeline (5.00 / 3) (#42)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 04:34:31 AM EST
    I know I said it doesn't matter when he got hired, but here's what he said Friday on CNN:

    NeJame explained that he had declined to take the Zimmerman case twice and referred it to O'Mara. During that time, NeJame took the CNN job and explained that "the universe put this case in my law partner's wife's lap." NeJame brought up the situation to O'Mara as well as Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Trayvon's family.

    Sounds like his past appearances on CNN weren't paid. And that he was up front with Zimmerman and family that he was in talks for the job, which is why he got waivers. He may have offered them his "ear" if they wanted to tell him things to get across to the public as a commentator -- there's nothing wrong with that, especially if he discloses they are his source, but it would be better if he first ran whatever they wanted him to say by O'Mara for a veto. When O'Mara said he expects Nejane is going to be a very active prominent commentator on the case for CNN, it generally means NeJane is going to be their "point man" on the case.

    I was already commenting on TV when I joined the McVeigh defense team. A lot of my fellow lawyers told me I'd be better off (more publicity) if I turned it down and commented on TV instead. But that's not who I am and I chose the case. Best decisions I could have made. So, each to his own, I can understand NeJame's view, just not the Judge's She needs to get off the case, in my view.

    This judge though, I think she needs to recuse herself. It just seems unseemly.

    Jeralyn, do you get the impression that, (none / 0) (#56)
    by oculus on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 09:18:59 PM EST
    if either party requests the assigned judge step aside, she will do so w/o a party needing to file a motion?  

    This case has enough drama without it seeming (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by Angel on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 08:14:59 AM EST
    the judge has a conflict.  Agree, she need to recuse herself.  

    The outcome of this trial (5.00 / 1) (#45)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 11:56:03 AM EST
    Needs its legitimacy protected and respected.  She needs to recuse herself.

    This really can't be said enough ... (4.67 / 3) (#19)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:37:33 PM EST
    ... to people who work in public service -- and more than a few persons in the private sector might take note of it, as well:

    The mere appearance of a potential conflict of interest can be as damaging as any actual and existing conflict, because both can compromise our political, financial and legal systems in equal fashion, by undermining the general public's confidence in the integrity of our institutions.

    That Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler apparently can't quite grasp that concept on her own, and thus recuse herself from the Zimmerman case voluntarily, really doesn't speak well regarding her own common sense.

    Indeed, one could argue plausibly that this woman can't see the forest for the trees from an ethical standpoint, by not understanding and / or refusing to acknowledge that her superficial compliance with the law's letter doesn't necessarily square with its actual spirit.

    I mean, why would she want to compel the prosecution and / or defense counsel -- either separately or even together -- to force her hand on the issue, by undertaking the formal steps necessary to seek her removal?

    To paraphrase the late Casey Stengel's famous quote about the inept play of his New York Mets, the State of Florida has shown me more ways for the concepts of justice and fair play to lose, than I even knew existed.


    Wow. (none / 0) (#1)
    by indy in sc on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:27:28 PM EST
    I have to agree that she should recuse herself rather than force the parties to ask her to step down.

    Did CNN hire her husband's firm because of the relationship?  This just seems shady all around.  Either the firm should have declined CNN's offer or the judge should step down.

    The appearance of impropriety here is too much to overcome.

    No (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:43:23 PM EST
    Nejame (it's not the firm that was hired, I don't think, but Mark Nejame personally) has been a commenter on CNN for a while now and his position as a paid consultant, unless I'm mistaken, predates the assignment of this judge.

    Nejame at least has been called on frequently in the last few weeks on the Zimmerman situation.  He recently revealed that Zimmerman (or people connected to him) had asked him to represent him, and he declined, he says, because he didn't want to get tangled up in such a time-consuming case at this particular time.  They called him again around the time the two other attorneys held their noisy press conference about having lost contact with Zimmerman.

    Nejame says he declined again, but suggested O'Mara and a couple of others, and Zimmerman chose O'Mara.

    Note-- Nejame says he got clearance from Zimmerman to explain all of the above on CNN.


    Thanks for that background - I mentioned (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Anne on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:50:48 PM EST
    in an earlier comment that I had seen him Wednesday night, but didn't know whether he had been commenting on the Zimmerman situation before that.

    Interesting connections there, too, with Nejame and Zimmerman.


    I'm familiar with Nejame only (none / 0) (#27)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:09:25 PM EST
    from TV, but he has seemed to me a rather sober and almost painfully ethical character, as his extended and very careful explanations of his interactions with the Zimmerman camp on CNN would demonstrate.

    That said, I obviously know nothing beyond what I've seen him do on TV and he may be very different in reality.

    My previous knowledge of him came when he was briefly representing somebody connected to the Casey Anthony case, I believe either her parents or her brother.  He withdrew from that case in the way a lawyer should, without explanation to the public, and without betraying the slightest hint of inside info or opinions when he subsequently starting showing up on Nancy Grace, etc.

    I actually don't think this is an area where CNN would mess around and try to sneak through ethical corners.  I may be wrong, but that's what I think.


    Thank you (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by indy in sc on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:58:31 PM EST
    for this additional information.  Makes me feel much better about CNN's role in this.  It sounds like the judge should have recused herself knowing that her husband's partner was going to be commenting on the case for CNN (or the partner should have declined to continue to comment on this case).

    I still don't think she should be letting the parties decide if she should continue on or not--she has enough information to decide for herself whether there is an actual or apparent conflict.


    I agree (5.00 / 2) (#29)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:12:39 PM EST
    She's very young, very new to the bench, and I suspect she's reluctant to let go of a super-high-profile case.

    I'm also reluctant to assume out of the box sleazy unethical behavior on the part of most of these people, including the judge, so I suspect she's unwilling to give it up because she hasn't, in fact, discussed it with her husband and/or he wasn't involved in any discussions with the lawfirm on Nejame's CNN/Zimmerman conundrum.

    I understand her husband is a personal injury claims attorney, so not necessarily involved in criminal defense issues, but what do I know.


    She's (none / 0) (#64)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 07:58:28 AM EST
    About 40, on the bench for a year and a half, but has been a lawyer since 1997.

    This is just so sad (none / 0) (#2)
    by NYShooter on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:37:15 PM EST
    because we are lead to believe that they, somehow, are blessed with superior "judge"ment.

    What on earth was she thinking?

    It's a small world, isn't it? (none / 0) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:37:56 PM EST
    But, it does seem that a less cozy relationship could be discovered, and maybe, a change of venue.

    When the Analyst was hired (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:04:05 PM EST
    is besides the point. The point is whether his continued paid analysis on the case poses an ethical problem for the judge.

    No one is accusing CNN of hiring him because of the relationship. The judge was just assigned the case yesterday.

    It is a HUGE problem (none / 0) (#8)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 02:32:24 PM EST

    The CNN relationship gives the judge a financial interest in favor of a long trial and against a dismissal at a SYG hearing.



    It serves no useful purpose ... (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:49:34 PM EST
    ... to overstate the problem to the point of hysteria, by calling it "HUGE." It's certainly an issue, but one with a straightforward and obvious path to a fair resolution.

    Oh, really not (none / 0) (#32)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:17:14 PM EST
    These TV analysts don't get paid "huge" sums of money, and even if it's the lawfirm that's been hired (which I doubt but don't know) and not Nejame personally, any share of Nejame's CNN earnings that ultimately dribbled down to the judge's family would be minuscule.

    You aren't, Jeralyn (none / 0) (#31)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:15:14 PM EST
    But at least one other person here is.

    Imputing the husband-lawyer's conflict (none / 0) (#44)
    by Peter G on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 11:45:28 AM EST
    to the wife-judge, who is not his law partner, is problematic.  Husband and wife are separate people.  She has no non-trivial financial interest in his commenting gig that might influence her judicial decisions.  I don't see how her ruling in the case for one side or the other would be, or even seem to be, better for him or for CNN.  The assumption that either of them would share professional secrets with the other (as "pillow-talk"?) is unfounded and mistaken, even a little insulting. I see no requirement that she recuse herself; if there were, she would just withdraw and not ask the parties.  That's why she disclosed the facts and put it to the parties to say whether they perceived any appearance of a conflict that would lead them to request her to recuse herself. If anything, it is CNN that should consider not using the husband as a commentator, since his ability to analyze and when appropriate criticize the judge's rulings would seem to be compromised.  

    2 reasons (5.00 / 0) (#52)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 05:42:11 PM EST
    (1) The appearance is awful.

    (2) The husband consulted with a party in the case.

    The conflict is obvious to me. Both in real terms but especially in the appearance.


    You've mixed up the facts. (5.00 / 1) (#55)
    by oculus on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 09:16:58 PM EST
    There's no husband of (none / 0) (#47)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:32:01 PM EST
    anybody on CNN here.  The husband of the judge is a partner of the guy on CNN.  IMO, it would be completely wrong for the husband of a judge to be a paid or unpaid TV commentator for a case she was presiding over.  But that's not what's happening here.

    The law partners' conflicts (none / 0) (#51)
    by Peter G on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:54:13 PM EST
    are imputed to one another.  That's all the same. I was simplifying the analysis.  Anyway, I agree it would be a violation of journalistic ethics for the husband of the judge (or someone standing in his shoes) to be a commentator. It doesn't follow that it is wrong for the judge to do her duty to sit on the cases to which she has been randomly assigned.  That's what I was trying to say.  CNN can get another commentator; there are plenty of competent lawyers available for that gig.

    But her husband (none / 0) (#53)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 05:43:19 PM EST
    is not dropping the gig.

    But the reality is the horse is out of the barn on the appearance issue.

    Look, what's the problem with another judge hearing the case?


    Her husband isn't the one with the gig; (5.00 / 1) (#54)
    by Anne on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 07:29:14 PM EST
    the judge's husband is a partner in the law firm whose name partner has the gig.  NeJame - the guy with the commentating gig - apparently is somewhat of a go-to guy for on-air legal analysis in the area, so it's not like this is a one-time, first-time thing.

    So as long as the judge's husband's partner (none / 0) (#57)
    by Peter G on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 09:45:26 PM EST
    is a go-to TV commentator, she (the judge) can't be assigned to any high-profile cases?  I just don't agree with that. I continue to think it's CNN's problem, not hers. I admit I may be missing something.  Most folks here say its a bad "appearance."  What is it that appears to be improper in what way, that is so obvious (even though I'm not seeing it)?  How would the judge be influenced to be biased or unfair (or appear to be), and to whom, by these circumstances?

    Financial gain to the law partnership (none / 0) (#58)
    by oculus on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 11:51:25 PM EST
    in which the judge's husband is a partner.  Is FL a community property state?  Also partner who CNN hired has communicated with Zimmerman in partner's capacity as an attorney considering representing Zimmerman in criminal case and apparently agreed to continue these communications, even though law partner didn't agree to represent Zimmerman.  "Appearance of impropriety"?

    With great respect, Peter (none / 0) (#59)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 08:44:40 AM EST
    Conflating the CNN commentator with the husband of the judge when they're two separate people, partners or not, doesn't simplify things, it contributes to the boatloads of misinformation and confusion of this case.

    And seems to me since the analyst was hired before the judge was assigned, it's not up to CNN to break its contract and ditch a very knowledgeable commentator in order to solve the problem for the judge.

    In any case, at least some of the conflict would seem to come from possible discussions at the lawfirm, and therefore possible "pillow talk" between the judge and the partner/husband about the possibility of the lawfirm representing Zimmerman, which occured before the judge was assigned (and I believe also before the commentator was actually hired by CNN, though he'd been called on for analysis as an unpaid analyst, but I'm not certain of that timeline).

    IOW, breaking the contract between CNN and Nejame wouldn't even solve the problem.


    I'm totally scratching my head about (5.00 / 1) (#60)
    by Anne on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 09:35:01 AM EST
    the potential for multiple conflicts associated with these commenting gigs and the firm's criminal defense practice.  Yes, you can get waivers from the conflicted parties, and you can create a "Chinese wall" to make sure that all those working on Partner A's representation do not have contact with or share information with Partner B.  But the potential for problems is still there; it's a matter of assessing the risk of going forward and deciding if it's worth it.

    Given the frequency with which NeJame comments on legal matters, I cannot imagine that his firm does not have significant and rather rigid procedures and protocols for handling things; at a minimum, their malpractice/loss prevention provider undoubtedly requires it.

    It would have been up to the judge's husband to inform NeJame and the other partners of the potential for his wife to be assigned to hear the case, and for NeJame to inform his partners of the contact with Zimmerman, but when one of the partners is married to a judge, it's always going to be a potential conflict, isn't it?

    What we don't know is the entirety of the law firm's internal actions - and we might not ever know them - but it would seem that the best solution would be for the judge to recuse herself regardless of whether she or any of the other lawyers involved believe she can conduct an impartial and objective trial.


    That's the way it (none / 0) (#61)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 01:02:41 PM EST
    looks to this layman, too.

    And you're right, it would seem that since one of the partners is married to a judge and the head of the firm is a regular presence on local TV, the firm must have some sort of wall or she wouldn't be able to preside over much of anything beyond traffic court.


    She could do civil lawsuits. (none / 0) (#62)
    by oculus on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 03:29:39 PM EST
    Just When You Think... (none / 0) (#15)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:12:04 PM EST
    ...it can't get any more ridiculous.

    He choose TV over a client, seems like he should have told GZ that before anything could have been discussed.  Or maybe they picked him because he was on TV, either way, none of this does GZ any favors.  Well it did take the light off him for a day or two, but legally no help, and financially it can only add more to the tab.

    And the judge... are we really to believe that a husband and wife in the legal profession aren't going to discuss the countries most watched trial at the dinner table ?  

    Not the same, but I can tell you a whole lot about the inter-workings of my GF's company, my friends' companies, certainly stuff I probably shouldn't know about, ditto for me.  It's what human beings do, and I can tell you this, I would never want to be in a position where I may have to evaluate an friends performance publicly, ditto for the significant others.  No way would I be able to remain impartial to a friend.

    It just seem unsavory.

    Oh, yes. (5.00 / 0) (#20)
    by Towanda on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:43:22 PM EST
    Spouse Towanda and I both are in many situations, in work or with family, that make for interesting conversations that never can go farther.  Politics, academic and otherwise, makes for strange bedfellows, as they saying goes.

    We both have had to recuse ourselves from votes by committees in our workplaces -- and the upside is that we have had to point out conflicts that have kept us off committees in the first place.  Yay! but there's always another committee, sigh.

    And there's always another case for this judge, who ought to have removed herself from the pool in the first place, I agree.  To now not recuse herself is, well, worthy of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  That is not a compliment.


    Assuming (none / 0) (#34)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:20:24 PM EST
    facts not in evidence.

    "He choose TV over a client, seems like he should have told GZ that before anything could have been discussed."


    From the NeJame Law (none / 0) (#16)
    by CoralGables on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:23:23 PM EST

    ...He appears regularly as a commentator or expert on numerous television, radio and print media. He has made appearances and been interviewed on CNN, The Today Show, CNN Headline News, The Nancy Grace Show, The Dr. Phil Show, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Geraldo Rivera, Studio B with Shepard Smith, Inside Edition, Greta van Susteren, Court TV, and on a variety of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox national and local news segments and outlets.

    Perhaps he likes the TV gig a little more than the actual legal profession.

    He's a partner (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by Zorba on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:29:59 PM EST
    in a very successful law firm.  He can afford to do whatever the heck he wants.   ;-)

    Probably part of the business plan (5.00 / 0) (#26)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:08:42 PM EST
    to attract clients.  

    If you look them up (none / 0) (#48)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:34:13 PM EST
    you'll see they have no need to attract clients.  The Nejame lawfirm is large, well-known in Florida and well respected.

    Can any of us ever (5.00 / 1) (#49)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:37:53 PM EST
    have too much of an income stream?

    With your update J, the whole thing (none / 0) (#17)
    by Anne on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 03:28:51 PM EST
    sounds way too incestuous...

    Maybe it's NeJame who shold give up the CNN gig.

    And I don't know how things work in NeJame's firm, but in ours, nothing gets approved as a new client/matter, and no one takes outside jobs, until all the conflicts are identified and cleared.

    Oh no, I don't think so (none / 0) (#22)
    by sj on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:03:00 PM EST
    Maybe it's NeJame who shold give up the CNN gig.

    Would YOU want to be represented by someone who was more interested in show biz than law biz?  I think he should give up the lawyering gig.

    Whoa (none / 0) (#50)
    by sj on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:52:31 PM EST
    Originally read it as the husband who had CNN gig.  This is different.  I can see why she's leaving up to the attorneys.

    A few months ago, I had to deal with a situation in which a board member -- a local filmmaker --for one of my west coast non-profit clients -- a community health center -- was accused by a neighboring hospital of a conflict of interest. It turns out that he had received indirect financial remuneration from a third party for work he did on a video project, which in turn led to an eventual direct ancillary benefit for the community health center.
    Given that California law explicitly stipulates that board members of not-for-profit organizations shall serve in that capacity without any financial compensation or quid pro quo expectation for said service, this appearance of a potential conflict provided sufficient cause for the State of California to immediately suspend public funding for the health center's key programs, until we could resolve the situation to the State's satisfaction.

    I had to fly to Sacramento and join the board president and executive director for two rather lengthy meetings with Dept. of Health officials and a lawyer from the State Attorney General's office, before we finally convinced them that there really was no conflict in this case, because said board member was clearly unaware of any subsequent ancillary benefit to be derived by the health center at the time he received payment from this third party.

    Your firm's got it right, and your internal process probably inoculates you all against a lot of otherwise unnecessary grief. The real key to avoiding conflicts of interest -- or their appearances thereof -- is to initially identify any and all potential problems and issues before they can bite you in the a$$, and not ex post facto.



    yep, sounds to me as if she should (none / 0) (#24)
    by cpinva on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:21:53 PM EST
    have recused herself, when she was first assigned the case, not waited until to disclose this information. based on that questionable judgment alone, mr. o'mara should give serious consideration to asking her to step aside.

    Have never heard that judges have the same (none / 0) (#28)
    by oculus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:12:11 PM EST
    systemsame system for checking for conflicts as law firms but who knows.  

    So, for that matter, should ... (none / 0) (#35)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:43:44 PM EST
    ... Special Counsel Angela Corey also seek the judge's recusal, for the simple reason that even the appearance of potential judicial impropriety, fairly or unfairly, might further offer sufficient grounds for the defense to appeal an adverse verdict and seek a re-trial, if it actually came to that.

    Hardly any point in my weighing in on this, (none / 0) (#41)
    by shoephone on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 10:41:17 PM EST
    except to agree with our blog hosts and every other commenter so far. It's stunning to me that the judge did not automatically recuse herself. I think there is more than just the "appearance" of conflict on this one. And the fact that Nejame will get paid to comment on the case makes her the judge's situation all the more concerning.

    Direct v. Indirect Conflicts (none / 0) (#63)
    by expy on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 08:58:19 PM EST
    I think that the Judge has followed proper procedure. There is definitely an appearance of a conflict or potential conflict, but it definitely does NOT rise to the level of a "direct" conflict.

    Here's some pertinent law:

    Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, 2.33(d)(2) defining grounds for disqualification:

    that the judge before whom the case is pending, or some person related to said judge by consanguinity or affinity within the third degree,
      is a party thereto or is interested in the result thereof
    , or that said judge is
      related to an attorney or counselor of record
    in the cause by consanguinity or affinity within the third degree, or that said judge is a material witness for or against one of the parties to the cause.

    Husband's law partner is t.v. commentator and had contact with defendant's family isn't enough to fit the above definition.

    See also 28 USC § 455.

    I would be disturbed if the judge denied a motion to recuse brought by either counsel based on this disclosure, but I don't think she should simply have recused herself without giving counsel a chance to weigh in.  

    Keep in mind that parties in a case also have an interest in hanging on to good judicial assignments, and that interest can be hampered when the idea of "appearance of impropriety" is taken too far. The judge isn't going to recuse herself from every single case in the future where some member of the NaJame law firm has had some contact or involvement.

    I agree that the prospect of NaJame offering commentary on a case being handled by his law partner's wife seems somewhat unsavory..... but my point is simply that it is not the level of legal "conflict" that would require recusal.