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Legal Memorandum: Judge Bias and New Trial

Issue: In the Eighth Circuit, is a new trial appropriate for judge bias when the judge, in a bench trial, proposes a settlement unfavorable to one party before trial, and later enters a decision identical to his proposed settlement?

Area of Law: Ethics & Professional Responsibility, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: New trial; Judge bias; Impression of prejudgment and bias
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 827 F. Supp. 1444; 560 F.2d 319; 526 F.2d 77
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 06/01/2005

The following authorities are instructive:

  • United States v. Pfizer, Inc., 560 F.2d 319 (8th Cir. 1977) (“[A] presiding judge at a jury trial, in making settlement suggestions and comments, does no more than give the parties his educated guess as to what the jury might do.  But at a bench trial, the trial judge who expresses his views of the merits and damages before completion of the case may well leave an impression of prejudgment and bias.”)
  • First Wisconsin Nat’l Bank of Rice Lake v. Klapmeier, 526 F.2d 77 (8th Cir. 1975) (Although a new trial was granted on other grounds, the court noted in dicta “that where the judge sits as trier of fact, the judge should avoid recommending an actual settlement figure before or during the trial.”)
  • Gardiner v. A.H. Robins Co., 747 F.2d 1180 (8th Cir. 1984) (“A finding of bias . . . is not precluded merely because the judge’s remarks were made in a judicial context.”  “A trial judge’s comments adverse to a party before a trial commences can easily prejudice the minds of jurors and other judges.”)
  • United States v. Larson, 110 F.3d 620 (8th Cir. 1997) (Judicial comments at a status conference that were critical of a defendant’s plea arrangement do not arise to “such a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that fair judgment is impossible.”).
  • United States v. Conservation […]

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