Rotunda on Judicial Conflict of Interest

Judicial ethics expert Professor Ronald Rotunda told a Georgia newspaper that a judge should recuse himself from a trial in which he, the defendant, and the victim are all members of the same local country club.

Rotunda's comments were aimed at the upcoming bench trial of a real estate appraiser for felony forgery. Six of 11 local Superior Court judges have recused themselves from hearing the trial of Ashby Krouse, who also is the son-in-law of a former Georgia state senator. Judge J. Carlyle Overstreet is scheduled to hear the case later in May, despite criticism surrounding the issue of membership in the Augusta Country Club by the judge and the principals in the case.

"Somebody will lose in this, and people will make the claim that 'Oh, you did that for him or for the country club,' and we'd like to avoid that," Rotunda told the Augusta, Georgia, Metro Spirit. "They should bring in someone from out of the area," he said. "In cases where a whole bunch of judges recuse themselves, you just bring a judge in from outside, somebody who will say, 'This country club means nothing to me,' and just rules on the merits of the case."

Conflicted trial, Metro Spirit, May 7, 2008. By Murfee Faulk.

"A nationally recognized expert in judicial ethics says an upcoming bench trial in Richmond County raises red flags for a possible conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety.

"Ronald D. Rotunda, professor of law at George Mason University, told Metro Spirit that a judge 'should recuse himself' from a trial in which he, the defendant and victim are all members of the same local club.

"Those dynamics match the upcoming trial of Ashby Krouse, a local real estate appraiser whose bench trial for felony forgery is on Judge J. Carlyle Overstreet's docket for later this month. A precise date has not been set.

"Krouse, Overstreet and the alleged victim, William G. Hatcher, are all members of the Augusta Country Club.

"Six of 11 local Superior Court judges have recused themselves from hearing the Krouse trial, in which the defendant is the son-in-law of former state Sen. Don Cheeks.

"'I would not want to be a judge in the case where I was in the same club with the other parties,' said Rotunda. 'I would recuse myself.'

"Rotunda has written extensively on professional ethics. His work has been cited in numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He was ranked 17th in a 2000 University of Chicago study that ranked the influence and reputations of lawyers nationwide."

Read the article.