Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 28, 2015

CT Appeals Court Finds that Judge Did Not Err in Failing to Recuse Himself in Defamation Case over Alleged Conflicts Developers

The self-represented plaintiff, an affordable housing developer and a resident of Darien, Margaret Stefanoni, appealed from the judgment of the trial court denying her request for judicial recusal. In August, 2010, her son registered for the highest division in the defendant’s fall program, and the defendant subsequently reassigned her son to an intermediate division comprised of players at his grade level. On September 16, 2010, the Darien Times published an article on an investigation by the Department of Justice into Darien’s zoning and land use practices. It also noted that the plaintiff and her husband accused the town of retaliation for their involvement in the town’s affordable housing development. In response, the defendant’s board of directors sent a letter to the editor of the Darien Times, published on September 23, 2010, which stated that the plaintiff’s allegations were “demonstrably false” and a “half-baked conspiracy theory.” The plaintiff brought a defamation claim, and early in that testimony the plaintiff described a parcel of land owned by “a longtime Darien Little League board member who was not a board member.” The land owner happened to be a friend and former co-worker of the judge in a prior law firm; however, the judge declined to recuse himself, finding that this interest did not have a bearing on the case.  

Here, when land owner’s name first was raised in this litigation during the plaintiff’s testimony at trial, the judge immediately halted the proceeding to disclose his relationship with him, thereby alerting the parties to a potential recusal issue. Furthermore, even after declining to recuse himself, the judge nevertheless provided the plaintiff some latitude with respect to the land owner’s alleged involvement in the case by permitting her to introduce what he considered to be non-relevant evidence. Moreover, the potential conflict was neither a witness, party, or had any involvement with the defamation at issue. Because a reasonable person knowing all the facts would not conclude that the judge’s relationship with the land owner compromised his impartiality, the judge was not required to disqualify himself. 

Stefani v Darien Little League, Inc., 2015 WL 5797563 (CT App. 10/13/2015)

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