The Florida Supreme Court recently announced amendments to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration. In Re: Amends. to the Fla. R. Jud. Admin. - 2020 Regular-Cycle Report, SC20-165 (Fla. Jan. 21, 2021). Among these amendments are several changes to Rule 2.330, governing disqualification of trial judges.
The new language explains that Rule 2.330 applies only to judges sitting as the sole judicial officer in a trial or appellate proceeding—that is, it may not be used to seek disqualification of justices, appellate-level judges, or county and circuit judges on a multi-judge appellate panel.
Next, two additions heighten the requirements for what must be contained in a legally sufficient motion to disqualify. First, when identifying the grounds for the motion—for which the rules provide a non-exhaustive list of potential grounds—the movant must “set forth all specific and material facts upon which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Second, disqualification motions must now “identify the precise date when the facts constituting the grounds for the motion were discovered.”
Because the date of discovery is critical to the timeliness of the motion, it is also significant to note the Court adopted more generous time limitations. The deadline for filing a disqualification motion is increased from 10 days to 20 days after discovery of the facts giving rise to the motion, although it still must be filed “within a reasonable time” of such discovery. Under the amended rule, the time for filing the motion runs from discovery of the supporting facts by the party or the party’s attorney, whichever is earlier.
In addition, parties now have thirty days, instead of twenty, from the date a disqualification motion is granted, to file a motion for the successor judge to reconsider prior rulings of the disqualified judge.
Also of interest is new language clarifying that a judge’s determination of legal sufficiency “does not constitute an acknowledgment that the allegations are true.” This is consistent with the requirement that a judge evaluating a motion to disqualify may not pass on the truth of the allegations when determining the motion’s legal sufficiency.
A final significant addition to note is a specific prohibition against parties creating grounds for disqualification by adding or substituting counsel—under this new provision, a party represented by newly appearing counsel may not file a motion for disqualification based on the new attorney’s involvement in the case. The provision does not, however, limit motions to disqualify successor judges who were not presiding at the time of the new attorney’s first appearance in the case.
These amendments will take effect on March 1, 2021, at 12:01 a.m.
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