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JUDICIAL RECUSAL & CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS - DUPRE V. DUPRE

Dupre v. Dupre, [Ms. 2150632, Sept. 9, 2016] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2016). The Court of Civil Appeals affirms Jefferson County Circuit Judge Julie A. Palmer's order denying a motion to recuse from a petition for a rule nisi. The court holds § 12-24-3, Ala. Code 1975, effective without preclearance by the United States Department of Justice as required by § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 given the holding in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 186 L.Ed. 2d 651 (2013) invalidating § 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act so that the preclearance requirement in § 5 does not apply to § 12-24-3.

Section 12-24-3(a), Ala. Code 1975, provides:

"In any civil action, on motion of a party or on its own motion, a justice or judge shall recuse himself or herself from hearing a case if, as a result of a substantial campaign contribution or electioneering communication made to or on behalf of the justice or judge in the immediately preceding election by a party who has a case pending before that justice or judge, either of the following circumstances exist:

"(1) A reasonable person would perceive that the justice or judge's ability to carry out his or her judicial responsibilities with impartiality is impaired.

"(2) There is a serious, objective probability of actual bias by the justice or judge due to his or her acceptance of the campaign contribution."

Ms. *3-4. Invoking traditional rules of statutory construction (Ms. *4-5), the Court construes § 12-24-3's phrase "immediately preceding" to apply to substantial campaign contributions to the judge in the "immediately preceding" judicial election, i.e., "the last judicial election before the filing of the motion to recuse." Ms. *4-5.

The Court also notes § 12-24-3(b)'s rebuttable presumption requiring recusal when a judge or justice accepts from a party, or his or her attorney, contributions of 15% or more of the total campaign contributions collected during an election cycle while the party, or his or her attorney, has a case pending before that judge or justice. Ms. *6.

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