In Re: Messiah S.
The Appellate Court explained, in the 1988 case of Barca v. Barca, that a trial judge "has a duty to maintain a calm demeanor, the decorum of the courtroom and avoid any action which might suggest partiality." Stacey S., with substance abuse and mental health issues, appealed from the judgments of the trial court terminating her parental rights to four minor children under C.G.S. §17a-112(j)(3)(B)(i) for failure to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation. She claimed, inter alia, that the court abused its discretion by failing to recuse itself. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The panel majority could not conclude that the court abused its discretion by denying the respondent's motion to recuse or that she was denied a fair trial. The motion was timely made in response to the court's sometimes heavy-handed manner and sharp rebukes of counsel during trial. While the court exhibited irritation, frustration and impatience with all counsel and the pace of trial, and some statements were clearly intemperate, they did not reflect judicial bias. The majority could not conclude that the court harbored a bias against any party or particular counsel. The respondent also claimed that the court failed to undertake an independent analysis of the law and facts of the case. The respondent claimed that for its analysis of the best interests of the children, the court copied "almost word-for-word" the analysis used in prior unrelated and factually distinct cases. The Appellate Court disagreed that the manner in which the court set forth its conclusions affected the outcome. Similarity in certain language reflected, regrettably, the unfortunate consequences resulting from the failure to rehabilitate due to addiction. The court's conclusions were supported by its factual findings. The respondent did not challenge those findings as clearly erroneous or challenge the finding that she failed to rehabilitate. The court may have taken a shortcut by adopting the language used in previous termination of parental rights cases, but that did not lead to the conclusion that it abdicated its fact finding role. Justice Peters concurred separately persuaded that the motion for recusal was improperly denied, although not a structural error and the petitioner provided ample evidence to sustain her burden of proof that the respondent's parental rights should be terminated.