As Bill Cosby’s latest trial gets underway, “the Cos” and his lawyers contend that the presiding judge should recuse himself because the judge’s wife is an advocate for sexual assault victims. Judge Steven O’Neill’s wife, Deborah O’Neill, is a social worker on a University of Pennsylvania special staff that advocates for students who are alleged victims of sexual assault. According to the motion for the judge to recuse, she has donated money to a victims advocacy group that plans an anti-Cosby rally outside the courthouse during Cosby’s trial.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Should the political activities, public statements or occupation of a spouse be considered a sufficient conflict of interest to mandate judge’s recusal?
Legally, it’s not really a question. Only conflicts of interest involving situations in which a spouse has a direct financial interest in a case a judge is deciding, or some other direct benefit, will mandate a recusal. This issue has been battled over many times, especially concerning Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginny, a conservative author and activist. Another case that conservatives made a fuss about was when a judge handling the appeal of California’s Proposition 8 was married to the head of the local ACLU chapter. Ideological views of spouses are not attributed to judges, but the appearance of impropriety is still real and a valid concern. The now-common condition of independent professionals being married to each other is relatively new, and in the interest of not forcing love and livelihood into a clash that would probably impede the professional advancement of women, we have decided to pretend that the threat of being forced to sleep in the garage, or being subjected to the silent treatment for a week, would never sway a judge’s rulings.
“We trust judges to make decisions based on the law, and not because their husbands or wives would like to see a particular result. We trust judges to be independent of the influence of good friends, of parents, of spouses, and decide on the law,” says Stephen Gillers, NYU’s legal ethics rock star. Sure we do, because we have decided that we have to.
The quiz question stands.