from the Iowa District Court for Lee (South) County, Michael
J. Schilling, Judge.
plaintiff appeals the district court judge's denial of a
motion for recusal.
R. Dial of Law Office of Curtis Dial, Keokuk, for appellant.
E. Ort of Bell, Ort & Liechty, New London, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
question presented in this appeal is whether the district
court judge abused his discretion in failing to recuse or
disqualify himself from presiding over a civil jury trial. In
determining whether recusal is necessary in any particular
case, "the burden of showing grounds for recusal is on
the party seeking recusal." State v. Haskins,
573 N.W.2d 39, 44 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997). "This burden is
substantial[, ] and we will not overturn the trial
judge's decision absent an abuse of discretion."
Id. To show an abuse of discretion, a party must
demonstrate the judge exercised his discretion "on
grounds or for reasons clearly untenable or to an extent
clearly unreasonable." In re Estate of Olson,
479 N.W.2d 610, 613 (Iowa Ct. App.1991) (quoting State v.
Blackwell, 238 N.W.2d 131, 138 (Iowa 1976)).
record reflects Diana Verdught filed this suit against Lee
County, Iowa, in September 2015. In her petition, she
asserted the following claims against the county: (1)
"wrongful discharge from employment/retaliatory
discharge by constructive discharge;" (2)
"violation of whistle blower statute;" (3)
retaliatory hostile work environment; and (4) hostile work
environment based on her sex. The matter came on for trial in
August 2017. At the time of trial, the district court judge
disclosed to the parties information that might be relevant
to a motion for disqualification.
I would like to begin with, Iowa Rule 51:2.11 and 5 says
that, quote, a judge should disclose on the record
information that the judge believes the parties or their
lawyers might reasonably consider relevant to a possible
motion for disqualification, even if the judge believes there
is no basis for disqualification.
So based upon that comment, I want to make it clear for the
record a couple things.
Number one, my wife works for Lee County, Iowa, in the Public
Second, I know-I know Mr. Buckley [a supervisor in
plaintiff's department], and I've met him a time or
two in connection with my wife's employment. I have no
social relationship with Mr. Buckley, past or present,
neither does my wife, other than the fact that they may have
had contact with each other in connection with their
employment with Lee County.
Next, I do know, have met, the members of the Lee County
Board of Supervisors. I've met them in my capacity as a
judge because I've sworn in the sheriff and deputy
sheriffs for Lee County, Iowa, on three or four occasions.
I've also sworn in members of the Board of Supervisors. I
have no ongoing past or present social relationship with any
members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, and, of
course, in my capacity as a judge, I know other members of
the-or in employment with Lee County, including the Lee
County attorney, the assistant Lee County attorney-attorneys,
I should say. I also know Denise Fraise, who has-I think she
might be the auditor. I've had dealings with her both in
my capacity as a judge, and she's the one that calls me
to swear in Lee County officials when I'm asked to do
that. I've also met her at the Lee County office building
in Fort Madison when the election results for the bond
referendum for the public health building were announced.
I have no past or present social relationship with any of the
individuals that I've mentioned, other than ...