Unknown to the general public is the right, in Idaho, to disqualify one judge without stating a reason.  This can be done in a criminal or civil case.

During the pandemic, this right was suspended, as were many rights. Trials were shut down.  When trials were once again set on the calendar, somewhat bizarre rules were set in place to minimize the chance that a person sitting on a jury panel might cause or be the victim of a “super-spreader” event in which the entire panel would threaten to spread Covid-19 throughout the population.  

With the COVID threat now having passed, the Supreme Court of Idaho has gone back to allowing litigants to disqualify one judge on a case without stating a reason.  However, the judges around the state have decided they like having their respective caseloads unburdened with having to either take additional cases or find them repeatedly disqualified from cases with the litigant having to identify a specific reason.

In this issue, both the criminal defense bar and the civil defense bar find themselves opposing the judges who decide their cases. It is very unusual to find judges and lawyers who practice before them on opposite sides of an issue, but that is exactly what faces the Idaho legal system at this time.

This is no small matter and it greatly affects your right to a fair and unbiased trial.  If you are involved in a lawsuit or have been accused of a crime, your lawyer may have a good idea what side of an issue a particular judge favors.  The more experienced the lawyer, the more likely he is to know if the judge assigned to your case harbors a personal bias against the issues in your case.  

How do I feel about this issue?  All people are biased, and judges are people.  When I started practicing law, I believed that all judges would decide an issue in the same way.  40 years later, I do not believe that.  

There are a small number of judges whose biases can be the death knell of a case before it even starts. One judge in Idaho is well-known for being extremely harsh on sex offenders.  Another judge is well-known for refusing to grant continuances when needed.  There is one judge who routinely rules against plaintiffs in personal injury cases.

Limiting a litigant to one dismissal per case is appropriate, I believe. Taking that right away will deny justice in many cases.