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Cotham v. Cotham

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 30, 2015

JAMES R. COTHAM
v.
JUDY P. COTHAM

Assigned March 25, 2015

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Decatur County No. 4007 Carma Dennis McGee, Chancellor

Douglas Thompson Bates, Centerville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Judy P. Cotham.

Stephen M. Milam, Lexington, Tennessee, for the appellee, James R. Cotham.

Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

OPINION

BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

Background

James R. Cotham, Plaintiff/Appellee, sued Judy P. Cotham, Defendant/Appellant, for divorce in Decatur County Chancery Court. Appellant‟s filings in this Court do not indicate when the lawsuit was filed. On February 23, 2015, Appellant filed a "Motion for This Court to Recuse Itself." In that motion, Appellant alleged that she "campaigned heavily" for the Decatur County Chancellor‟s (hereinafter "Chancellor") opponent in the recent election, presumably referring to the August 2014 election in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District. In support of her motion, Appellant submitted an affidavit asserting that, during the contested election, Appellant "was involved in supporting" the Chancellor‟s opponent. Appellant stated that she "publically met with" the Chancellor‟s opponent at fundraisers and "toured him around [Decatur] County to introduce him to potential voters." Appellant further stated that her support for the Chancellor‟s opponent was widely known, very public, and that she was very vocal in her support for the opponent.

Appeals under Rule 10B

Rule 10B of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules authorizes an aggrieved party to file "an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right" from an order denying a motion to recuse or to disqualify the trial court judge.[1] Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.01. The appeal is effected by filing a "petition for recusal appeal" with the appropriate appellate court. Id. at § 2.02. Under Rule 10B, the appellant must file, along with the petition, "copies of any order or opinion and any other parts of the record necessary for determination of the appeal." Id. at § 2.03. The appellate court may order the other parties to answer the appellant‟s petition and file any necessary documents, but it is also authorized to adjudicate the appeal summarily, without an answer from other parties. Id. at § 2.05. Having reviewed Appellant‟s petition and supporting documents, we have determined that an answer and additional briefing are unnecessary, and we have elected to act summarily on the appeal in accordance with Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.05. Oral argument is likewise unnecessary.

Analysis

The only issue before the Court in this appeal is whether the trial judge erred in denying Appellant‟s motion to recuse. See McKenzie v. McKenzie, No. M2014-00010-COA-T10B-CV, 2014 WL 575908, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2014) (no perm. app. filed). In accordance with Rule 10B, we review the trial court‟s recusal decision "upon a de novo standard of review." Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.06. The party seeking recusal bears the burden of proof, and "any alleged bias must arise from extrajudicial sources and not from events or observations during litigation of a case." McKenzie, 2014 WL 575908, at *3.

Appellant argued that the trial judge was required to recuse herself under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, Canon 2, Rule 2.11. That Rule provides, in pertinent part:

A. A Judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge‟s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not ...

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