J. WILLIAM GAGNE, JR. v. ENRICO VACCARO, SC 18937
Judicial District of New Haven
Judges; Recusal; Whether Trial Court Judge Violated General Statutes § 51-183c by Refusing to Recuse Himself from Hearing Motion for Attorney’s Fees on Remand After Appellate Court Reversed Judge's Original Decision on that Motion. The plaintiff brought this action seeking to foreclose a judgment lien on real property owned by the defendant. The trial court rendered a judgment of strict foreclosure, which was affirmed on appeal, and the plaintiff filed a motion for appellate attorney's fees incurred in responding to the appeal from the foreclosure judgment. The trial court granted the motion for attorney's fees. On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed the attorney's fees award on the ground that the trial court improperly failed to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the fees were reasonable and remanded the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on the reasonableness of those fees. On remand, the defendant filed a motion to disqualify the trial judge who originally heard the motion for attorney’s fees. The defendant claimed that because the Appellate Court had reversed that judge’s earlier decision on fees, the judge was required by General Statutes § 51-183c to recuse himself from the case on remand. Section 51-183c provides that "[n]o judge of any court who tried a case without a jury in which a new trial is granted, or in which the judgment is reversed by the Supreme Court, may again try the case. . . ." The plaintiff argued that the statute applies only to trials, and not to other proceedings like the present one involving a hearing originating on the trial court’s short calendar. The trial judge denied the motion to disqualify and, following a hearing, again awarded the plaintiff his requested attorney's fees. The defendant appealed, claiming that the trial judge improperly refused to recuse himself from the case on remand in violation of the statute. The Appellate Court agreed, finding that the language of § 51-183c clearly and unambiguously prohibits a judge who tries a case that is thereafter reversed from trying the case on remand and that our limited case law on the issue supports the application of the statute in the present case. The Appellate Court accordingly concluded that the trial judge here improperly denied the defendant's motion to disqualify and failed to recuse himself from hearing the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees on remand. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment and remanded for a new hearing before a different judge. Upon the grant of certification to appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that General Statutes § 51-183c required the judge to recuse himself from presiding over the hearing on the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees.