State v. Salazar

In State v. Salazar, 182 Ariz. 604, 898 P.2d 982 (App. 1995), Salazar's attorney began representing the trial judge's former secretary in a wrongful termination action against the trial judge in another court. Salazar moved to disqualify his trial judge based on an appearance of impropriety. Id. at 607, 898 P.2d at 985. A visiting judge denied the motion, and Salazar was ultimately convicted. Id. On appeal, the Court determined that while there was no showing of actual bias, there was an appearance of impropriety. Id. at 609, 898 P.2d at 987. The Court thus reversed Salazar's conviction. Id.In Salazar, after determining that the superior court erred in not disqualifying the trial judge, we noted that "whether a judgment should be vacated based on the failure to disqualify the judge depends on: (1) the risk of injustice to the parties; (2) the risk that denial of relief will result in injustice in other cases; (3) the risk of undermining public confidence in the judicial process." 182 Ariz. at 609, 898 P.2d at 987. In Salazar, the Court found that there was sufficient risk of injustice to Salazar arising from the broad range of evidentiary rulings made by the judge at trial, at least one of which was erroneous. The Court therefore reversed his conviction. There is no jury to make factual findings in a family court. Thus, a family court judge plays a larger role in entering a decree of dissolution than a criminal division judge plays in arriving at a verdict in criminal matters. The risk of injustice resulting from a judge's rulings is heightened when the judge is the finder of both fact and law and when the challenged ruling is not an isolated one. See, e.g. , Salazar, 182 Ariz. at 609, 898 P.2d at 987.