Successor Judge Upheld In Granting Plaintiff’s Motion For New Trial After Original Trial Judge Disqualified.
Winn-Dixie Stores v. Winters, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D939 (Fla. 3rd DCA April 10, 2019):
Throughout a trial in a slip and fall case, the trial judge cautioned the parties and the jury that they were not to assume that any of his trial decisions indicated any bias or opinion as to the merits of the case. The jury found the defendant was not negligent (NOTE: not sure how the plaintiff complied with the 10-day rule).
The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to disqualify the trial judge, alleging that his comments and behavior demonstrated a prejudice against her attorneys, and deprived her of a fair trial. The trial judge appropriately recused himself from the case and a successor judge was assigned. The successor judge entered final judgment in favor of the defendant Winn-Dixie pursuant to the jury verdict. He subsequently conducted a hearing on the plaintiff’s motion for new trial and granted it.
The court explained that it still reviews a successor judge’s grant of a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. Winn-Dixie argued that when a successor judge is evaluating a motion for new trial the standard of review is significantly narrowed, because the trial judge is reviewing the cold record and not from his or her recollection of presiding over the trial.
The court found that Winn-Dixie’s point was well-taken but ultimately unavailing, because even applying the narrowed abuse of discretion standard, the court said it would affirm the successor judge’s order.
When the appellate court determines that reasonable people could differ as to the propriety of the trial court’s action, there can be no finding of an abuse of discretion. Because there was none here, the court affirmed the order.