A North Carolina federal trial judge’s sharp commentary about dogfighting, delivered at the time he sentenced five defendants, was “injudicious” and “indecorous” but did not rise to the level requiring the court to step aside for alleged impartiality, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Thursday.

The appellate court’s ruling in United States v. Richardson, upholding prison terms tied to a dogfighting investigation, offered to lawyers and the judiciary more broadly an extended analysis of the high bar for recusal.