gavel

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a Family Part judge did not abuse her discretion when she refused to recuse from a matrimonial case based on one party’s claims of bias and hostility.

The two-judge Appellate Division panel in an unpublished decision said Union County Superior Court Judge Lisa Chrystal acted properly in denying the recusal motion, which was filed by an ex-wife in a contentious post-divorce child custody matter.

“Based on our review of the record, we find no evidence of bias, or the appearance of bias, in the judge’s decisions,” and “nothing inappropriate in the judge’s measured response to the attorney’s filing a recusal motion on the morning of the first hearing day,” said Judges William Nugent and Susan Reisner.

“We find no evidence that the judge was hostile to plaintiff, biased or unfair,” the panel said. “To the contrary, the judge appeared patient and focused in her attempts to handle a zealous attorney and a pro se defendant, both of whom persisted in interrupting each other and interrupting the judge.”

The panel added, “The judge also patiently sorted through the parties’ voluminous discovery requests and their motions and cross-motions for interim relief.”

The case involved a divorced couple, Rebecca Sensor and Christopher Sensor, according to the Oct. 29 opinion.

The two were married in May 2013 and had a son a year later. The couple separated in August 2014, and Rebecca Sensor filed for divorce a month later, according to the court.

The Sensors signed a matrimonial settlement agreement in January 2016, agreeing to split parenting time with their son evenly. Rebecca Sensor would spend her parenting time in Maryland, while Christopher would spend his in New Jersey, the court said.

In April 2016, Rebecca Sensor moved to override the MSA, saying Christopher Sensor remarried shortly after the divorce and had committed fraud for allegedly cohabitating with his eventual wife in Pennsylvania during the course of the MSA negotiations.

Chrystal denied that motion.

Rebecca Sensor then filed the recusal motion, claiming Chrystal was “impatient” with her attorney, Elizabeth Vinhal, and “expressed hostility toward plaintiff.”

Chrystal denied that motion as well, and Rebecca Sensor appealed, but to no avail.

“We understand that a litigant may regard an adverse ruling as evidence of judicial bias, but recusal is not required unless that view is ‘objectively reasonable,’” the Appellate Division panel said, quoting the state Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling in State v. Marshall.

“We find nothing inappropriate,” the panel said. “In short, we find no factual basis to support plaintiff’s … arguments, and we find no abuse of discretion in the judge’s decision to deny the recusal motion.”

Vinhal, of the law office of Brian Schwartz in Summit,said only that  she was disappointed in the ruling. Christopher Sensor did not participate in the appeal, and efforts to contact him were unsuccessful.