The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to address whether a judge should have backed away from a now 20-year-old case that one of his colleagues stood to profit from. The justices did say, however, that recusal motions must be filed as early as possible.
The ruling came in the case of Lomas v. Kravitz, which deals with a motion calling for Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas P. Rogers to recuse from a case in which one of his colleagues on the bench, Judge Thomas C. Branca, was entitled to receive a referral fee.
Branca previously represented the plaintiff in the case, contractor Roy Lomas, when Branca was still in private practice. Lomas had sued housing developer James Kravitz for payment nearly 20 years ago. When Branca was elected to the bench in 2001, he handed Lomas’ case to another firm—but he was still set to receive a 30 percent referral fee if Lomas was successful.
The Supreme Court heard argument in March, after an evenly split eight-judge Superior Court panel upheld a $1.69 million verdict in favor of Lomas. The four who argued to affirm the verdict said Kravitz’s recusal motion was not filed in time, on top of being “a baseless attack” on Rogers that was launched after Kravitz learned he was liable for not paying Lomas.
Avoiding the merits of the recusal request, Justice Max Baer wrote in the court’s majority opinion that Kravitz took too much time to ask Rogers to recuse.
“We need not decide the exact moment in which appellants were required to present the recusal issue to avoid waiver. However, it is obvious that October 15, 2007, was not ‘the earliest possible moment’ that appellants could have raised their objections regarding recusal, as all of the facts underlying the recusal issue were known to appellants after Judge Branca testified on September 6, 2007. Accordingly, we hold that Appellants failed to file the recusal motion in a timely manner and, therefore, waived the issue,” Baer said.