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Pazuniak Law Office, LLC v. PI-Net International, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

February 17, 2017

PAZUNIAK LAW OFFICE, LLC and GEORGE PUZUNIAK, Plaintiffs,
v.
PI-NET INTERNATIONAL, INC. and LAKSHMI ARUNACHALAM, Defendants. LAKSHMI ARUNACHALAM, Counterclaim Plaintiff and Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
PAZUNIAK LAW OFFICE LLC and GEORGE PAZUNIAK, Counterclaim Defendants, and O'KELLY AND ERNST, LLC Third-Party Defendant.

          Submitted: February 6, 2017

         Upon Defendant and Counter Plaintiff Lakshmi-Arunachalam, Ph.D's Application for Certification for Interlocutory Appeal under Rule 42 of this Court's Order of January 24, 2017 Denying Me Access to Justice and Motion to Recuse Judge Davis DENIED as to Motion to Recuse Judge Davis

          Lakshmi Arunachalam, Ph.D, Menlo Park, California, Defendant Pro Se.

          George Pazuniak, Esquire, Pazuniak Law Office LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Plaintiffs Pazuniak Law Office, LLC and George Pazuniak.

          Eric M. Davis, Judge.

         Introduction

         This is a civil action brought by Plaintiffs Pazuniak Law Office, LLC and George Pazuniak (collectively, "Pazuniak Law"). Pazuniak Law seeks declaratory relief as to certain funds held by Puzuniak Law. In addition, Pazuniak Law alleges that Defendants Pi-Net International, Inc. ("Pi-Net") and Lakshmi Arunachalam, Ph.D., are liable to Pazuniak Law on claims of common law libel and tortuous interference with prospective business opportunities. Dr. Arunachalam has filed an answer to Pazuniak Law's complaint and asserted counterclaims and third-party claims.

         On or about February 6, 2017, Dr. Arunachalam filed her Defendant and Counter Plaintiff Lakshmi-Arunachalam, Ph.D's Application for Certification for Interlocutory Appeal under Rule 42 of this Court's Order of January 24, 2017 Denying Me Access to Justice and Motion to Recuse Judge Davis. This Opinion addresses Dr. Arunachalam's Motion to Recuse Judge Davis (the "Motion to Recuse"). Through the Motion to Recuse, Dr. Arunachalam seeks to have this Judge recused from this civil action, arguing that this Judge's actions in this civil action create an appearance of impropriety by "hindering" Dr. Arunachalam's access to justice.

         On or about February 10, 2017, Pazuniak Law submitted their Opposition to Defendant Arunachalam's "Application for Certification for Interlocutory Appeal under Rule 42 of this Court's Order of January 24, 2017 Denying Me Access to Justice and Motion to Recuse Judge Davis" (the "Recusal Response"). As to the Motion to Recuse, Pazuniak Law argues that no facts support recusal. In addition, Pazuniak Law contends that the Court's actions are reasonable, measured, show faithfulness to the judicial process and do not demonstrate bias.

         This is Dr. Arunachalam's second motion to have this Judge recuse himself from this civil action. On or about August 27, 2015, Dr. Arunachalam filed the Pro Se Defendant Arunachalam's Motion to Recuse Judge Davis (the "First Motion to Recuse"). Pazuniak Law opposed the First Motion to Recuse. The Court denied the First Motion to Recuse in an Opinion dated December 11, 2015 (the "Recusal Opinion").

         After reviewing the Motion to Recuse, the Recusal Response, and determining that no hearing is necessary on the Motion to Recuse, the Motion to Recuse is, for the reasons set forth below, DENIED.

         Discussion

         Judicial impartiality is a "fundamental principle of the administration of justice."[1] It is well settled under Delaware law that a judicial officer must recuse himself if "there is a reasonable basis to question his impartiality."[2] This includes situations in which the judge has personal bias or prejudice concerning one of the parties or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the case.[3] Further, pursuant to Rule 2.11(A) and (A)(4)(a) of the Delaware Judges' Code of Judicial Conduct (2008), a judge has a direct responsibility to avoid participation in proceedings whenever his impartiality might be reasonably questioned, including the instance where the judge (i) served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, (ii) was a lawyer in a firm at a time when another lawyer in the firm served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or (iii) was associated in the practice of law within the preceding year with a law firm or lawyer acting as counsel in the proceeding.[4]

         Thus, when faced with a potential conflict, the Court-here, the particular judge-is required to engage in a two part analysis.[5] First, the judge must subjectively determine if he can hear the case free of bias.[6] Second, even if the judge is satisfied and finds that there is no actual bias, there may be situations where, absent actual bias, the appearance of bias may cause doubt as to the judge's impartiality.[7] When this occurs, the judge must then objectively determine whether there is an appearance of bias sufficient to cast doubt on his impartiality.[8] If a judge's decisions or demeanor would cause an objective, reasonable, observer viewing the circumstances to conclude that a fair or impartial hearing is unlikely, then recusal is appropriate.[9] In other words, the question to be answered is whether an objective observer would entertain reasonable questions about the judge's impartiality, thus warranting recusal.[10] The totality of the circumstances must be considered to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to doubt the judge's impartiality.[11] ...


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