Jonathan Mann of Law Offices of Robin Bresky Obtains Reversal in Fifth District Court of Appeal of Final Judgment Modifying Timesharing Entered After Judge Disqualified Himself

Jonathan Mann of Law Offices of Robin Bresky Obtains Reversal in Fifth District Court of Appeal of Final Judgment Modifying Timesharing Entered After Judge Disqualified Himself

Parnell v. Parnell, 5D12-785

Jonathan Mann of the Law Offices of Robin Bresky recently obtained reversal, in the Fifth District Court of Appeal, of a final judgment of modification of timesharing of a minor child. The parties’ son was two years old in 2008 at the time of the parties’ divorce. Two years after the divorce, the father sought to modify the timesharing schedule regarding the son. The trial court held a hearing on the father’s petition and at the end of the hearing made an oral ruling granting the modification.

However, the trial judge later disqualified himself from the case, and all cases involving the mother’s trial attorneys, shortly after the hearing due to a motion by the mother’s trial attorneys alleging fears they would not receive fair treatment. The parties then disagreed over the details of the final written judgment granting modification. The mother objected to the father’s proposed final judgment. The trial court rendered a written final judgment two months later granting the father’s petition for modification, despite the judge having disqualified himself.

On appeal to the Fifth DCA, Mann argued on behalf of the mother that the trial court’s final judgment was void because the trial judge rendered the written final judgment after disqualifying himself. Mann acknowledged the existence of the “ministerial act” exception that allows a disqualified trial judge to reduce a prior oral ruling to writing. However, the exception does not apply where the judge exercises any further discretion prior to rendering the written order. Mann argued that the exception was inapplicable in this case because the trial court had used further discretion regarding the parties’ disagreement over the proposed final judgment before rendering the written final judgment.

The Fifth DCA agreed that the ministerial act exception to the disqualification rule did not apply in this case. The Fifth DCA issued a written per curiam opinion reversing the final judgment of modification. This beneficial result in the appellate court undid the final judgment that was detrimental to our client.