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Right to Change of Judge in Missouri

In Missouri, the right to disqualify a judge is liberally construed. State ex rel. Walters v. Schaeperkoetter, 22 S.W.3d 740, 742 (Mo. Ct. App. 2000). Under Missouri’s civil rules, a litigant has a “virtually unfettered right to disqualify a judge without cause on one occasion.” Id. Accordingly, the presentation of a timely application for change of judge under Rule 51.05 requires a prompt change of judge. Id.

How does it work? Rule 51.05(b) provides that the application must be filed within 60 days from service of process or 30 days from the designation of the trial judge, whichever time is longer. Further, if the designation of the trial judge occurs less than thirty days before trial, the application must be filed prior to any appearance before the trial judge. A “trial” pursuant to Rule 51.05(b) means a full trial on the merits — not merely an evidentiary hearing. State ex rel. Cohen v. Riley, 994 S.W.2d 546, 548 (Mo. 1999).  

An application for change of judge may be made by the following classes of parties: (1) plaintiffs, (2) defendants, (3) third-party plaintiffs, (4) third-party defendants or (5) intervenors. Every class of parties is entitled to one change of judge. See Rule 51.05(d). 

Be further aware that there are independent ways to obtain a change of judge. For instance, there are circumstances in which a Judge’s disqualification may be compelled when his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned and when a reasonable person would have factual grounds to doubt the impartiality of the Court. See Grant v. State, 700 S.W.2d 170, 171 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985).