MACCLENNY, Fla. -- As the fight for custody of 4-year-old Miranda Wilkerson moves through the Baker County courtroom, there are allegations of bias against the judge.
Law school professor Rod Sullivan said fairness is always the goal. "Equity is an aspiration in every legal proceeding whether or not it is reached is in the eye of the beholder," said Sullivan.
PICTURES: At Home with Donald Coleman and Miranda
Sullivan teaches constitutional law at Florida Coastal School of Law and said every judge has an ethical obligation to be fair.
"Judges take this very seriously. I don't think there is any judge out there that wants to be portrayed as being partial or even wants the community to have whispers that the judge is being partial," he said.
Donald Coleman, a registered sex offender, was given custody of Miranda last month. He is considered her legal father, but is not her biological father.
Florida law states that Coleman is the child's legal father because he was married to Miranda's mom at the time of her birth. Miranda's mom was killed one month after Miranda was born.
Last week, Miranda's biological dad, James Wilkerson, filed a petition to establish his rights as the child's father. He and Ruth Manning, Miranda's grandmother, who appeared in court today on a contempt charge related to the case, have been fighting to return Miranda to Manning's home where Miranda lived most of her life.
Sullivan said if one party feels the judge is being unfair, that party can file a complaint, or motion with the presiding judge. "Perception (of unfair treatment) is not enough," he said.
Sullivan said it is up to the judge in the case to decide if he or she can be fair in the case, it is not up to a third party.
"There are certain things that are clear, if the judge is related by blood or marriage to one of the parties, then the judge has to recuse himself from the case," he said.
Even if one of the parties feel the judge is treating one side unfairly, the legal advice is don't say anything, he said.
Sullivan said judges, like everyone, want to protect their integrity. "When you question the judges partiality you are in effect challenging the judge and it is a very dangerous thing to do," he said. "It is the judge that makes the ultimate decision."
So what can you do if you're still not pleased with the final decision?
The parties can file an appeal with the district court of appeals and /or a complaint with the Judical Qualifications Commission. Sullivan said the foundation for the complaint would normally be 'abuse of discretion' and that he said is a very tough standard to meet.