In Sebastian v. Bliss Builders, Inc., (No. 09-18-00223-CV) the Sebastians appealed the trial court’s order vacating their arbitration award against Bliss Builders arising out of a residential construction contract. The underlying matter was arbitrated by a retired judge.
Bliss Builders sought to vacate the arbitration award alleging that Stovall failed to disclose: (a) a campaign contribution she made to one of the attorneys representing the Sebastians (who was running for a state court judgeship); (b) her Facebook friendship with one of attorneys representing the Sebastians; and (c) the fact that Stovall purchased some goods from the Sebastians’ business over 15 years ago. Bliss complained that the non-disclosure of these facts, standing alone, required vacatur of Judge Stovall’s award. The trial court agreed that the non-disclosures were problematic as they might create an impression of possible bias and vacated Judge Stovall’s award. The Ninth Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed the trial court. First, the appellate court reasoned that a campaign contribution without an additional connection to the handling of the specific case in question does not create bias or the appearance of impropriety. The court noted that campaign contributions are routine where judges are elected and the public understands that these contributions do not create a bias, as a matter of law. The court also ruled that Facebook friendships are trivial and provide no insight into the nature of a relationship. In sum, the record was devoid of any evidence that Judge Stovall’s award suffered from any personal social, business, or political interest that affected the outcome of the arbitration.