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United States v. Chapman

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 29, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT JASON CHAPMAN, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

Richard Meade seeks the Court's recusal and, in so doing, in essence poses this question: if a judge rules against you does that raise a presumption of bias that counsels in favor of recusing? The answer is not only "no", but of course not.

I

While the Court acknowledges that other, earlier filed, motions remain pending, the Court must first rule on recusal in determining whether it may hear the remaining pending motions. The trial in this matter began on February 25, 2013 [R. 591] and lasted for 14 days. [R. 615.] The jury found Defendant Mark Justice and Richard Meade guilty. [R. 615; 616; 618.] There are currently pending a number of substantive motions.

On April 1, 2013, the United States filed a Motion for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of forfeiture. On April 2, Mr. Justice filed a motion for a new trial [R. 624] and on the next day he filed a motion to set aside the verdict. [R. 625.] On July 16, Mr. Meade requested release pending appeal. [R. 701.] On August 8, Mr. Meade filed a motion to arrest judgment and dismiss the indictment for failure to change an offense. [R. 711.] The next day, Mr. Justice joined in Mr. Meade's motion to arrest judgment. [R. 712.] He also filed a motion for bond pending appeal the same day. [R. 713.] On August 23, Mr. Meade objected to the Court hearing any further proceedings in this matter before ruling on his previously filed motion to arrest judgment. [R. 725, referring to R. 711.]

The issue currently before the Court relates to events transpiring out of the following motions. First, on August 28 and 29, the United States filed a motion and amended motion to show cause regarding the allegedly inappropriate tactics employed by defense counsel, [R. 729; 730] which has been fully briefed. [R. 733; 740.] Then, on September 3, Mr. Meade filed a motion requesting the Court's recusal, [R. 734.], which has also been briefed [R. 739; 742]. These two strings of motions are very much interrelated, however, it is the recusal motion that will be addressed first. Finally, on September 12, Mr. Meade filed a motion for attorney's fees and sanctions. [R. 743.]

II

A

"Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." 28 U.S.C. ยง 455(a). "[A] judge is presumed to be impartial, and the party seeking disqualification bears the substantial burden of proving otherwise.'" Scott v. Metro. Health Corp., 234 F.Appx. 341, 352 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Denton, 434 F.3d 1104, 1111 (8th Cir. 2006)). In the Sixth Circuit, "[a] judge must recuse if a reasonable, objective person, knowing all of the circumstances, would have questioned the judge's impartiality.'" United States v. Tolbert, 459 F.Appx. 541, 545 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Sammons, 918 F.2d 592, 599 (6th Cir. 1990) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). The recusal standard is objective, hence a judge "need not recuse himself based on the subjective view of a party, no matter how strongly that view is held." Id. (quoting U.S. v. Sammons, 918 F.2d at 599 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Absent a showing that the alleged partiality stems from an "extra-judicial source or personal bias, recusal is only necessary in rare circumstances." Id. (citing Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994)). The Supreme Court explains that "opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion unless they display a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible." Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994)). "[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or impartiality motion." Id. (citing United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583 (1966)).

B

Meade argues that the Government's request for a show cause hearing regarding the behavior of defense counsel [R. 730] was inappropriate and has placed the Court in the middle of a Catch-22 where any future ruling the Court might make will inevitably result in the Court appearing partial. [R. 734 at 2.] Meade argues that ruling in the Government's favor "would appear to confirm the bias implied by the government's show cause motion" and that ruling in favor of Mr. Meade would "create speculation as to whether His Honor did so as a means of disproving and distancing himself from the implications of the government's motion, and to avoid any potential claims of misconduct in the future." [R. 734 at 2.] Defense counsel goes on to provide a laundry list of reasons why "there is no possible way that any attorney in his right mind would ever believe that any court would ever grant" the government's motion to show cause. [R. 734 at 3.] The Court will not, and finds it unnecessary to, delve substantively into these underlying assumptions before resolving the larger question of recusal.

The Government argues there "are no facts that demonstrate that the trial judge favors either party in any way" and contends that Meade's argument "erroneously implies that the Court is incapable of making a decision based on the law and facts." [R. 739.]

Little of the reply filed by the defendants directly addresses the issue of recusal. Rather, this pleading was used as a vessel in which defense counsel argumentatively pours opinions regarding other motions presently before the court. [R. 742.] Two pages of this reply are dedicated to the issue of the Court's recusal. [R. 742 at 10-12.] In those two pages, defense counsel summarizes their grounds as follows:

the most compelling justification for recusal is, first, the entire content of the government's show cause motion, the plainly applicable law to that motion which the government cited itself in its own briefing, and the fact that no attorney in their right mind would file such an offensive, frivolous, absolutely meritless constitutional abomination and assault on the Court's integrity like that, let alone do so right after he or she had just been caught ...

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