Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Recusal Rebuffed

A recently-filed motion for recusal on behalf of January 6 defendant Matthew Purdy and his co-defendants was swiftly denied by Senior Judge Royce Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

At an April 5 status conference, the Court denied defendants’ recusal motion in a lengthy oral ruling. See Min. Entry Apr. 5, 2024. The Court explained that defendants had “not come close to establishing a valid basis for disqualification” based on either the appearance of bias under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) or personal bias under § 455(b)(1). The Court noted that recusal is only very rarely warranted by what a judge has said in the course of a judicial proceeding, because “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).

Although defendants faulted the Court for asking hard questions of defense counsel, the Court observed that “[b]lunt language, without more, does not translate into a showing of judicial bias.” United States v. Caramadre, 807 F.3d 359, 374 (1st Cir. 2015). The Court also explained that the Court’s “measured, accurate description of the facts of January 6, facts with which the Court is familiar from numerous cases” did not trigger disqualification, emphasizing that “[d]efendants do not and cannot point to any specific comments suggestive of bias toward any defendants, let alone these specific defendants.” “To the contrary,” the Court observed, “a number of January 6 defendants have thanked the Court for fairly handling their cases” and “[o]ne defendant even credited the Court with saving his life by intervening to protect his constitutional rights at the D.C. Jail.” Finally, the Court concluded that defendants’ assertion that death threats directed at the Court had adversely affected the Court’s view of January 6 defendants was not substantiated by evidence and was precisely the sort of “conclusory, unsupported or tenuous allegations” that cannot warrant recusal. See In re Kaminski, 960 F.2d 1062, 1065 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (per curiam)


Here, reconsideration is not warranted because the renewed motion mostly reiterates the reasons already rejected by the Court and any additional reasons fall short of a significant change that would justify reconsideration. The renewed motion mostly retreads the same ground as before: the Court’s tough questions for defense counsel Ms. Isaak, the Court’s statements relating to January 6 made in the course of prior judicial proceedings, and the Court’s statements on judicial security and its own death threats. But a motion for reconsideration is not “simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled.”

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink