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United States v. Lanier

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

January 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RICKY ANTHONY LANIER and KATRINA RESHINA LANIER

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court to consider the defendants' joint motion for recusal, filed on December 11, 2017, [Doc. 324]. The defendants argue that the undersigned should recuse himself from the upcoming Remmer hearing scheduled for January 11, 2018. The United States responded in opposition on December 14, 2017, [Doc. 328], and the defendants replied on December 18, 2017, [Doc. 329]. This matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the defendants' joint motion for recusal is DENIED.

         I. FACTS

         On September 9, 2015, a grand jury charged defendants Ricky and Katrina Lanier with various fraud and conspiracy offenses in connection with their involvement in a scheme to fraudulently secure contracts reserved for certain disadvantaged individuals or service-disabled veterans. [Doc. 151]. The case went to trial before a jury on December 1, 2015, [Doc. 185]. On December 17, 2015, during jury deliberations, one of the jurors contacted Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson (“ADA Nelson”), indicating that there was a “problem” with the jury deliberations. [Doc. 212, pgs. 3-5]. ADA Nelson contacted the undersigned to inform the Court that she received the phone call from Juror 11, and that she immediately told the juror that they could not discuss deliberations. [Id.]. ADA Nelson also advised the juror to contact the Judge or member of the Court with any problems or questions about the case. No juror alerted Court personnel to any issue with jury deliberations.

         The jury returned a guilty verdict as to Ricky Lanier in Counts One, Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty of the Second Superseding Indictment, finding him guilty of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of major fraud against the United States. [Doc. 199]. Katrina Lanier was found guilty by the jury of Counts One, Three, and Nineteen for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of major fraud against the United States. [Id.]. Following the announcement of the jury's verdict, defendants moved for a mistrial, which was denied, [Doc. 212, pgs. 16-18]. The defendants also filed a motion to interview jurors, [Doc. 214], and a motion for a new trial, [Doc. 223], both of which were denied by this Court prior to sentencing, [Docs. 216, 237].

         Ricky Lanier was sentenced to 48 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release. [Doc. 275]. Katrina Lanier was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release. [Doc. 273]. The defendants timely appealed this Court's judgment. [Docs. 280, 281]. On September 7, 2017, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the defendants' convictions, remanding the case to this Court to conduct a Remmer hearing to “investigate possible external influence on the jury.” United States v. Lanier, 870 F.3d 546, 551 (6th Cir. 2017) [Doc. 307, pg. 7]. This Court held status conferences on October 2, 2017 [Docs. 318, 319] and November 2, 2017 [Doc. 323], to discuss scheduling and logistics of the Remmer hearing, which is set for January 11, 2018.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a) and (b)(1) reads as follows:

(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.
(b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances:
(1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding[.]

28 U.S.C. § 455 (a), (b)(1). The term “proceeding” is defined in § 455 (d)(1) as including “pretrial, trial, appellate review, or other stages of litigation[.]”

         Section 455 is self-executing, requiring a judge to recuse himself if “a reasonable, objective person, knowing all of the circumstances, would have questioned the judge's impartiality.” United States v. Sammons, 918 F.2d 592, 599 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Hughes v. United States, 899 F.2d 1495, 1501 (6th Cir. 1990)). The standard, therefore is objective, and is not based on the subjective opinion of a party. Browning v. Foltz, 837 F.2d 276, 279 (6th Cir. 1988). The alleged prejudice or bias must stem from an extrajudicial source to be disqualifying. United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583 (1966) (originally applying the extrajudicial doctrine to recusal motions under 28 U.S.C. § 144); Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) (applying the doctrine to § 455 (a) as well as (b)(1)); Wheeler v. Southland Corp., 875 F.2d 1246, 1251 (6th Cir. 1989). Further, the nature of the source of the alleged bias or prejudice is not always determinative:

The fact that an opinion held by a judge derives from a source outside judicial proceedings is not a necessary condition for “bias or prejudice” recusal, since predispositions developed during the course of a trial will sometimes (albeit rarely) suffice. Nor is it a sufficient condition for “bias or prejudice” recusal, since some opinions acquired outside the context of judicial ...

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