United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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.
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,
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,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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
(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[.]”
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 ...