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United States v. Ezeodo

November 14, 1984

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
PIUS I. EZEODO, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of conviction in Eastern District of New York, Leonard D. Wexler, J., on grounds that the judge abused his discretion and prejudiced appellant's rights by transferring the site of trial from Brooklyn to Uniondale, Long Island. Affirmed.

Author: Feinberg

Before: FEINBERG, Chief Judge, MANSFIELD and KEARSE, Circuit Judges.

FEINBERG, Chief Judge:

Pius I. Ezeodo appeals from a judgment following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before Leonard D. Wexler, J., convicting appellant of four counts pertaining to importation and distribution of illegal drugs, and bribery of a customs official. Appellant claims he was prejudiced by the improper transfer of his trial from Brooklyn to Uniondale, Long Island, some 30 miles away.

Appellant's crimes were committed largely in and around Kennedy Airport, in Queens County. His case was assigned to Brooklyn, apparently because under Rule 1.(c)(1) of the Eastern District Rules for the Division of Business Among District Judges it did not qualify as a "Long Island case." Appellant was indicted and arraigned in Brooklyn, and Judge Wexler set the case for trial in Brooklyn. In November 1983, however, the judge advised the parties that the trial would be held in Uniondale, apparently the judge's official station. He noted that although he was in the "Brooklyn criminal wheel" for assignment of cases, coming to Brooklyn was a problem. If the trial for some reason did not materialize, by the time he got back to Uniondale the day was lost and his effectiveness impaired.

Both appellant's residence and his attorney's office were in Brooklyn, and appellant's counsel objected at the time to changing the place of trial to Uniondale. The judge invited him to make a motion to that effect, but he did not do so. Appellant now argues that the judge abused his discretion by transferring the trial solely for his own convenience and that this violated Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Eastern District Rules for Division of Business among District Judges. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

Rule 18 does not mandate that a trial be held in any particular location within a federal district. Indeed, the 1966 amendments to the Rule eliminated that very requirement. However, the Rule does provide that "The court shall fix the place of trial within the district with due regard to the convenience of the defendant and the witnesses and the prompt administration of justice." Appellant relies on United States v. Fernandez, 480 F.2d 726 (2d Cir. 1973), which questioned the propriety under Rule 18 of selecting a trial site solely for the judge's convenience. The government argues to us, however, that the judge made clear on the record that the transfer here was not "solely for [his] convenience," but was done for reasons affecting the "prompt administration of justice." However, in Fernandez, the opinion went on to note that reversal might have been warranted "if defendant had been able to show any prejudice." 480 F.2d at 730 (emphasis added). Therefore, we need not consider the government's argument because appellant failed to submit any evidence of hardship or prejudice, such as the inability to bring specific witnesses to Uniondale or to confer with his attorney. Absent such a showing, we cannot say the transfer violated his rights under Rule 18.

With regard to the Eastern District Rules, Rule 1.(c)(1) provides that:

A criminal case shall be designated as "Long Island case" if the crime was allegedly committed in whole or substantial part in the counties of Nassau or Suffolk.

Rule 1.(c)(3) provides, in language similar to that quoted above from Rule 18:

A party may move to designate a case as a Long Island case, or to annul such a designation, on a showing that to do so will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses, or is in the interest of justice.

Rule 4.(b) provides

Within twenty (20) days after the original assignment, any party may serve and file with the chief judge a written request to review the clerk's designation of, or failure to designate, a "Long Island Case." After consultation with the judge to whom the case was assigned, the chief judge shall review and determine the propriety of the designation. If the designation is changed, then the clerk shall reassign the case in accordance with the determination of the chief judge.

The Rules thus provide procedures for designation of cases, and for appeals of such designation, but do not specify that a case must be tried in its place of designation. It seems to be a reasonable assumption that jury selection and trial would be in the place of designation, but the Rules as presently written appear to leave this to the judge's discretion. The problem in this case is a function of this lack of specificity in the Rules. Appellant challenges not the clerk's designation of the case, with which he apparently agrees, but rather the judge's decision thereafter to try the case in Long Island. There is, of course, a serious question whether local rules such as these, which are established largely for housekeeping purposes, create rights enforceable by a defendant or other party, United States v. Torbert, 496 F.2d 154 (9th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 857, 95 S. Ct. 105, 42 L. Ed. 2d 91 (1975), although the Eastern District Rules certainly ...


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