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Vondette v. Laird

March 22, 2007

MICHAEL VONDETTE, PETITIONER,
v.
PAUL LAIRD, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, whereby Petitioner seeks to be "released from his unconstitutional continued incarceration" or alternatively to be released on bail pending this Court's determination of whether to resentence Petitioner. In connection with this petition is Petitioner's motion for recusal of this District Court Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and (b), and Petitioner's motion to change venue to a different court within the Eastern District of New York.

For the following reasons, the petition is DENIED in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

After two jury trials, the first of which ended in a mistrial, Michael Vondette ("Vondette" or "Petitioner") was found guilty of one count of conspiring to distribute hashish, marijuana, and methaqualone, and one count of conspiring to launder money. Vondette was represented by counsel during his first trial. However, after the first trial ended in a mistrial, Vondette's counsel sought to be relieved due to Vondette's inability to pay his trial counsel. Vondette proceeded to represent himself during the second trial with the assistance of a legal advisor appointed by this Court. The second trial lasted three weeks and resulted in a guilty verdict. In 2002, this Court sentenced Vondette to 40 years in prison.

Vondette appealed his conviction arguing, among other things, that this Judge's conduct during the trial deprived Vondette of a fair trial and venue in the Eastern District of New York was inappropriate. On August 27, 2003, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgement holding that this Judge's conduct during the trial did not deprive Vondette of a fair trial and venue in the Eastern District of New York was indeed appropriate. United States v. Vondette, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 17952 (2d Cir. Aug. 27, 2003).

During the pendency of Vondette's appeal, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).*fn1 Pursuant to Booker, the Supreme Court remanded Vondette's sentence to the Second Circuit for further consideration in light of Booker. Vondette v. United States, 543 U.S. 1108 (2005). The Second Circuit then remanded Vondette's sentence to this Court to consider whether to resentence Vondette in light of Booker and the Second Circuit's decision United States v. Crosby, 397 F.3d 103 (2d Cir. 2005).*fn2

Since the Second Circuit's remand, Vondette filed approximately nine motions, including a motion for a de novo resentence, which will be addressed in a separate order.*fn3 This Order addresses the following: (1) Vondette's motion to recuse this District Court Judge from all subsequent proceedings in his case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455(a) and (b); (2) Vondette's motion to change venue to another court within the Eastern District for purposes of his habeas petition; and (3) Vondette's § 2241 habeas petition seeking either immediate release from his continued unconstitutional confinement, or alternatively, seeking immediate release on bail pending this Court's determination of whether to resentence the Petitioner in light of Booker and Crosby.

DISCUSSION

I. Recusal of the District Court Judge Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455

Petitioner seeks my recusal from all subsequent proceedings in his case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and (b). Vondette argues that I must recuse myself because my conduct and rulings up to, during, and after trial would lead an objective person to question my impartiality. In addition, Vondette argues that I should recuse myself because I demonstrated personal bias, animus, and partiality towards Petitioner throughout his case. On both grounds, Vondette cites this Court's numerous rulings made prior to, during, and after the trial as evidence of my impartiality, prejudice, and animus towards Petitioner.*fn4

A. Recusal Under Section 455(a)

The circumstances of recusal are set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 455. Section 455(a) requires a judge to recuse himself "in any proceeding in which a judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." § 455(a). "The Second Circuit has interpreted this to be an inquiry of whether 'an objective, disinterested observer fully informed of the underlying facts, would entertain significant doubt that justice would be done absent recusal, or alternatively whether a reasonable person knowing all the facts, would question the judge's impartiality.'" Hoatson v. New York Archdiocese, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87877, at *24-25 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2006) (citations omitted). In other words, "what matters is not the reality of bias or prejudice but its appearance." Liteky v. Untied States, 510 U.S. 540, 548 (1994). Examples of when recusal is appropriate under § 455(a) include "when a judge had expressed a personal bias concerning the outcome of a case, when a judge had direct personal or fiduciary interest in the outcome of a case, and when a judge had contemporaneous extrajudicial contact with a close relative of a party who has personal knowledge of outcome-determinative facts." United States v. Lovaglia, 954 F.2d 811, 815 (2d Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). However, recusal should be denied when the alleged grounds for disqualification include remote contingent speculation by the moving party. Hoatson, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87877, at *25. In fact, "a judge is much obliged not to recuse himself when it is not called for as he is when it is." United States v. El-Gabrowny, 844 F. Supp. 955 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

In support of his motion for recusal, Petitioner simply points to each of the decisions made throughout the lengthy history of this case, explains that he believes that the rulings made by this Court were incorrect or erroneous "as a matter or law," and concludes that therefore a reasonable person, when viewing the decisions in toto would question this Judge's impartiality. While this Court issued several rulings in his case that did not favor Petitioner, the existence of such adverse rulings combined with Petitioner's speculations may not reasonably support my mandatory recusal. Therefore, because Petitioner has failed to raise sufficient grounds from ...


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