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Thornton v. United States

September 3, 2009

JOHN H. THORNTON, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pending before the court is petitioner John H. Thornton's motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 60(d), seeking to vacate this court's October 26, 2007 and August 14, 2008 orders insofar as they denied him habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Thornton also seeks to have the court recuse itself; to subpoena certain documentary evidence; to be released on bail; and to expedite the disposition of these requests. For the reasons that follow all of Thornton's requests are denied.

II. Background

On April 19, 2005, Thornton pled guilty before this court to one count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). (See 1:05-CR-115; Dkt. No. 4.) On September 12, 2005, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment, three years supervised release, a $15,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. (See 1:05-CR-115; Dkt. Nos. 27, 29.) Thereafter, on October 13, 2006, he filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (See 1:06-CV-1252; Dkt. Nos. 1- 2.) His habeas petition sought to vacate the judgment and sentence based upon his assertion that: (1) his trial lawyer, Mr. Coffey, threatened that the government would arrest and prosecute Thornton's wife unless Thornton pled guilty; and (2) the court failed to adequately inquire as to the voluntariness of Thornton's guilty plea which, he alleges, was induced by that threat. See id. The government responded to Thornton's motion pursuant to the court's order and, as relevant here, submitted an affidavit from Mr. Coffey, which states in part:

In discussing the matter with Mr. Thornton, we discussed his computer at home as well as the fact that anyone who had access to the computer could potentially be a target of the investigation but at no time did I advise him that his wife had any compelling reason to fear Federal prosecution, with one exception. I told him that if Mrs. Thornton were to claim (and I discussed this in detail with John) that she had sole access to the computer and John had no involvement or his involvement were minimal, then under those circumstances, the Government obviously might take a greater interest in her.

Barring that unlikely eventuality, I advised John that his wife had no exposure.... Mrs. Thornton's possible involvement was never discussed within months prior to the plea, and John also never indicated to me that he was pleading guilty to spare his wife. In my mind Kathy Thornton's potential status as a Defendant in a Federal or even State prosecution was not an inducement for John to plead guilty and at no time did I ever advise him to plead guilty to spare his wife a potential Federal prosecution. (See 1:06-CV-1252; Dkt. No. 11:4.) Subsequently, on October 26, 2007, the court found that "there were no threats that induced Thornton's plea" and that the court's plea colloquy with Thornton was adequate. (See 1:06- CV-1252; Dkt. No. 22.) Habeas relief was correspondingly denied. On August 14, 2008, the court denied Thornton a certificate of appealability for the reasons stated in the October 2007 order. (See 1:06-CV-1252; Dkt. No. 27.)

Presently before the court is Thornton's motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 60(d), seeking to vacate the court's denial of his habeas petition on grounds that Mr. Coffey perpetrated a fraud upon the court through his affidavit. (See 1:06-CV-1252; Dkt. Nos. 30-32.) Thornton also seeks to have the court recuse itself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a); to subpoena certain document evidence; to be released on bail pending the outcome of this motion; and to expedite the disposition of these requests. See id.

III. Discussion

A. Recusal

Recusal is mandated under § 455(a) when a judge's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). "[T]his test deals exclusively with appearances. Its purpose is the protection of the public's confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary." United States v. Amico, 486 F.3d 764, 775 (2d Cir.2007). The test for recusal under § 455(a) is whether "a reasonable person, knowing all the facts, [would] conclude that the trial judge's impartiality could reasonably be questioned." United States v. Lovaglia, 954 F.2d 811, 815 (2d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). A recusal decision rests within the sound discretion of the judge whose recusal is sought. See id. (citation omitted).

In the present instance, there is absolutely no reason to question this court's impartiality, and Thornton's contentions to the contrary are groundless. He asserts that the court's disinterestedness could reasonably be questioned because he was denied a certificate of appealability immediately after having filed a judicial complaint against the court in August of 2008. However, his arguments for habeas relief were initially rejected in October 2007- before any complaint had been filed. As such, the court's rejection of virtually identical arguments in August 2008 on his motion for a certificate of appealability evidences nothing other than the court's adherence to its prior rulings.

Thornton's contention that recusal is required because the court unjustly discredited the affidavit of his wife in his habeas proceeding is similarly without merit. It is well settled that "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). Here, the court's decision to discredit the affidavit of Mrs. Thornton was based upon a plethora of intrajudicial direct and circumstantial evidence indicating that Thornton and his wife were not credible, and that no threat of prosecution was made or communicated with regard to Thornton's wife. ...


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