United States District Court, S.D. New York
Gregory A. Goodwine, Sr., Petitioner,
Superintendent William Lee, Respondent.
OPINION AND ORDER
LISA MARGARET SMITH, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner Gregory Goodwine, proceeding pro se, has filed the instant habeas corpus petition challenging the constitutionality of his state court conviction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Docket Entry #1, Petition. Now before the Court is petitioner's motion, dated December 23, 2013, to disqualify the Westchester County District Attorney's Office (hereinafter "the DA's Office") from representing respondent in this matter. Docket Entry #98, Motion to Disqualify. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.
I. Allegations of Wrongdoing
By the instant motion, petitioner seeks an order "[d]isqualifying the Westchester County District Attorney's Office and its Assistant District Attorney's [sic] from representing respondent in the above-captioned matter, upon the grounds of misconduct, actual prejudice and a clear conflict of interest... "Docket Entry #99, Affirmation at 1. He asks the Court to appoint private counsel (as a "special prosecutor") to represent respondent going forward in this habeas corpus proceeding. See id. Petitioner also asks the Court to hold an evidentiary "hearing to examine the extent and effect of the misconduct, actual prejudice and the conflict of interest created by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office..." Id.
The DA's Office prosecuted petitioner in the underlying criminal proceeding. Petitioner asserts that the Assistant District Attorney (hereinafter "the trial ADA") who handled the matter violated his ethical duties, as set forth in the New York State Rules of Professional Conduct (hereinafter "NYRPC"). According to petitioner, the trial ADA continues to engage in unethical behavior, interfering with petitioner's ability to litigate the instant habeas petition. The NYRPC similarly govern the behavior of attorneys practicing in the courts of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Local Civil Rule 1.5(b)(5). Petitioner asks the Court to disqualify the entire DA's Office from representing respondent in this proceeding based upon the trial ADA's purported ongoing violations of the NYRPC. Docket Entry #99, Affirmation at 1.
Petitioner details the alleged improper behavior of the trial ADA in the underlying criminal matter. He explains that after bail was set following his initial arrest, the trial ADA took steps to ensure that he remained incarcerated during the pendency of the criminal case. Specifically, petitioner claims that the trial ADA "improperly pressured" petitioner's parole officer into issuing a parole warrant against petitioner, thereby preventing petitioner's pre-trial release on bail. Id . According to petitioner, the trial ADA secured the parole warrant by falsely informing the parole officer that the victim of the underlying crime had identified petitioner as the culprit, and that petitioner would likely harm the victim if he was released on bail. See id.
Petitioner states that the trial ADA obtained an order compelling petitioner to participate in a post-arrest line-up identification procedure. According to petitioner, the trial ADA obtained such order by falsely informing the state court, through an affidavit, that the victim had identified petitioner as her assailant during a prior photo-array identification procedure. Id. at 2.
According to petitioner, the trial ADA also obtained an indictment against petitioner through fraud. He first claims that the trial ADA knowingly presented falsified evidence to the grand jury. Id . Petitioner also alleges that the indictment against him, which he asserts was filed by the trial ADA, was actually a counterfeit that contained forged signatures of the grand jury foreperson and the Westchester County District Attorney. See id. at 3.
Petitioner finally claims that the trial ADA has interfered with his ability to litigate the instant habeas petition. Petitioner has apparently hired a private investigator, and he asserts that the trial ADA has prevented the investigator from interviewing the victim of the underlying crime. Id.
Petitioner seeks to disqualify the DA's Office on two grounds. He avers that the trial ADA will be an essential witness at a desired evidentiary hearing on his habeas petition, and that the trial ADA's testimony will be prejudicial to respondent, thus presenting a conflict of interest for the entirety of the DA's Office. Petitioner therefore seeks to disqualify the DA's Office on the basis of the witness-advocate rule, codified in NYRPC 3.7. Docket Entry #99, Affirmation at 6. Petitioner also generally argues that the interests of the DA's Office are in conflict because, besides representing respondent, it has a diverging interest in concealing the allegedly-improper behavior of the trial ADA. He argues that the DA's Office has a "vested interest in covering-up [sic] and maintaining the wrongful and unconstitutionally obtained conviction of an innocent accused." Id. at 7.
In opposition to the motion, respondent, in a brief drafted by an employee of the DA's Office, basically claims that petitioner's allegations of improprieties by the trial ADA are false, and that petitioner has not met the burden necessary to disqualify the DA's Office from representing respondent. Docket Entry #106, Memo. of Law at 7.
A. Standard for Disqualification of Counsel
Disqualification of a party's lawyer invades the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship because it limits the client's ability to freely select his or her own counsel; consequently, it is disfavored in the Second Circuit. Evans v. Artek Sys. Corp. , 715 F.2d 788, 791 (2d Cir. 1983). Because motions to disqualify counsel are "often interposed for tactical reasons, " id. at 791 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), they are subject to a "high standard of proof." Id . (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see NL Indus., Inc. v. PaineWebber Inc., No. 88cv8602 (MBM), 1990 WL 43929, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. April 9, 1990) (The "party seeking disqualification must bear a heavy burden of proof in order to prevail. Mere speculation ...