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Dixon v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 1, 2016

Eric Bernard Dixon, a/k/a Fat Cat, Petitioner,
United States of America, Respondent.


PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on Petitioner’s motion for relief pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) (ECF Nos. 168 & 188).[1] Petitioner asks me to vacate my order denying his motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He contends that I should have recused myself from the § 2255 proceedings. For the reasons stated herein, Petitioner’s motion is denied.

I. Request for Recusal

As a preliminary matter, Petitioner has asked me to recuse myself from deciding his Rule 60(b) motion.[2] Beyond citing 28 U.S.C. § 455, he has not articulated any reason why I am disqualified from deciding the motion. That alone is sufficient to deny the request. See United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665 (4th Cir. 2003) (stating judges are not required to recuse themselves “simply because of unsupported, irrational or highly tenuous speculation”); McBeth v. Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A., 921 F.Supp. 1473, 1477 (D.S.C. 1996) (“The standard under § 455(a) . . . is not to be construed to require recusal on spurious or loosely based charges of partiality.”).

Nonetheless, because Petitioner is proceeding pro se, I have carefully examined his motion for indicia of a ground for recusal. Petitioner asks that his motion be decided by “an impartial Judge not previously involved with or connected to this matter.” (Mot., ECF No. 168, at 4.) I construe that request liberally as an argument that, due to my prior involvement in the case, I cannot impartially decide whether I should have recused myself from the § 2255 proceedings. However, my prior involvement does not disqualify me. See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) (“[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.”).

Out of an abundance of caution, I have also objectively considered whether there is any other reason that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts and circumstances might question my impartiality. See Cherry, 330 F.3d at 665; see also Kohler Co. v. Infinger, No. 7:13-cv-3511, 2014 WL 2050766, at *1 (D.S.C. May 16, 2014) (“The ‘reasonable person’ is not a judge, but is a ‘well-informed, thoughtful observer, ’ who is not ‘hypersensitive or unduly suspicious.’” (quoting Rosenberg v. Currie, No. 0:10-cv-1555-DCN-PJG, 2010 WL 3891966, at *1 (D.S.C. Sept. 3, 2010))). I am unable to identify any reasons that I should not rule on Petitioner’s motion.

Finally, I note that Petitioner’s request implies that judges should not decide recusal motions themselves. That notion has been thoroughly rejected. Generally, “[d]iscretion is confided in the district judge in the first instance to determine whether to disqualify himself . . . [because the] judge presiding over a case is in the best position to appreciate the implications of those matters alleged in a recusal motion.” In re Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., 861 F.2d 1307, 1312 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted).

“[T]here is as much obligation upon a judge not to recuse himself when there is no occasion as there is for him to do so when there is.” Nakell v. Attorney Gen. of N.C. , 15 F.3d 319, 325 (4th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotations omitted); see also Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3A(2) (“A judge should hear and decide matters assigned, unless disqualified . . . . ”). Accordingly, because I cannot discern a basis for recusing myself, I must address Petitioner’s motion.

II. Merits of Petitioner’s Rule 60(b) Motion

Petitioner’s recusal claim relates to the involvement of the Federal Public Defender’s office in his trial. Petitioner was originally represented by Robert Haley, an attorney in that office. United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant later relieved Mr. Haley and appointed private practitioner Nancy Chiles to represent Petitioner. Donna Taylor, another private attorney, assisted Ms. Chiles at trial.

At trial, the Government subpoenaed witness Melvin Lawson to testify. Lawson refused, and I appointed Mary Gordon Baker-then of the Federal Public Defender’s office[3]-to represent Lawson. I later determined that Lawson was an unavailable witnesses, and I admitted several of his recorded statements into evidence for the limited purpose of providing context for other evidence. The jury later found Petitioner guilty.

On direct appeal, Petitioner argued that appointing Ms. Baker to represent Lawson created a conflict of interest because Ms. Baker and Mr. Haley both worked for the same office. See United States v. Dixon, 481 F. App’x 806, 809 (4th Cir. 2012) (per curiam). Assuming arguendo that I erred by appointing Ms. Baker, the Fourth Circuit affirmed because Petitioner could not establish that Ms. Baker’s representation of Lawson prejudiced Petitioner in any way. Id. at 809–10.

Then, in his § 2255 motion, Petitioner again argued that appointing Ms. Baker created a conflict of interest. Recognizing that the Fourth Circuit had already ruled on that claim, I held that Petitioner could not raise it again in a collateral proceeding. See United States v. Rush, 99 F. App’x 489, 490 (4th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (“An issue previously decided on direct appeal may not be raised on collateral review.”) (citing Boeckenhaupt v. United States, 537 F.2d 1182, 1183 (4th Cir. 1976)).

Now, in his Rule 60(b) motion, Petitioner argues I should not have adjudicated his § 2255 motion because the conflict-of-interest claim therein put me in the position of reviewing one of my own decisions. Petitioner believes “[i]t is not reasonable to expect any jurist to rule on the propriety of his own decision[-]making.” (Mot., ECF No. 168, at 2.) I disagree. Like anyone else, judges are capable of admitting and correcting their own mistakes. Recognizing that reality, our legal system contains multiple mechanisms that allow-if not obligate-judges to correct their own errors. For example, in civil cases, judges may correct errors of law, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), as well as clerical mistakes and ...

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