United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge
Cory Deonn Morris has filed a motion for recusal. (Doc. 55)
Respondents oppose the motion. (Doc. 57). For the reasons set
forth below, the Court will deny the motion.
was sentenced to death in Arizona state court and remains in
state custody. He filed a petition for habeas corpus on
February 20, 2018. (Doc. 21.) Because the statutory standard
for disqualification found in 28 U.S.C. § 455 must be
self-enforced by judges, see United States v.
Conforte, 624 F.2d 869, 880 (9th Cir. 1980), the Court
provided notice to the parties that Arizona District Court
Judge Douglas Rayes, formerly a Maricopa County Superior
Court judge, presided over Petitioner's state-court trial
and post-conviction proceedings. (Doc. 51.) The Court
examined its duty to recuse and found that the circumstances
presented no basis for disqualification, but allowed the
parties to brief their views on the propriety of recusal.
claims in this case that Judge Rayes violated his
constitutional rights through various errors in
post-conviction proceedings. (Doc. 55.) Petitioner argues
that the undersigned judge should recuse from this case
because Judge Rayes is now a judicial colleague. He argues
that a reasonable person would conclude that the undersigned
- and every other judge in this district - will be unable to
set aside his relationship with a colleague and will, even if
unconsciously, be inclined to believe that Judge Rayes did
not err. (Id.) After considering the facts and
applicable law, the Court does not agree.
are presumed to be honest and to serve with integrity.
See Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975);
Larson v. Palmateer, 515 F.3d 1057, 1067 (9th Cir.
2008). In the absence of a reasonable factual basis for
recusal, a judge should participate in cases assigned to him.
United States v. Holland, 519 F.3d 909, 912 (9th
Cir. 2008). Federal judges are, however, required by §
455(a) to recuse from any proceeding in which their
impartiality might reasonably be questioned, even where no
conflict of interest actually exists. Milgard Tempering,
Inc. v. Selas Corp. of Am., 902 F.2d 703, 714 (9th Cir.
standard is objective: “whether a reasonable person
with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the
judge's impartiality might reasonably be
questioned.” United States v. Nelson, 718 F.2d
315, 321 (9th Cir. 1983). Stated differently, the question is
whether a reasonable person would perceive a significant risk
that the judge will resolve the case on a basis other than
the merits. In re Mason, 916 F.2d 384, 385 (7th Cir.
1990). The reasonable person in this context means a
well-informed, thoughtful observer, not a
“‘hypersensitive or unduly suspicious
person.'” Clemens v. U.S. Dist. Court for Cent.
Dist. of California, 428 F.3d 1175, 1178 (9th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Mason, 916 F.2d at 386). And because there
is always “some risk” of partiality, the
risk must be “substantially out of the ordinary.”
Mason, 916 F.2d at 386 (emphasis in original). Only
“highly exceptional circumstances” mandate
disqualification of an entire district, which
Petitioner's motion would require in this case. See
Clemens, 428 F.3d at 1180.
of a recusal motion is “necessarily fact-driven”
and “must be guided . . . by an independent examination
of the unique facts and circumstances of the particular claim
at issue.” Holland, 519 F.3d at 913. Recusal
under § 455(a) should not be based on
“‘[r]umor, speculation, beliefs, conclusions,
innuendo, suspicion, opinion, and similar non-factual
matters.'” Clemens, 428 F.3d at 1178
(quoting Nichols v. Alley, 71 F.3d 347, 351 (10th
is duty-bound to hear an assigned case when there is no
legitimate reason to recuse. Holland, 519 F.3d at
912; Clemens, 428 F.3d at 1179. Indeed, “a
judge has ‘as strong a duty to sit when there is no
legitimate reason to recuse as he does to recuse when the law
and facts require.'” Clemens, 428 F.3d at
1179 (quoting Nichols, 71 F.3d at 351).
“[S]ection 455(a) must not be so broadly construed that
it becomes, in effect, presumptive, so that recusal is
mandated upon the merest unsubstantiated suggestion of
personal bias or prejudice.” Holland, 519 F.3d
Court begins with the “critically important”
identification of the specific factual circumstances that
might “cause an objective observer to question [the
Court's] impartiality.” Liljeberg v. Health
Servs. Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 865 (1988).
Here, there is only one: the undersigned's judicial
colleague on the United States District Court, when serving
as a state court judge, presided over Petitioner's trial
and post-conviction proceedings. No. other fact is presented,
and the Court concludes that this fact alone does not warrant
disqualification. For reasons discussed below, a reasonable
observer with knowledge of all the facts would not, without
more, question the impartiality of the Court in presiding
over this federal habeas case.
cites several cases in support of his motion. In United
States v. Singer (Singer II), 575 F.Supp. 63, 68 (D.
Minn. 1983), the judge at issue was the Chief Judge of the
District of Minnesota, whose extensive comments and judicial
coaching of the prosecutor in front of the jury resulted in
reversal of the conviction on appeal and remand for a new
trial. See United States v. Singer (Singer I), 710
F.2d 431, 436 (8th Cir. 1983).
remand, the Chief Judge recused himself and a district court
judge from the same bench was assigned to the case.
Singer II, 575 F.Supp. at 68. The newly assigned
judge recused herself because the Chief Judge was the subject
of pending motions and might be called as a witness. The
court determined that a reasonable person could question
whether judges in the district “might be affected in
ruling, either consciously or subconsciously, by friendship
or a spirit of collegiality or because of the relationship
between judges on the same bench.” Id.
Similarly, the entire Arizona District Court bench recused
itself in a capital habeas case when an evidentiary hearing
was set at which a magistrate judge, formerly
petitioner's defense counsel, was the subject of an
ineffective assistance of counsel claim ...