United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. NYE CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant William Argyle Merrill's
(“Merrill”) Motion to Disqualify District Court
Judge. Dkt. 72. Upon review and for the reasons set forth
below, the Court DENIES the Motion.
2006 through 2009, Merrill was a participant in the State of
Idaho, 6th District Drug Court. Dkt. 72, at 2. As a State
District Judge, I presided over Merrill's case in drug
court during that period of time. Merrill failed to complete
the program and, as a result, I recommended his dismissal
from the drug court program. Pursuant to the district's
policy, I later recused myself from the termination and
sentencing portion of that case.
instant motion, Merrill raises concerns that I may have
“preconceived notions and bias” against him due
to his failure to complete the state drug court program. Dkt.
72, at 2. Merrill is also concerned that I may have learned
personal information about him during his time in drug court
that would result in bias or prejudice against him in the
instant case because it involves federal drug charges.
to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) a federal judge shall disqualify
himself in “any proceeding in which his impartiality
might reasonably be questioned” or “[w]here he
has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or
personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning
analyzing § 455(a) disqualification motions, the Court
employs an objective test, namely: “whether a
reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would
conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably
be questioned.” Herrington v. County of
Sonoma, 834 F.2d 1488, 1502 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting
United States v. Nelson, 718 F.2d 315, 321 (9th Cir.
1983)). “Section 455(a) asks whether a reasonable
person perceives 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,' as
opposed to a ‘hypersensitive or unduly suspicious
person.'” Clemens v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for Cent.
Dist. of Cal., 428 F.3d 1175, 1178 (9th Cir. 2005).
Importantly, “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.” Id. (quoting
Nichols v. Alley, 71 F.3d 347, 351 (10th Cir.
reviewing similar motions, the Ninth Circuit has previously
looked to a non-exhaustive list provided by the Tenth Circuit
that sets forth various matters that generally do not warrant
or require recusal. See Clemens, 428 F.3d at
1178-79. Among seven outlined situations, one is “prior
rulings in the proceeding, or another proceeding, solely
because they were adverse.” Id.
I recommended termination of Merrill's drug court
participation, there would need to be something more than the
existence of this adverse ruling to disqualify me from
hearing the instant case. Further, though I recused myself
from the termination and sentencing portion per the state
court's policy, I was not bound by law to do so. The
Idaho Supreme Court has made it clear that it is not improper
for a drug court judge to serve both in the termination
hearing and in the sentencing portion. See State v.
Rogers, 170 P.3d 881, 882 (Idaho 2007) (explaining that
“[t]he drug court judge may preside over the
termination proceedings” and that “after the
termination hearing if . . . terminated, the drug court judge
may serve as the sentencing judge, since information from the
termination proceedings would be admissible in a sentencing
hearing”). The mere fact that I presided over a
diversionary court in which Merrill participated is not a
reason for recusal.
also argues that I may be biased because of information
learned while presiding over him in drug court. However, the
Supreme Court of the United States explained:
[N]ot subject to deprecatory characterization as
‘bias' or ‘prejudice' are opinions held
by judges as a result of what they learned in earlier
proceedings. It has long been regarded as normal and proper
for a judge to sit in the same case upon its remand, and to
sit in successive trials involving the same defendant.
Liteky v. U.S., 510 U.S. 540, 551 (1994). Thus,
regardless of information learned or any potential opinions
formed from information gathered during my tenure presiding
over Merrill's drug court case, it is normal and proper
for me to sit on this case.
an adverse ruling in a prior case or information learned in
prior proceedings is not enough for disqualification in this
case. Presiding over drug court proceedings pertaining to the
defendant over ten years ago is not enough to warrant
disqualification in this case. Because facts do not exist