United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court are Defendant Jonathan Woods's Motion to
Disqualify District Court Judge Timothy L. Brooks from All
Proceedings in this Matter (Doc. 265) and the
Government's Response (Doc. 268) in opposition. For the
reasons given below, Mr. Woods's Motion is
a criminal case in which the three Defendants, Jonathan
Woods, Oren Paris, and Randell Shelton, have been charged
with conspiring to bribe Mr. Woods while he was a state
senator in the Arkansas General Assembly, in violation of
federal law. The docket in this case is far more lengthy and
tortured than those of typical criminal cases in this Court;
it is presently hovering around 300 entries, and many more
will doubtlessly follow. Although there are a variety of
reasons why this case is more complex than most, the
lion's share of litigation has revolved around a deluge
of accusations by the Defendants that the Government, as well
as Mr. Woods's former attorney, have all committed
various types of misconduct during the investigation and
prosecution of this case. That history will be recounted in
more fulsome detail in the Order that will be filed
immediately following this one. Suffice it to say here that
the vast majority of those accusations, in this Court's
view, have been meritless, but a couple have not been.
rate, on January 9, 2018, the undersigned Judge became the
latest participant in this case to be accused of impropriety,
or at least of permitting the appearance thereof, when Mr.
Woods filed a Motion to Disqualify, arguing that the
undersigned Judge "should recuse himself from this case
"pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and applicable case
law." See Doc. 265, ¶ 2. The Government
filed its Response in opposition on January 18. That Motion
is now ripe for decision. Although typically orders will
refer to "the Court" or "this Court, "
this particular Order will make extensive use of the
first-person, because the relief being sought by the instant
Motion pertains to the specific person occupying the bench,
rather than to the venue, forum, or court. See, e.g.,
S.W. Bell Tel. Co. v. F.C.C., 153 F.3d 520 (8th Cir.
1998) (Hansen, J., employing the first-person when explaining
why he will not be recusing from a case).
U.S.C. § 455(a) states, in its entirety, that
"[a]ny justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United
States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which
his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
"A party introducing a motion to recuse carries a heavy
burden of proof; a judge is presumed to be impartial and the
party seeking disqualification bears the substantial burden
of proving otherwise." Pope v. Fed. Express
Corp., 974 F.2d 982, 985 (8th Cir. 1992). The decision
whether to recuse is committed to a district court's
"sound discretion, " but "[r]ecusal is
required when an average person knowing all the relevant
facts of a case might reasonably question a judge's
impartiality." Dossett v. First State Bank, 399
F.3d 940, 953 (8th Cir. 2005). Where a judge finds that the
facts do not warrant recusal, he has an obligation not to
recuse. See S.W. Bell Tel. Co., 153 F.3d at 523.
arguments in Mr. Woods's Motion to Disqualify appear to
fall into three separate categories. One category of
arguments pertains to the Order to Show Cause (Doc. 255) that
this Court entered on December 19, 2017. The second category
of arguments is generally premised on Mr. Woods's
perception that I am holding him and/or his codefendants to a
different standard than the Government in this case. (For the
sake of brevity, this Order will refer below to this second
category of arguments as "arguments concerning unfair
treatment.") The third category of arguments concerns
the relationship between myself and Mr. Woods's former
attorney in this matter, W.H. Taylor, who is also my former
law partner. Below, I will address each category of
arguments, in the sequence just described.
The Order to Show Cause
mentioned above, this Court entered an Order to Show Cause on
December 19. That Order was directed to Gregory Payne, who is
one of the attorneys representing Mr. Paris in this matter.
It was issued in response to Mr. Payne having filed materials
on the public docket that this Court believed were subject to
the Protective Order (Doc. 14) in this case. See
generally Doc. 255. Mr. Woods takes exception,
see Doc. 265, ¶¶ 17, 30, to the following
language that appeared near the end of the Order to Show
[I]t seems very difficult for the Court to escape the
conclusion that Mr. Payne not only violated this Court's
Protective Order, but that he intentionally did so, possibly
with the assistance of others, in a manner calculated to
prevent this Court from implementing any sort of effective
remedy for the violation after the fact. The Court believes
that further inquiry is necessary in order to determine
whether this is in fact the case, and to determine what
sanctions, if any, should be imposed as a consequence for
(Doc. 255, p. 4).
Woods's objections to this language appear to be twofold.
First, Mr. Woods contends "it would appear to a
reasonable person that the Court has formed conclusions and
is accusing Counsel and co-defendant's counsel of
conspiring to manipulate this Court and being
disingenuous." (Doc. 265, ¶ 30). I do not
understand what Mr. Woods means by "Counsel and
co-defendant's counsel." The Order to Show Cause was
directed to Mr. Payne and to nobody else. It was not directed
to Mr. Woods's counsel, nor was it even directed to any
of Mr. Paris's counsel other than Mr. Payne. Mr.
Woods's counsel was neither required nor expected to
attend Mr. Payne's show-cause hearing, though his
presence was welcome if he wished to observe.
Court had any basis for believing that counsel for Mr. Woods
engaged in any wrongdoing with respect to the matters
discussed in its Order to Show Cause, then the Court would
have said so, it would have provided reasons in support
thereof, and it would have ordered counsel for Mr. Woods to
show cause along with Mr. Payne. This did not happen, so I do
not see why counsel for Mr. Woods feels he has anything to
worry about here.
Woods's second objection to the above-quoted language in
the Order to Show Cause is that "[t]he Court made this
determination based solely on the filing of [Mr. Payne's
motion] and prior to hearing any facts or arguments on behalf
of the parties." See Id. This objection is
premised on a fundamental misreading of the Order's plain
language. The Order to Show Cause explicitly stated that
"further inquiry is necessary in order to determine
whether" the Court's suspicions were "in fact
the case, " and the Court explicitly left open the
possibility that no sanctions would be imposed at
all, when it wrote that this further inquiry was necessary
"to determine what sanctions, if any, should be
imposed." See Doc. 255, p. 4 (emphasis added).
The Court expressed concerns about Mr. Payne's actions,
and it spent four pages providing the reasons for those
concerns, which it will not rehash here. But the Court had
not made up its mind about any of these matters. Instead, it
gave Mr. Payne notice of its concerns, and it then gave Mr.
Payne an opportunity to explain himself and to persuade the
Court that his behavior was proper, or at least excusable. On
February 15, 2018, Mr. Payne availed himself of that
opportunity, conceded that he had made a mistake, and
persuaded the Court that sanctions were not warranted.
other words, the Order to Show Cause simply had nothing to do
with Mr. Woods or his counsel. The person to whom that Order
was directed was given notice and an opportunity to
be heard before any adverse action would be taken against
him. And ultimately, no adverse action at all was
taken against him, other than a bare admonishment. Hopefully
the foregoing discussion has clarified any misunderstandings
Mr. Woods may have previously held regarding the Order to
Show Cause. Given a proper understanding of the situation, I
cannot imagine what objections Mr. Woods could possibly have
to the provision of due process to someone else in a
proceeding that is none of his business. But to whatever
extent such objections remain, they plainly are not a proper
basis for recusal.
Arguments Concerning Unfair Treatment
now to Mr. Woods's arguments concerning unfair
treatment-these arguments seem to fall into two
subcategories. First, and more generally, Mr. Woods contends
that throughout this case I have been "tak[ing] the
government at its word" while demanding proof from the
Defendants, see Doc. 265, ¶¶ 26, 28, 29,
and holding the Defendants "to a different standard than
the government, " see Id. at ¶ 27. Second,
and more specifically, Mr. Woods objects to certain
statements, observations, or findings that were made from the
bench during oral argument on Mr. Woods's Second Motion
to Continue Trial (Doc. 155) at the November 30, 2017
Pretrial Conference. See Id. at ¶¶ 13-14,
29. Below, I will deal first with the more general set of
arguments about holding the parties to different standards.
Then I will take up the more specific arguments concerning my
remarks from the bench on November 30, 2017.
Allegation of Holding Different Parties to Different
begin with an illustrative and typical example: Mr. Woods
writes that "[w]hen arguing for a continuance, the Court
took the government at its word that the discovery provided
was 'not relevant' with little inquiry at all, while
at the same time requiring defense counsel to show time
sheets and documentation to prove to the Court our position
is sincere." Id. at ¶ 28. There are two
profound problems with Mr. Woods's argument here.
first problem is that, in fact, the Court most certainly did
not "take the government at its word that the
discovery provided was 'not relevant.'" Indeed,
the Court went out of its way to state from the bench, on the
record, that "[t]he Court still does not know
whether the production contain[s] highly relevant e-mail
communications with the defendants or whether it contains
wholly nonrelevant information, as the government
contends." (Doc. 260, p. 58) (emphasis added). So Mr.
Woods's assertion on this particular point is just
second (and closely related) problem with Mr. Woods's
argument here is that he is completely ignoring the legal
burden that was his to carry on his
Motion to Continue. He complains about the undersigned
demanding proof from him on his Motion to
Continue-which was opposed by every single other party in
this case including his own codefendants-as if this demand of
proof were something astonishing and scandalous rather than
the perfectly ordinary and predictable thing that it actually
is. Six months earlier, when this Court granted Mr.
Woods's first Motion to Continue Trial (Doc. 47)- over
the opposition of his codefendant Mr. Paris-this Court made
very clear that it "remains very sensitive to Mr.
Paris's legitimate interest in having these proceedings
resolved as speedily as is reasonably possible, " and
that "[a]ccordingly, the Court will not grant any
further continuances of the trial date after today,
barring truly extraordinary and presently unforeseeable
good cause." See Doc. 57, pp. 6-7 (emphasis added).
Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has observed
that the problem of "assembling the witnesses, lawyers,
and jurors at the same place at the same time . . . counsels
against continuances except for compelling reasons."
Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1, 11 (1983) (emphasis
added). So I am simply baffled as to why counsel for Mr.
Woods would take exception to a demand for proof in support
of his Second Motion to Continue, half a year after he was
put on explicit notice that he would need to show "truly
extraordinary and presently unforeseeable good cause" in
order to obtain any further continuances of the trial date.
these problems with the aforementioned example, one might
expect that Mr. Woods would point to some additional
rulings by this Court, on other motions in this
case, as specific examples of apparent bias. He certainly
seems to think such examples abound, writing:
The Court has repeatedly questioned the sincer[it]y of Woods
and the other co-defendants in challenging the
government's representations that they have provided
"all relevant" discovery, including documents and
recordings. The Court has repeatedly taken the government at
its word regarding a number of matters, including the
relevancy of discovery; whether the government aided Neal in
the recording of Woods while represented by counsel; and
whether it was in possession of relevant discovery, including
audio recordings-positions that are either not true or that
are now at the very least in doubt. The record is replete of
instances where representations made by the government were
indeed disingenuous, inaccurate, or untrue. Yet it's