Bank of New York Mellon v. Stafne et al

Filing 137

ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE affirming Judge Zilly's denial of defendant's 134 Motion for Recusal by Chief Judge Ricardo S Martinez.(RS)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 BANK OF NEW YORK, MELLON, 8 Plaintiff, 9 CASE NO. C16-0077TSZ ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE v. 10 SCOTT STAFNE, et al., 11 Defendants. 12 This action, requesting money judgment and foreclosure in connection to a promissory 13 14 15 16 17 18 note executed for the purchase of real property, was filed in January 2016. Dkt. #1. Defendant Scott Stafne1 filed a Motion for Recusal on May 26, 2017. Dkt. #134. The Presiding Judge, the Honorable Thomas S. Zilly, has declined to recuse himself and, in accordance with the Local Rules of this District, referred the matter to the Undersigned for further review. Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 3(e); Dkt. #136. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in 19 20 any proceeding in which his impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.” Federal judges also 21 1 Although Mr. Stafne is proceeding pro se in this action, it is worth noting that he is an attorney with Stafne Trumbull LLC, and is admitted to practice in Washington State and before 23 this Court. Thus, he is presumed to be familiar with not only the substantive law pertaining to the issues in the case against him, but also with Court Rules, procedures and statutory 24 provisions relevant to the assertions he makes in connection with this case. 22 ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE1 1 shall disqualify themselves in circumstances where they have a personal bias or prejudice 2 concerning a party or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the 3 proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). 4 Under both 28 U.S.C. §144 and 28 U.S.C. § 455, recusal of a federal judge is appropriate 5 if “a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge’s 6 impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Yagman v. Republic Insurance, 987 F.2d 622, 626 7 (9th Cir.1993). This is an objective inquiry concerned with whether there is the appearance of 8 bias, not whether there is bias in fact. Preston v. United States, 923 F.2d 731, 734 (9th 9 Cir.1992); United States v. Conforte, 624 F.2d 869, 881 (9th Cir.1980). In Liteky v. United 10 States, 510 U.S. 540 (1994), the United States Supreme Court further explained the narrow basis 11 for recusal: 12 13 14 15 [J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. . . . [O]pinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion unless they display a deep seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible. Thus, judicial remarks during the course of a trial that are critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to, counsel, the parties, or their cases, ordinarily do not support a bias or partiality challenge. 16 Id. at 555. Rather than focus on these applicable standards, Defendant instead asserts multiple 17 other grounds upon which he argues that Judge Zilly should recuse himself. All of his bases for 18 recusal are without merit. 19 First, without a scintilla of evidence in support, Defendant questions Judge Zilly’s 20 competency based on his alleged age (which Defendant has not actually correctly calculated). 21 Tacking together a series of generic quotes about deficits related to aging, Defendant attempts to 22 fashion an argument that equates Judge Zilly’s age with his fitness to discharge his duties. The 23 24 ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE2 1 fact that Defendant fails to offer a shred of evidence from the record tending to indicate any 2 impairment on Judge Zilly’s part speaks for itself. 3 Second, Defendant attacks Judge Zilly’s fitness to preside over his case on the basis of 4 his “senior status,” which he alleges is a feature of the federal judicial system which allows 5 judges who meet the qualifications to “retire,” receive their pension and continue to serve the 6 courts in a voluntary capacity.2 Notably, Defendant fails to cite a single legal precedent tending 7 to establish that the fact of a presiding judge’s “senior status” has ever been held (in and of itself) 8 to constitute a proper basis for recusal. 9 Setting aside the complete lack of evidentiary or legal support for Judge Zilly’s age or 10 senior status as a basis for recusal, Defendant’s request is noteworthy for its lack of relevance to 11 the statute under which he might properly advocate for recusal. The statutory basis for recusal 12 exists only if “a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the 13 judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Yagman, 987 F.2d at 626; see 28 U.S.C. 14 §144 and 28 U.S.C. § 455. Defendant does not propound any evidence-based rationale which 15 ties Judge Zilly’s age or senior status to an issue of “impartiality” or “bias;” he simply wants to 16 argue – via innuendo and stereotype – that Judge Zilly is unfit to preside over his case. The law 17 requires more. 18 Lastly, it is clear that Defendant does not agree with a number of rulings made by Judge 19 Zilly which have not been in his favor. A judge’s rulings do not constitute the requisite bias 20 under 28 U.S.C. § 144 or § 455 if prompted solely by information that the judge received in the 21 22 2 A simple internet search would have revealed the inaccuracy of Defendant Stafne’s 23 allegations. “Senior status” is a form of semi-retirement for United States federal judges that allows them to receive the full salary of a judge but have the option to take a reduced caseload 24 (although many senior judges choose to maintain a full caseload). ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE3 1 context of the performance of his duties. Bias is almost never established simply because the 2 judge issued adverse rulings against a party. If Defendant believes that Judge Zilly has 3 committed legal error in his rulings, he is entitled to make that argument on appeal to the Ninth 4 Circuit Court of Appeals. He is not entitled to claim “bias” on that basis, nor is he entitled to 5 recusal of the judge who made the rulings. 6 Accordingly, the Court finds no evidence upon which to reasonably question Judge 7 Zilly’s impartiality and AFFIRMS his denial of Defendant’s request that he recuse himself. 8 The Clerk SHALL provide copies of this order to Defendants and to all counsel of record. 9 10 Dated this 2nd day of June, 2017. 11 A 12 RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 ORDER ON REVIEW OF REQUEST TO RECUSE4

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