Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Scrushy: Recusal motion correctly denied

In U.S. v. Scrushy, No. 12-10694 (July 15, 2013), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to recuse a district judge from a case, and the denial of a motion for a new trial.

The motions arose out of evidence that jurors in the Scrushy trial had engaged in improper deliberations. During the investigation of this matter, the district judge held an ex parte meeting with U.S. Marshals who told him some of the juror evidence was forged.

The Court rejected the argument that the district judge must be recused because of this ex parte meeting, noting that the judge had resolved the matter in Scrushy’s favor. A disinterested observer would therefore not doubt the judge’s impartiality.

Turning to the motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence, the Court found that one ground for this motion – selective prosecution – was not a proper ground: the decision to prosecute has no bearing on the integrity of the trial or verdict. In addition, selective prosecution challenges are waived if not raised before trial, and Scrushy offered only “feeble” reasons for having delayed bringing this motion until after trial.

The Court also found no merit in the claim that Scrushy was deprived of a “disinterested” prosecutor because a U.S. Attorney continued being involved after recusing herself from the case. The Court found that the U.S. Attorney’s “limited involvement” did not deprive Scrushy of a disinterested prosecutor.

Finally, the Court rejected as not “material” evidence that jurors had a romantic interest in the FBI case agent. “The assertion that a mere expression of attraction would infect the jury’s decision with bias strains credulity.”