Trying to Kick a Judge Off a Case is Difficult: the Eleventh Circuit Rejects Recusal Motion by Defendant who Killed Another Eleventh Circuit Judge

We do criminal cases here, that’s just about all we do, whether in federal court in Georgia, Alabama, Florida or other parts of the country, but also throughout the State of Georgia. Many times, clients feel that a particular judge will not be fair, and they want us to talk about getting rid of that judge. To so so, a lawyer needs to file a motion for something we call “recusal”. However, when any lawyer is convinced that filing such a motion is appropriate, he or she needs to have pretty good grounds to do so, because you are basically saying that the judge on your case is unfair. If that same judge denies the recusal motion, you are stuck with a judge who you’ve just challenged.

This same process played out in an opinion published earlier today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which has it headquarters here in Atlanta just down the street from our offices. The case stems from the famous bombing that killed Robert Vance, who was an Eleventh Circuit judge at the time he was murdered.

Back in 1972, Walter Leroy Moody was convicted of federal crimes. He bore a grudge, evidence showed. In 1989, evidence demonstrated that Moody sent a mail bomb to Judge Vance’s house, killing the judge and seriously wounding his wife. Moody was later convicted of this and other crimes, and since 1990 he has been litigating every aspect of his cases.

Mr. Moody filed a post-conviction challenge, which got assigned to a judge in Alabama. Moody argued that because his crimes targeted a federal judge in Alabama, the judge assigned to the case should be removed. That judge refused to remove himself from the case, so Mr. Moody appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, the same court Judge Vance sat on when he was murdered. Moody then argued that the appeal should be sent to another set of appeals judges in a different part of the country.

The Court of Appeals rejected both sets of challenges. First, the three-judge “Panel” consisted of judges who were not even federal employees back in 1989 when Judge Vance was killed. Next, they pointed out that the judge handling the post-conviction matter likewise was not a judge at that time, and if Moody’s argument was taken to its logical extreme, there never would be a federal judge who could hear the case.

As a result, Mr. Moody will now be stuck with a judge whose impartiality he challenged. Filing, and then losing a recusal motion, is not a good recipe for success in any lawsuit.