In yet another of the increasingly bizarre twists and turns in Katrina-spawned litigation, in USA v. Scruggs, the prosecution of Dickie Scruggs for criminal contempt of court, Scruggs filed a motion asking all federal judges in the Northern District of Alabama to recuse themselves, and they did. Click here to read the motion, which is short. Click here to read the order of recusal, which is shorter.
Scruggs, in an extraordinarly deferential and respectful pleading, argued that the impartiality of the judge — Judge L. Scott Coogler presided over the case — or any judge in the Northern District was subject to question by an objective observer because a colleague, Judge William Acker, is the one who began the criminal case against Scruggs. Here’s an excerpt:
The extent of intimacy at issue here is unusual. Courts rarely confront a case where a sitting judge of the court is the alleged victim, conducted a hearing on the conduct at issue, appointed the prosecutor, participated in the drafting of the charging document, instituted the criminal proceedings, and is likely to be a witness in the case. Given the cumulative effect of the relevant facts and the professional and personal interests that are at stake, this is precisely the kind of case where recusal of the entire Court is required.
The court agreed that judges’ impartiality could be reasonably questioned. The case is referred to the presiding judge of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Northern District of Alabama sits, for appointment of another judge in another district. In practical terms, it almost certainly means the November 20 arraignment of Scruggs is off.
UPDATE: Here’s a good story from the Birmingham News on developments.