United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MARTA D. LYALL, Petitioner,
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Respondent.
ORDER ON REVIEW OF REFUSAL TO RECUSE
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Petitioner's motion for
voluntary dismissal, which included allegations that the
Honorable Robert S. Lasnik, Senior United States District
Judge, could not be impartial in presiding over the matter.
Dkts. #36 and #39. Out of an abundance of caution, Judge
Lasnik reviewed the motion as one including a request to
recuse himself. Judge Lasnik declined to recuse himself, and
stated that he was inclined not to dismiss the action and
resolve a pending motion on the merits. Dkt. #39. In
accordance with the Local Rules of this District,
Petitioner's motion then was referred to the Undersigned
for a review of Judge Lasnik's Order. LCR 3(e).
filed her Complaint on December 2, 2015. Dkt. #6. In that
Complaint she names the Federal Bureau of Investigation as
the Defendant, and alleges that she is a documentary
filmmaker working on an investigative documentary about Carl
L. Harp, a public figure who was apparently murdered in
prison in 1981. Dkt. #6 at ¶ 4. She asserts that she is
completing the investigative project which was started by her
father prior to his death in 1975. Dkt. #6 at ¶ 4.
Petitioner appears to believe that Mr. Harp was involved in
undercover operations for the federal government, and that
her father died under suspicious circumstances after
investigating Mr. Harp's life story. Id.at
¶ ¶ 6-34. As part of her own continuing project,
she has apparently made several requests to Defendant under
the federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”)
for documents related to Mr. Harp and her father, which have
gone unanswered. Id. at ¶ ¶ 35-47. As a
result, she has brought this action for violations of FOIA.
Id. at ¶ ¶ 48-53.
filing the Complaint, this matter has proceeded through
litigation for nearly two years. Defendant filed an Answer to
the Complaint, followed by a Motion to Dismiss which is
currently pending. Dkts. #12 and #29. Petitioner initially
requested an extension of time to respond to the motion, but
then filed her own motion for voluntary dismissal, which is
the subject of this Order. Dkt. #36. In that motion,
Petitioner stated as follows:
At the Status conference the court stated that the
defendant's attorney was above reproach, merely because
of his job title and the courts [sic] familiarity with him.
The court also stated the Petitioner was not above reproach
because of her position on the Harp case, which showed she
had “different thinking” than the “rest of
The court stated it was supportive and had a history of
familiarity or friendship with Mark Ericks, who was the
initial arresting officer in the Harp case.
. . .
. . .
For the reasons above, the Petitioner feels there is little
chance the court would be able to be unbiased regarding this
case, and the Petitioner's argument would be useless. The
Petitioner was also too intimidated by the courts statements
to her during the status conference to feel confident enough
to pursue her rights. The Petitioner's capacity to pursue
her rights were further hindered by her fall.
For these reasons the Petitioner asks the court to dismiss
the case without prejudice, so that the Petitioner can pursue
her rights in this case at a later date, with a different
Judge who is not friends with parties who oppose the
Petitioner's film project on Carl Harp, her father's
work, (which questioned Harp's investigation), and her
whistle-blowing complaint at Carnegie Mellon University, when
she was a professor and had an interaction with the FBI.
to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a judge of the United States
shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his
impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.”
Federal judges also shall disqualify themselves in
circumstances where they have a personal bias or prejudice
concerning a party or personal knowledge of disputed
evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding. 28 U.S.C. §
both 28 U.S.C. §144 and 28 U.S.C. § 455, recusal of
a federal judge is appropriate if “a reasonable person
with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the
judge's impartiality might reasonably be
questioned.” Yagman v. Republic Insurance, 987
F.2d 622, 626 (9th Cir.1993). This is an objective inquiry
concerned with whether there is the appearance of bias, not
whether there is bias in fact. Preston v. United
States, 923 F.2d 731, 734 (9th Cir.1992);
United States v. Conforte, 624 F.2d 869,
881 (9th Cir.1980). In Liteky v. United States, 510
U.S. 540 (1994), the United States Supreme Court further
explained the narrow basis for recusal:
[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 ...