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Recusal question occupies 7th Circuit in District Court’s dismissal of habeas petition

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Although a prisoner filed his habeas petition late, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the District Court should not have dismissed it on procedural grounds.

The 7th Circuit vacated the dismissal of Anthony Weddington’s petition and remanded to the court for further proceedings in Anthony Weddington v. Dushan Zatecky, Superintendent, 11-3303.

The court spends considerable time in its opinion mulling over whether or not Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, should have recused herself from the hearing on Weddington’s petition.

Weddington was charged in 2002 with four counts of rape, four counts of criminal deviate conduct, and two counts of criminal confinement. The charges were severed into two separate trials.

Pratt, then a Marion Superior Court Judge, presided over the first trial in September 2003. Weddington was convicted and Pratt sentenced him to 73 years.

The second trial in 2005 also resulted in a conviction. Six years later, Weddington filed a pro se habeas petition under 28 U.S. Code 2254, challenging his 2005 conviction. He claims the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress all evidence from a January 2002 traffic stop.

Weddington argued that the one-year limit on filing should not apply to his petition or bar it because, while he was in prison, his legal paper work, law books and legal mail were all confiscated and withheld from him.

When Weddington’s petition arrived in federal court, Pratt was sitting on the bench. She denied his petition, finding Weddington was barred by the statute of limitations.  

In examining Pratt’s participation, the 7th Circuit notes although Weddington was challenging the 2005 conviction, the criminal charges were closely related to the 2003 case.

“Review of the habeas petition on the merits may require Judge Pratt to review the 2005 proceedings with respect to a suppression motion aimed at the same stop and search as the one involved in the suppression motion on which she ruled in the 2003 case,” the court wrote. “In our view, this could seriously affect the fairness and public reputation of the judicial proceedings and create an appearance of impropriety.”

However, the court remanded the case for different reasons. Specifically, it ruled the District Court erred in failing to consider whether the limitation period was equitably tolled by the state’s alleged confiscation of Weddington’s legal papers.

The 7th Circuit noted the appearance of bias can be remedied by assignment of a different District judge on remand.



 
 

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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