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Guadarrama v. Small

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


August 9, 2010

JORGE GUADARRAMA, PETITIONER,
v.
LARRY SMALL, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louisa S Porter United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DENYING, IN PART, PETITIONER'S MOTION TO DISQUALIFY MAGISTRATE JUDGE PORTER AND DISTRICT JUDGE BENITEZ FROM CASE

[Doc. 33]

Petitioner Jorge Guadarrama is a state prisoner proceeding pro se on a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Doc. 1.] On July 1, 2010, Petitioner filed a "Motion of Disqualification of Magistrate Judge Louisa S Porter and District Judge Roger T. Benitez From the Case." [Doc. 33.] In particular, Petitioner alleges judicial bias based on the Court (1) granting two extensions of time to Respondent to answer the Petition; and (2) denying Petitioner's motion to obtain his legal materials. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the motion for disqualification as to Judge Porter. The Court will issue a separate order as to the requested disqualification of Judge Benitez.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a judge must disqualify herself "in any proceeding in which [her] impartiality might reasonably be questioned." This is an objective standard. United States v. Holland, 519 F.3d 909, 914 (9th Cir. 2008). In other words, recusal is required if "a reasonable person perceives a significant risk that the judge will resolve the case on a basis other than the merits." Id. (internal quotations omitted). The "reasonable person is not someone who is hypersensitive or unduly suspicious, but rather is a well-informed, thoughtful observer." Id. (internal quotations omitted). Alternatively, a judge must disqualify herself "where [s]he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). This is a subjective standard, under which a judge must recuse herself when she harbors actual bias. Holland, 519 F.3d at 915. However, under the "general proposition, . . . [i]n the absence of a legitimate reason to recuse [herself], a judge should participate in cases assigned." Id. at 912 (internal quotations omitted).

In light of the foregoing, the Honorable Louisa S Porter need not recuse herself from this case. Specifically, each of Petitioner's asserted grounds for disqualification involve previous rulings in this matter, but "prior rulings in the proceeding" do not require recusal "except in the rarest of circumstances." Holland, 519 F.3d at 914 n. 5 (internal quotations omitted). Petitioner has not demonstrated exceptional circumstances. For example, even though the Court granted extensions of time for Respondent to answer the Petition, the Court also granted Petitioner's motion for additional time to oppose Respondent's motion to dismiss. [Doc. 32.] Furthermore, Petitioner accuses the Court of "denying" his motion to obtain his legal materials, but this is not an accurate representation of the Court's Order of May 28, 2010 [Doc. 24]. Rather, the Court held a telephonic Discovery Conference with both parties, ascertained that Petitioner's legal materials were delayed due to comingling with his medical records, and ordered Petitioner to send North Kern Valley Prison a "letter authorizing the transfer of his medical records." Id. at 1. Furthermore, the Court confirmed that "Respondent's counsel has agreed to follow up with personnel at North Kern Valley Prison in order to facilitate the transfer of Petitioner's records in an expeditious manner." Id. at 2. Based thereon, the Court finds a reasonable person would not perceive "a significant risk that [Judge Porter] will resolve the case on a basis other than the merits." Holland, 519 F.3d at 914. Additionally, the Court finds that Judge Porter does not possess "a personal bias or prejudice concerning [Petitioner]." 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). Accordingly, Petitioner's motion for disqualification, as to the Honorable Louisa S Porter, is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20100809

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