United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge
matter comes before the court on defendant Terrance
Brown's pro se motion for recusal, ECF No. 439,
and a related motion to change venue, ECF No. 431, based on
his claim that the undersigned United States District Court
judge is biased against gangs. As there is no basis for
Brown's assertion, the court will deny the motions.
faces charges for RICO conspiracy, drug conspiracy, assault
in aid of racketeering, and firearms offenses in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), 21 U.S.C. § 846, and 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1959(a), 924(c), respectively. The government
alleges that Brown is a member of the Mad Stone Bloods
seeks disqualification of the undersigned United States
District Court judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 455
and 144. ECF No. 439. He seeks to change venue on the same
grounds. ECF No. 431. Brown contends that the undersigned is
biased against gang members generally and him personally. He
makes two allegations in support of his motion. First, Brown
claims that his counsel, Paul Beers, told Brown during a July
9, 2017 consultation that "Judge Michael F. Urbanski
does not like gang members, and that Judge Urbanski would
hate to have a headline that read Judge Michael F. Urbanski
acquits gang member.'" Brown Aff., ECF No. 439-1, at
1. According to Brown, these statements reflect
"apparent bias and prejudice toward me, being that Im a
documented gang member on a Rico Case." Id.
Second, Brown states that in "every court hearing to
date inside Judge Urbanski's courtroom, Judge Urbanski
doesn't allow me to speak when I ask to. My counsel Mr.
Beers wont speak on what I ask him too and Judge Urbanski
doesn't allow me to have a voice during this vital time
where Im fighting for my freedom against the
government." Id. at 1-2.
28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a "federal judge is obliged to
recuse himself if a person with knowledge of the relevant
facts might reasonably question his impartiality."
United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665 (4th Cir.
2003) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 455(a)). "This objective
standard asks whether the judge's impartiality might be
questioned by a reasonable, well-informed observer who
assesses all the facts and circumstances." United
States v. DeTemple, 162 F.3d 279, 286 (4th Cir. 1998).
The standard "does not require a judge to recuse himself
because of unsupported, irrational, or highly tenuous
speculation." DeTemple, 162 F.3d at 287
(citations and quotations omitted). To require recusal on
such speculative grounds "would allow litigants to
exercise a negative veto over the assignment of judges."
case, a reasonable, well-informed observer who has assessed
all the circumstances would not question the
undersigned's impartiality. Brown's allegation that
the undersigned "does not like gang members" lacks
any foundation in fact. Apparently, it is based upon a
private conversation between Brown and his counsel about
Brown's ability to obtain a bench trial.
and Beers have differing recollections of their conversation.
Beers recounted at the July 19, 2017 hearing that he told
Brown that he had no right to a bench trial because the
government was not going to consent. Beers added:
But I said, anyway, what difference would it make? The jury
is going to hear very disturbing evidence about a gang called
the Bloods and they're not going to like it. Judge
Urbanski is not going to like the evidence where - or a
finder of fact either. I don't see what difference it
disagreed, stating at the July 19, 2017 hearing the
But Mr. Beers was saying that it wasn't like that at all,
that he said, in actuality, Mr. Urbanski is a great judge but
he doesn't like gang members. And with him not liking
gang members, he would hate the headline that says "Mr.
Urbanski acquits gang member." Those were his exact
recollections of a private conversation between Brown and his
counsel provide no basis for judicial recusal. Under these
circumstances, no "reasonable person would have a
reasonable basis for questioning the [undersigned's]
impartiality." Cherry, 330 F.3d at 665.
second set of allegations likewise do not require recusal.
During pretrial hearings the court has on occasion instructed
Brown to consult with his counsel rather than speak on the
record. "A judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom
administration-even a stern and short-tempered judge's
ordinary efforts at courtroom administration-remain immune
and do not establish bias or partiality." United
States v. Castner, 50 F.3d 1267, 1274 (4th Cir. 1995)
(quoting Liteky v. United States,510 U.S. 540, 556
(1994)): cf. United States v. Piano. 62 F.3d 1180,
1193 (9th Cir. 1995) (Criminal defendants have "no
absolute right to serve as co-counsel after electing to be
represented by an attorney."). Directing Brown to speak
to his lawyer during open ...