United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. KOLAR MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Verified Motion
for Disqualification of Magistrate Judge Joshua P. Kolar
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) [DE 148], filed by
Plaintiff Bennie Kennedy on September 23, 2019.
support of his motion, Plaintiff reports and submits evidence
that I was president of the Shedd Aquarium Auxiliary Board in
2011, was on that board from 2011-2013, and, in 201l, was an
“ex-officio trustee” of the Shedd Aquarium by way
of my presidency of the Auxiliary Board. See (Mot.
Ex. B, ECF No. 148-2); (Mot. Ex. C, ECF No. 148-3). I can
confirm that I held these positions with the Shedd Aquarium.
Plaintiff also reports that in 2013, a solar panel project at
the Shedd Aquarium “was funded through partnerships
with the State of Illinois, Department of Commerce and
Economic Opportunity, Illinois Clean Energy Foundation and
Schneider Electric.” (Mot. Ex. C 3, ECF No.
148-3 (emphasis added)). Plaintiff provided the Court with a
partial copy of a Schneider Electric document concerning the
collaboration with the Shedd Aquarium. (Mot. Ex. D 2, ECF No.
148-4). Although not dispositive of the issue, it is worth
noting that all of Plaintiff's exhibits address a time
period well before my appointment as a United States
disqualify myself in a proceeding in which I have a personal
bias or prejudice against or in favor of a party or in which
my impartiality might reasonably be questioned. 28 U.S.C.
§§ 144, 455(a). On the other hand, I should not
recuse from a case where there is no justification for doing
so. U.S. v. Hanhardt, 134 F.Supp.2d 972, 975 (N.D.
Ill. 2001) (“Indeed, a court's duty of recusal is
twofold: just as it must recuse itself in the face of valid
reasons, it must not recuse itself without
justification.” (citing New York City Housing
Development Corp. v. Hart, 796 F.2d 976, 981 (7th
Cir.1986)). Plaintiff argues that disqualification is
required here. However, for the reasons stated below, I find
that recusal is not required in this case. Plaintiff does not
explicitly state in the argument portion of his brief that he
asserts I am biased due to Defendant's and my connections
to the Shedd Aquarium, but I consider both whether there is
any evidence of potential bias and whether there is an
appearance of bias.
it was shown that Schneider Electric and I had
contemporaneous connections to the Shedd Aquarium. I served
on the Auxiliary Board of the aquarium, including a term as
president of that board, which made me an “ex-officio
trustee.” I also donated to the Shedd Aquarium and
continue to do so. Exhibits to the Plaintiff's motion
show that Defendant collaborated with the Shedd Aquarium
regarding a solar panel project and may have also donated to
facts are similar to the case of Armenian Assembly of
America v. Cafesjian, 783 F.Supp.2d 78 (D. D.C. 2011).
In that case, the judge assigned to the case and Defendant
Cafesjian had both contributed to the acquisition of a piece
of art by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Id. at 89. The judge and Cafesjian also had similar
interests in collecting works of glass art by certain artists
and the judge's and Cafesjian's names appear in
certain publications relating to glass art collections,
predominantly museum collections. Id.
Court found that “[a]t most, Plaintiffs' evidence
could give rise to an inference that the undersigned may have
been aware of Cafesjian as a fellow patron of glass art. But
that inference would not lead a reasonable observer to
question the Court's impartiality.” Id.
in McCann v. Communications Design Corporation, 775
F.Supp. 1535 (D. Conn. 1991), the judge was a trustee of Yale
University, and his wife held a position as a Professor of
Law at Yale Law School. Id. at 1540. One of the
defendants had made a $5000 gift to Yale, which amounted to
0.0038% of total gifts and 0.045% of gifts from corporate
donors. Id. at 1539.
judge concluded that a reasonable person, knowing and
understanding all of the relevant facts, would not conclude
that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be
questioned. Id. at 1543 (citing In re Placid Oil
Co., 802 F.2d 783, 787 (5th Cir. 1986). In making his
conclusion, the judge looked at another case, Easley v.
University of Michigan Board of Regents, 906 F.2d 1143
(6th Cir. 1990). In Easley, the university was
itself a party, the judge was an alumnus of the law school,
was a former partner of a law firm that represented the
University of Michigan Hospital, had two sons who were
partners of that firm, was a sometime volunteer for the law
school, was a member of the Committee of Visitors of The
University of Michigan Law School, and was a member of The
University of Michigan Club of Detroit. Because recusal was
not required in Easley, the judge in McCann
reasoned, his connection to non-party Yale University did not
that this provides further support to my conclusion that
recusal is not required. Here, the Shedd Aquarium is not a
party, and my connections to the Shedd Aquarium have provided
me with no personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts
in this case. As stated above, I have served on the Auxiliary
Board of the aquarium, including a term as president of that
board, which made me an “ex-officio trustee” of
the Shedd Aquarium. I have also donated to the Shedd
Aquarium. The evidence shows that Defendant collaborated with
the Shedd Aquarium regarding a solar panel project and may
have also donated to it.
reasonable person apprised of the relevant facts would not
conclude that my impartiality may reasonably be questioned
due to Defendant's and my connections to the Shedd
Aquarium. Large organizations have many donors. A link
between two such donors based solely upon their mutual (and
independent) decisions to donate to the same organization
does not call for recusal. A contrary rule would cause any
judge who donated to a large charity to recuse in a number of
cases and would provide parties with an easy method of judge
clear, I never took part in any solicitation of funds from
Schneider Electric and did not know of their connection to
the Shedd Aquarium until the filing of Plaintiff's
motion. I have no fiduciary obligations to the Shedd
Aquarium, and all of the exhibits to Plaintiff's motion
address a time period well before my appointment to the
bench. This illustrates why any rule calling for recusal
based upon a donation to a large charity that was also at one
point potentially supported by a party is unnecessary.
also argues that my former position as an Assistant United
States Attorney who prosecuted criminal cases shows that I am
biased here. However “all judges come to the bench with
a background of experiences, associations, and view points.
This background alone is seldom sufficient in itself to
provide a reasonable basis for recusal.” Fairly v.
Andrews, 423 F.Supp.2d 800, 820 (N.D. Ill. 2006)
(quoting Brody v. President & Fellows of Harvard
College, 664 F.2d 10, 11-12 (1st Cir. 1981)). Plaintiff
also cites extensively to the procedural history of this
case. “Judicial rulings, routine trial administration
efforts, and ordinary admonishments are not grounds for
recusal.” El v. Peters¸ No.
1:12-cv-1688, 2013 WL 6234617, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 2, 2013)
(citing Liteky v. United States, 510 US. 540
(1994)). “[A]dverse judicial rulings are not grounds
for recusal.” United States v. Flournoy, No.
12 CR 50044, 2014 WL 12709679, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 24,
2014) (citing Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555). Accordingly,
to the extent the Plaintiff's motion argues that there is
bias because I was formerly a prosecuting attorney for the
government and because I granted a motion to extend filed by
Defendant but not one filed by Plaintiff, there is no basis
on which to recuse myself for the reasons stated above.
on the foregoing, the Court hereby DENIES
Plaintiff's Verified Motion for Disqualification of
Magistrate Judge Joshua P. Kolar ...