United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division
ORDER DENYING THE § 2255 MOTION
Robert L. Hinkle, United States District Judge
A grand jury indicted the defendant Harrison Norris, Jr. on 28 counts arising from an operation in which Mr. Norris held women against their will and forced them to engage in prostitution. After a 10-day trial, the jury convicted Mr. Norris on 24 counts and acquitted him on 4. Mr. Norris appealed. After a remand and resentencing, Mr. Norris appealed again. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Mr. Norris now has moved for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He alleges that the judge who presided over the trial—but not the resentencing—was biased or was impaired by his neurological condition and mental health. The judge, Jack T. Camp, later resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. In the course of the criminal conduct, Judge Camp made comments suggesting bias against African American men in relationships with white women. He may have made comments showing broader racial bias. Judge Camp’s comments apparently included a specific reference to Mr. Norris, though not by name. Mr. Norris is African American, and some of his victims were white.
After reviewing the entire 2, 367 page transcript, I deny relief.
The second superseding indictment charged Mr. Norris with one conspiracy count and 27 substantive counts. The crux of the charges was that Mr. Norris held specific women at his residence against their will and took them to other locations—usually starting at night clubs—for the purpose of prostitution. The government also presented evidence that Mr. Norris forced some of the women to have sex with him.
The crux of Mr. Norris’s defense was that the women were in training at his residence as wrestlers. Mr. Norris was himself a former professional wrestler and had wrestling facilities, including a ring, at his residence. Mr. Norris asserted that the women were free to leave and that they engaged in prostitution—if at all—on their own, without his involvement. He asserted that any sex between him and the women was voluntary.
The evidence was easily sufficient to go to the jury, that is, to allow a reasonable jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Norris was guilty. Indeed, the evidence included eye-witness testimony of most of the victims. The jury convicted Mr. Norris on all but the four counts involving one specific alleged victim who did not testify.
Mr. Norris chose to represent himself at trial. As would be expected for any pro se defendant, Mr. Norris was not fully conversant with the rules of procedure and evidence. Judge Camp was extraordinarily respectful of, and patient with, Mr. Norris. A good judge might well aspire to be so respectful and patient. For his part, Mr. Norris was himself respectful of Judge Camp and the process. As pro se trials go, this was a good one.
Now represented by an attorney on the § 2255 motion, Mr. Norris has not cited any ruling Judge Camp made, or anything Judge Camp did or said, that showed bias, lack of expertise, or poor judgment. Mr. Norris has not criticized Judge Camp’s actual performance in any respect. My own review of the transcript shows no ground for criticism. I would not have done everything exactly as Judge Camp did—no two judges would ever handle a case in precisely the same way— but I saw nothing suggesting I could have conducted a fairer trial or that I could have obtained a more just or reliable verdict. In short, there is no basis for concluding that Judge Camp’s views or health influenced the verdict. And the sentence is unassailable; it was imposed by a different judge, whose ability and impartiality have not been questioned.
The issue, then, is whether the later revelations about Judge Camp—criminal conduct, comments suggesting racial bias, and an alleged history of mental-health deficiencies—entitle Mr. Norris to relief without a showing of any actual effect on Mr. Norris’s case.
The parties have cited no case, and I am aware of none, addressing circumstances quite like these. But the reported decisions provide guidance.
First, in Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899 (1997), a judge “thoroughly steeped in corruption” was convicted of taking bribes from defendants in murder cases. The judge presided over Mr. Bracy’s murder trial during the same time period. Mr. Bracy asserted the judge was biased against defendants who did not pay bribes; Mr. Bracy said this was an effort to appear tough on crime and thus to camouflage the judge’s bribery-induced pro-defendant bias in other cases. Mr. Bracy cited specific rulings that he said showed bias.
The Supreme Court said bias of this kind would violate the Due Process Clause. The Court explained, “[T]he floor established by the Due Process Clause clearly requires a ‘fair trial in a fair tribunal, ’ . . . before a judge with no actual bias against the defendant or interest in the outcome of his particular case.” Id. at 904-05 (quoting Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 46 (1975), and citing Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 821-22 (1986), and Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. ...