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Greer v. State

January 15, 2004

RONALD LEWIS GREER, PETITIONER, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant a hearing on his claims of judicial bias when those claims were barred by State v. Knaffla, 309áMinn. 246, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976).

Affirmed.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, Justice.

OPINION

Appellant Ronald Lewis Greer was convicted of first- and second-degree murder as a result of the July 26, 1998 shooting death of Kareem Brown. State v. Greer, 635áN.W.2d 82, 84 (Minn. 2001) ("Greer I"). His trial took place in Hennepin County and was presided over by Judge Harry Crump. Id. During the course of the pretrial proceedings, defense counsel made several attempts to remove Judge Crump. On May 4, 1999, defense counsel asked Judge Crump to recuse himself. Judge Crump denied this motion. The following day, defense counsel renewed the motion. This motion was also denied. Defense counsel based these two motions on an ex parte meeting between Judge Crump and the prosecutor.

After Judge Crump denied the second recusal motion, defense counsel filed another removal motion with then-Chief Judge Daniel Mabley. Defense counsel once again argued that Judge Crump's ex parte contact with the prosecutor was improper. Judge Mabley denied the motion and instructed the parties to return to Judge Crump for further proceedings.

In a post-trial motion, defense counsel claimed that Judge Crump had engaged in numerous ex parte contacts with the jury before and during deliberations. Defense counsel requested that Judge Crump recuse himself from deciding whether to grant a hearing on the issue of his ex parte contacts with the jury. Greer I, 635 N.W.2d at 92. The motion sought a hearing on this matter before the chief judge. The same day, appellant filed a motion for a new trial with the chief judge. This motion requested that a Schwartz hearing be conducted by the chief judge to determine the nature and extent of the ex parte contacts between the trial judge and the jury. Id. The chief judge denied appellant's motion and ordered that the motion for a new trial should be heard by Judge Crump. Id. at 92-93.

Appellant then brought a second motion before the chief judge, this time seeking to have Judge Crump removed. Id. at 93. In support of this motion, defense counsel argued that Judge Crump possessed personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts and that his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. The motion was denied by the chief judge. That same day, Judge Crump denied all of appellant's remaining post-trial motions. Id.

Appellant filed a notice of appeal to this court from the judgment of conviction, raising four issues in support of his appeal. We denied appellant's requests on all but one claim: that Judge Crump erred when he refused to grant a hearing before an impartial judge to determine the extent of any ex parte communications with the jury. We then remanded the case to the chief judge of the district court with instructions to hear and decide the motion for a Schwartz hearing. Id. at 93-94.

On remand, Chief Judge Kevin Burke first took testimony from Judge Crump to determine the extent of any ex parte contacts with the jury. Judge Crump testified that he "may have briefly communicated with the jury regarding scheduling and exchanged some pleasantries." All such contact, Judge Crump testified, was "incidental." State v. Greer, 662 N.W.2d 121, 122 (Minn. 2003) ("Greer II"). Appellant submitted his own affidavit, in which he stated that he had seen Judge Crump enter and exit the jury room on a regular basis. Appellant described a specific instance in which he heard laughter emanating from the jury room and then saw Judge Crump exit the room, "laughing and giggling." Id. at 123. The chief judge granted appellant's motion for a Schwartz hearing, and the hearing was held on April 30, 2002.

The chief judge summoned six of the twelve jurors, chosen at random, and all six testified at the Schwartz hearing. Id. None of the six jurors recalled any discussion with Judge Crump regarding the reasons for procedural delays or the merits of the case. All six agreed that ex parte comments from Judge Crump had no influence on their verdict and that they had no reason to believe such comments had affected the verdicts of other jurors. The chief judge agreed to close the testimony and subsequently issued an order denying appellant's motion for a new trial. Appellant appealed this ruling, claiming that the entire jury should have been questioned. We concluded that the chief judge's conduct of the Schwartz hearing was not an abuse of discretion. Id. at 125.

Sometime following the original trial, defense counsel obtained affidavits from two former law clerks of Judge Crump. We noted these affidavits in Greer II. Id. at 122. These affidavits were filed with a petition for post-conviction relief, and were received in the record without objection. Defense counsel brought these affidavits to the attention of Chief Judge Burke. The chief judge allowed appellant 30 days to decide whether to formally pursue a claim connected with the affidavits, per Minn. Stat. § 590.04 (2002). Appellant filed the current claim of "actual bias" on Januaryá23, 2002, 3 months before the Schwartz hearing, which we reviewed in Greer II. The current matter, concerning the affidavits, was therefore pending concurrent to the allegations discussed in Greer II.

The first former clerk submitted an affidavit dated January 14, 2002. The first clerk noted that Judge Crump "told me he denied defense counsel's challenges for cause because he was angry with them." The second former clerk submitted an affidavit dated January 15, 2002. The second clerk similarly noted that Judge Crump "informed me and my co-clerk * * * that he was angry with defense counsel and denied defense challenges for cause because he was angry with them." The second clerk also noted that Judge Crump was angry "because of his tone of voice, his agitated manner and his low frustration level." Judge Crump passed out questionnaires to the jurors following the trial. The second clerk claimed that two of the jurors noted that they believed Judge Crump favored the prosecution. The second clerk further claimed that Judge Crump instructed ...


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