U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer has recused himself from presiding over a federal complaint by Fairfield-based filmmaker Thomas K. Reilly who seeks disclosure of Department of Justice wiretap recordings from the 2003 prosecution of Mayor Joe Ganim. Meyer, who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office but had no involvement in the Ganim case, writes he has recused himself “on the ground that my prior service in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the same time as the trial of Joseph Ganim may create an appearance that I could not be fair and impartial in this case.” Reilly, who resides in the Southport section of Fairfield, shared in an email exchange with OIB he’d provide additional details about his project in the near future.
Reilly brought his federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act after the feds declined to disclose documents related to the case.
Excerpt from Judge Meyer decision:
Plaintiff has now moved to recuse me as the judge in this case on the ground that I served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the same time that the investigation and prosecution of Joseph Ganim occurred. This was a fact that I disclosed to the parties at the initial status conference that I convened with the parties on April 3, 2017. Doc. #40 at 3. As I made clear during the status conference, I was not a prosecutor in that case. Ibid.; see also United States v. Joseph P. Ganim, 3:01-cr-00263-JBA (docket sheet listing counsel names). Nor do I have any recollection of otherwise participating in the investigation or prosecution, and I do not have personal knowledge concerning the disposition of any records from the investigation and prosecution.
In addition, I do not have a personal bias in favor of the U.S. Department of Justice, whether in general or because of my prior work for the Department of Justice that ended more than 12 years ago. Accordingly, my recusal is not required pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1) (requiring recusal if judge “has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding”), or pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(3) (requiring recusal if a judge “has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy”).
On the other hand, because of the fact that I worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the same time of the very high-profile investigation and prosecution of Joseph Ganim and because plaintiff now complains about my impartiality, I conclude on further consideration that my continued participation could create an appearance that I would not be fair and impartial. See 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) (requiring disqualification of a judge “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned”). As the Supreme Court has observed, “the goal of section 455(a) is to avoid even the appearance of partiality,” and “[i]f it would appear to a reasonable person that a judge has knowledge of facts that would give him an interest in the litigation then an appearance of partiality is created even though no actual partiality exists because the judge does not recall the facts, because the judge actually has no interest in the case or because the judge is pure in heart and incorruptible.” Liljeberg v. Health Servs. Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 860 (1988).
In an abundance of caution and in light of the fact that this litigation has now turned toward a focus on the record-keeping policies of the U.S. Attorney’s Office as distinct from the FBI (Doc. #39), I think the appropriate course is for me to recuse myself so that the case may be randomly reassigned by the Clerk Office’s to another judge who was not working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the relevant times of the investigation and prosecution of Joseph Ganim.
See judge’s recusal decision here.
See case details here.
Other filmmakers have shown interest in Ganim’s comeback. Local film documentarian Don Sikorski chronicled Ganim’s 2015 mayoral comeback in real time for his City Wars series.
Starting in the summer of 1999, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office secured court-authorized wiretaps of several targets in the Ganim case. The recordings, however, were instrumental in corroborating witness testimony rather than providing a smoking gun of impropriety. Over the course of Ganim’s more than two-month trial, the government played a few dozen–out of hundreds of wiretaps–recordings to bolster its case with the jury. Then-FBI agent Ed Adams, now mayoral aide in one of the surreal twists to Ganim’s comeback, testified in the case and sat through the entire trial. Ganim was convicted March 19, 2003 and sentenced to nine years by U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton.
He served more than six years in two low-security federal facilities before release to a halfway house in January 2010. Ganim had toyed with a mayoral comeback in 2011 but several timing factors such as being on supervised release, young children and his then-wife loathe to a political comeback held him back.
Along the way the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling denying Ganim reinstatement to the state bar. His economic vitality diminished, who was going to pay Ganim a financial package of roughly $160,000 accorded the mayor of the state’s largest city? Ganim returned to the political arena in 2015 with a historic win based largely on a second-chance message that resonated with black voters opposed to the record of incumbent Democrat Bill Finch. Ganim knocked off Finch in the primary on his way to a convincing general election win.