Bracy v. Gramley

Decision Date09 June 1997
Docket Number966133
Citation520 U.S. 899,138 L.Ed.2d 97,117 S.Ct. 1793
PartiesWilliam BRACY, Petitioner, v. Richard B. GRAMLEY, Warden
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

Petitioner was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death before then-Judge Thomas J. Maloney, an Illinois judge who was later convicted on federal charges of taking bribes from criminal defendants. In this federal habeas petition, petitioner claims that Maloney had an interest in his conviction to deflect suspicion that the judge was taking bribes in other murder cases during and around the time of petitioner's trial, and that this interest violated the fair-trial guarantee of the Due Process Clause. The District Court denied both the claim and a supplemental discovery motion. In affirming, the Seventh Circuit held, inter alia, that petitioner had not shown "good cause'' for discovery to prove his claim, as required by Rule 6(a) of the Rules Governing §2254 Cases.

Held: Petitioner has made a sufficient factual showing, under Habeas Corpus Rule 6(a), to establish "good cause'' for discovery on his claim of actual judicial bias in his case. Pp. ____-____.

(a) Before addressing whether petitioner is entitled to discovery, his claim's essential elements must be identified. See United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. ----, ----, 116 S.Ct. 1480, 1488, ----, 134 L.Ed.2d 687. Due process requires a fair trial before a judge without actual bias against the defendant or an interest in the outcome of his particular case. Petitioner claims that Maloney's acceptance of bribes from criminal defendants not only rendered him biased against the State in those cases, but also induced a compensatory bias against defendants who did not bribe him, since he did not want to appear "soft'' on criminal defendants. There is no question that, if proved, such compensatory, camouflaging bias in petitioner's own case would violate due process. Pp. ____-____.

(b) Petitioner has shown good cause for appropriate discovery to prove his claim. The usual presumption that public officials have properly discharged their official duties has been soundly rebutted here. Maloney's public trial and conviction show that he was thoroughly corrupt. A Government proffer in that case details his corruption as both a trial attorney and a judge. Additional evidence supports the claim that Maloney was biased in petitioner's own case. His trial attorney was a former associate of Maloney's in a law practice that was familiar and comfortable with corruption, who announced that he was ready for trial just a few weeks after his appointment and requested no additional time before trial to prepare for the penalty phase of the case. Petitioner alleges that Maloney appointed the attorney with the understanding that he would not object to, or interfere with, a prompt trial, so that petitioner's case could camouflage bribe negotiations being conducted in another murder case. The Government's proffer confirms that petitioner's murder trial was sandwiched tightly between other murder trials that Maloney fixed. Although petitioner may be unable to obtain evidence sufficient to support a finding of actual judicial bias in his trial, he has made a sufficient showing to establish "good cause'' for discovery. Although, given the facts of this particular case, it would be an abuse of discretion not to permit any discovery, Habeas Corpus Rule 6(a) provides that the scope and extent of discovery is a matter confided to the District Court's discretion. Pp. ____-____.

81 F.3d 684 (C.A.7 1996), reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Gilbert H. Levy, Seattle, WA, for petitioner.

Barbara A. Preiner, Wheaton, IL, for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner William Bracy was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death before then-Judge Thomas J. Maloney for his role in an execution-style triple murder. 1 Maloney was later convicted of taking bribes from defendants in criminal cases. Although he was not bribed in this case, he "fixed'' other murder cases during and around the time of petitioner's trial. Petitioner contends that Maloney therefore had an interest in a conviction here, to deflect suspicion that he was taking bribes in other cases, and that this interest violated the fair-trial guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. We hold that petitioner has made a sufficient factual showing to establish "good cause,'' as required by Habeas Corpus Rule 6(a), for discovery on his claim of actual judicial bias in his case.

Maloney was one of many dishonest judges exposed and convicted through "Operation Greylord,'' a labyrinthine federal investigation of judicial corruption in Chicago. See United States v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645 (C.A.7 1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 295, 136 L.Ed.2d 214 (1996); see generally J. Tuohy & R. Warden, Greylord: Justice, Chicago Style (1989). Maloney served as a judge from 1977 until he retired in 1990, and it appears he has the dubious distinction of being the only Illinois judge ever convicted of fixing a murder case. 2 Before he was appointed to the bench, Maloney was a criminal-defense attorney with close ties to organized crime who often paid off judges in criminal cases. App. 54-56; 81 F.3d 684, 696 (C.A.7 1996) (Rovner, J., dissenting) (" [B]y the time Maloney ascended to the bench in 1977, he was well groomed in the art of judicial corruption''). Once a judge, Maloney exploited many of the relationships and connections he had developed while bribing judges to solicit bribes for himself. For example, Lucius Robinson, a bailiff through whom Maloney had bribed judges while in practice, and Robert McGee, one of Maloney's former associates, both served as "bag men,'' or intermediaries, between Maloney and lawyers looking for a fix. Two such lawyers, Robert J. Cooley and William A. Swano, were key witnesses against Maloney at his trial. Maloney, supra, at 650-652.

Maloney was convicted in Federal District Court of conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and obstructing justice in April 1993. Four months later, petitioner filed this habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, claiming, among other things, that he was denied a fair trial because "in order to cover up the fact that [Maloney] accepted bribes from defendants in some cases, [he] was prosecution oriented in other cases.'' United States ex rel. Collins v. Welborn, 868 F.Supp. 950, 990 (N.D.Ill.1994). Petitioner also sought discovery in support of this claim. Specifically, he requested (1) the sealed transcript of Maloney's trial; (2) reasonable access to the prosecution's materials in Maloney's case; (3) the opportunity to depose persons associated with Maloney; and (4) a chance to search Maloney's rulings for a pattern of pro-prosecution bias. 3 The District Court rejected petitioner's fair-trial claim and denied his supplemental motion for discovery, concluding that " [petitioner's] allegations contain insufficient specificity or good cause to justify further discovery.'' Id., at 991.

The Court of Appeals affirmed by a divided vote. The court conceded the "appearance of impropriety'' in petitioner's case but reasoned that this appearance did not require a new trial because it "provide[d] only a weak basis for supposing the original trial an unreliable test of the issues presented for decision in it.'' 81 F.3d, at 688-689. Next, the court agreed that petitioner's theory-that Maloney's corruption "permeate[d] his judicial conduct''-was "plausible,'' id., at 689, but found it not "sufficiently compelling [an] empirical proposition'' to justify presuming actual judicial bias in petitioner's case, id., at 690. Finally, the court held that petitioner had not shown "good cause'' for discovery to prove his claim, as required by 28 U.S.C. §2254 Rule 6(a). Id., at 690. This was because, in the court's view, even if petitioner were to uncover evidence that Maloney sometimes came down hard on defendants who did not bribe him, "it would not show that he followed the practice in this case. '' Id., at 691 (emphasis added). In any event, the court added, because petitioner had failed to uncover any evidence of actual bias without discovery, "the probability is slight that a program of depositions aimed at crooks and their accomplices . . . will yield such evidence.'' Ibid. 4 We granted certiorari to address whether, on the basis of the showing made in this particular case, petitioner should have been granted discovery under Habeas Corpus Rule 6(a) to support his judicial-bias claim. 519 U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 726, 136 L.Ed.2d 643 (1997). We now reverse.

A habeas petitioner, unlike the usual civil litigant in federal court, is not entitled to discovery as a matter of ordinary course. Thus, in Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 295, 89 S.Ct. 1082, 1088-1089, 22 L.Ed.2d 281 (1969), we concluded that the "broad discovery provisions'' of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure did not apply in habeas proceedings. We held, however, that the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §1651, gave federal courts the power to "fashion appropriate modes of procedure,'' 394 U.S., at 299, 89 S.Ct., at 1090, including discovery, to dispose of habeas petitions "as law and justice require,'' id., at 300, 89 S.Ct., at 1091. We then recommended that "the rule-making machinery . . . be invoked to formulate rules of practice with respect to federal habeas corpus . . . proceedings.'' Id., at 300, n. 7, 89 S.Ct., at 1091, n. 7. Accordingly, in 1976, we promulgated and Congress adopted the Rules Governing §2254 Cases. Of particular relevance to this case is Rule 6(a), which provides:

SU22S"A party shall be entitled to invoke the processes of discovery available under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if, and to the extent that, the judge in the exercise of his discretion and for good cause...

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