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Locke v. Warren

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

September 30, 2019

WENDELL LOCKE, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETH WARREN, as Clerk of Courts. Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROY K. ALTMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (the “Motion”) [ECF No. 17], filed on August 28, 2019. The Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (the “Response”) [ECF No. 20] on September 11, 2019. And the matter ripened on September 12, 2019, when the Defendant filed her Reply (the “Reply”) [ECF No. 21].

         THE FACTS

         This case implicates the common law right of access to judicial records. See Complaint [ECF No. 1] ¶ 1. The Plaintiff, Wendell Locke, was the attorney of record in J. Pearl Bussey-Morice v. Patrick Kennedy (the “Bussey case”), a civil rights case in the Middle District of Florida. See Id. ¶4. On January 8, 2015, the Court entered final judgment against the plaintiff in the Bussey case. See Id. ¶ 5. The court then “unilaterally” reassigned the case from Judge Charlene E. Honeywell to Judge Carlos E. Mendoza. See id.

         In response to that reassignment, the Plaintiff called the Clerk's office to ask how (and why) the case had been reassigned. See Id. ¶ 6. A member of the Clerk's office informed him that an operations manager had made the transfer. See Id. Within “minutes” of that call, one of Judge Mendoza's law clerks called the Plaintiff and asked him if he had any questions about the reassignment. See Id. ¶ 7. The clerk explained that there was a “Standing Order” regarding the reassignment-but, when pressed for a copy of that order, the clerk retracted that explanation. See id. Now changing his story, the clerk said that the case was reassigned because of an email that had been sent by a third federal judge, Anne Conway. See Id. ¶ 8. But, when the Plaintiff asked for a copy of that email, the clerk refused to produce it. See id.

         On April 4, 2018, the Plaintiff sent the Clerk of Court for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida a written request for the following litany of what he calls “judicial records, ” see Id. ¶ 9:

• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes of then Judge Anne C. Conway in 2014;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes of then Judge Anne C. Conway in 2015;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes by then Chief Judge Anne C. Conway in 2014 concerning assignment and/or reassignment of cases to or from Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes by then Chief Judge Anne C. Conway in 2015 concerning assignment and/or reassignment of cases to or from Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes by then Chief Judge Anne C. Conway in 2014 concerning assignment and/or reassignment of cases to or from Judge Carlos E. Mendoza;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records from the Clerk regarding any policy changes by then Chief Judge Anne C. Conway in 2015 concerning assignment and/or reassignment of cases to or from Judge Carlos E. Mendoza;
• Any and all emails, correspondence, and records concerning the case reassignment of case number 6:11-cv-970-Orl-41GJK to Judge Carlos E. Mendoza; and . Any and all emails, correspondence, assignments, and records from Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell to Carlos E. Mendoza concerning case number 6:11-cv-970-Orl-41GJK

Id. at 4-5. The Clerk's office did not respond to his request. See Id. ¶ 10.

         On April 18, 2019, the Clerk's office, in its efforts to make sense of why a practicing attorney would request the private correspondence of three federal judges, docketed the request in the Bussey case as a Motion to Disqualify. See Id. ¶ 11-12. According to the Plaintiff, this “mischaracterization” of his request was “tantamount to the commission of wire fraud.” See Id. ¶ 13. Judge Mendoza likewise interpreted the request as a motion to disqualify-and promptly denied it. See Id. ¶ 14-15.

         For reasons unrelated to the request for judicial records, the Plaintiff was sanctioned for his conduct in the Bussey case. See generally Bussey-Morice v. Kennedy, No. 611CV970ORL41GJK, 2018 WL 4101004, at *18 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 12, 2018), reconsideration denied, No. 611CV970ORL41GJK, 2018 WL 4091899 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 27, 2018), aff'd sub nom. Bussey-Morrice v. Kennedy, 775 Fed.Appx. 1003 (11th Cir. 2019).[1] J. Pearl Bussey-Morice, the Plaintiff in that case, appealed the sanctions ruling to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where he argued that, because the reassignment had been improper, Judge Mendoza (the judge to whom the Bussey case had been ...


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