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James-Bey v. Stancil

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

October 14, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon a motion by Ben Finholt, Attorney with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc. (“NCPLS”), to withdraw as counsel for Terrence L. James-Bey. (Doc. No. 39.) Also before the Court are Petitioner's pro se Motion to Lift Stay, Motion to Dismiss Counsel, Motion for Recusal (Doc. No. 41) and pro se Supplemental Motion to Recuse (Doc. No. 42).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner is a prisoner of the State of North Carolina serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. In 2011, Petitioner filed a § 2254 Petition in this Court, claiming that the State of North Carolina cannot lawfully exert jurisdiction over him because he is a “Moorish-American national with permanent character.” See June 3, 2011 § 2254 Pet. 3, James-Bey v. State of North Carolina, et al., No. 1:11-cv-00136-RJC (W.D. N.C. ), Doc. No. 1. The Court dismissed the Petition because it was meritless. See Order, id. at Doc. No. 9.

         On June 24, 2013, Petitioner, through counsel Sarah Jessica Farber of NCPLS, filed a successive § 2254 habeas petition in this Court raising an Eighth Amendment claim under Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).[1] Simultaneously, counsel filed a motion to stay the § 2254 petition (Doc. No. 2) and a Motion for Leave to Appear Pro Hac Vice by attorney Frederick Liu, (Doc. No. 3). Counsel sought to place Petitioner's habeas petition in abeyance pending adjudication of his Motion for Appropriate Relief filed in Cleveland County Superior Court, in which he claimed he received a mandatory sentence of life without parole as a juvenile, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This Court granted both motions. (Doc. No. 5.)

         On June 20, 2017, attorney Ben Finholt filed a notice of substitution for Sarah Jessica Farber. (Doc. No. 11.) On September 12, 2017, the Court granted attorney Mitchell Reich's motion for leave to appear for Petitioner pro hac vice and Frederick Liu's motion to withdraw as Petitioner's attorney. (Doc. No. 17).

         Beginning in 2015, Petitioner has repeatedly filed frivolous pro se motions, averments, and declarations in this case based upon a “Moorish Nation” jurisdiction theory, see Doc. Nos. 6-8, 12, 18-19, 24, all of which have been dismissed because he is represented by counsel, see Doc. Nos. 9, 16, 20. In June 2018, Petitioner filed several documents notifying the Court that he refused to recognize Mitchell Reich, or any other attorney from Reich's law firm, as his legal representative and directing the Court to reject any filings from Reich. (Doc. Nos. 21, 22.) These were followed by a pro se motion to dismiss counsel, see Doc. Nor. 23, and a motion from Reich to withdraw as counsel, see Doc. No. 24. On July 9, 2018, the Court granted Mitchell Reich's motion to withdraw as counsel for Petitioner. (Doc. No. 25.)

         A similar pattern ensued with counsel Finholt, wherein Petitioner has sought through filings with this Court, to terminate Finholt's representation. According to Finholt's Motion to Withdraw, he repeatedly wrote to Petitioner seeking clarification of his status as counsel. His letters went unanswered until March 5, 2019, when he received a letter from Petitioner stating unambiguously that Petitioner did not wish Finholt to represent him. Accordingly, Finholt filed the instant motion to withdraw as Petitioner's counsel.

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed the instant pro se motions to lift stay, dismiss counsel, and to recuse. He has made other filings that are not relevant here, some of which will be addressed by separate order.


         A. Motion to Withdraw as Counsel

         A defendant has no right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings. Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 555 (1987). However, the court has discretion to appoint counsel to a financially eligible person when “the interests of justice so require.” 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2)(B). This Court did not appoint counsel for Petitioner, however, and he has never sought appointment of counsel in this action. Rather, Petitioner already was represented by counsel when his § 2254 Petition was filed.

         In 28 U.S.C. § 2242, Congress codified the “next friend” doctrine, which provides that a habeas petition may be brought “by the person for whose relief it is intended or by someone acting in his behalf.” Id. “[I]n keeping with the ancient tradition of the doctrine, ” the Supreme Court has concluded that “one necessary condition for ‘next friend' standing in federal court is a showing by the proposed ‘next friend' that the real party in interest is unable to litigate his own cause due to mental incapacity, lack of access to court, or other similar disability.” Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 165 (1990). Thus, both the common law and federal statutory law allow for pursuit of habeas corpus relief on behalf of an incompetent prisoner.

         While Petitioner's adherence to frivolous legal theories ultimately may be detrimental to the success of his habeas Petition, that does not mean that he is incompetent to proceed. None of his attorneys in this civil action have raised a concern in this Court about Petitioner's competency. Accordingly, counsel Finholt's Motion to Withdraw as Counsel is granted; Petitioner's ...

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