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Laginess v. Heyns

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 14, 2016

ANTHONY GERALD LAGINESS, Petitioner,
v.
DAN HEYNS, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE HABEAS CORPUS PETITION, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

          HONORABLE PAUL D. BORMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Anthony Gerald Laginess has filed a pro se habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petition challenges Petitioner's conviction for one count of acceptance of a bribe by a public official. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.118. Petitioner alleges as grounds for relief that his trial attorney was constitutionally ineffective and that the prosecutor committed misconduct. The State argues in an answer to the petition that Petitioner procedurally defaulted his prosecutorial-misconduct claim and that the state courts' rejection of Petitioner's claims did not result in decisions that were contrary to federal law, unreasonable applications of federal law, or unreasonable determinations of the facts. Having reviewed the pleadings and record, the Court concludes that Petitioner's claims lack merit. Accordingly, the petition will be denied.

         I. Background

         The charge against Petitioner arose when the Michigan Attorney General investigated Adam Korejsza's contractual dealings with the City of River Rouge, Michigan.[1] During the investigation, Korejsza told the authorities that he had obtained a drug-prescription contract with the City by bribing Petitioner, who was a city councilman at the time. Korejsza ultimately pleaded guilty to several charges, including embezzlement, in return for a favorable sentence.

         Petitioner was charged with accepting Korejsza's bribe in return for his vote on Korejsza's bid to win the drug-prescription contract with the City of River Rouge. As explained by the state court, Petitioner's criminal conduct

occurred between September 1, 2006 and January 1, 2007, during which time [Petitioner] was a member of the River Rouge City Council. For several weeks in the fall of 2006, the City Council was involved in the process of choosing a new healthcare provider for city employees and retirees. Several different companies were bidding on the contract and making presentations to the mayor and the City Council as part of the bidding process. The prosecution alleged that [Petitioner] accepted a $5, 000 bribe from Adam Korejsza, a representative of one of the companies, in exchange for his vote to award that vendor the contract.

People v. Laginess, No. 306965, 2013 WL 275918, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2013).

         At Petitioner's jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court, Korejsza testified that

he approached [Petitioner] after one of the city council meetings and asked him what it was going to take for him to change his vote, and [Petitioner] responded with “five grand or five racks or something like that, ” which Korejsza took to mean $5, 000. Korejsza testified that just a few days later, and before the city council vote, he met [Petitioner] behind a bar near River Rouge city hall and gave him $5, 000 cash in an envelope.
[Petitioner], who had previously been adamantly opposed to awarding the contract to Korejsza's company, ultimately voted to do just that. [Petitioner] testified that he changed his mind based on advice from several people, including city attorneys.

Id.

         On September 27, 2011, the jury found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of acceptance of a bribe by a public official. On October 19, 2011, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to imprisonment for seventeen months to ten years.[2]

         Petitioner moved for a new trial and an evidentiary hearing on grounds that the prosecutor withheld favorable evidence from him and committed other misconduct and that his trial attorney deprived him of effective assistance. The trial court held oral arguments on Petitioner's motion and then denied the motion. Petitioner subsequently raised his habeas claims and a sentencing argument in an appeal of right. A panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence in an unpublished, per curiam decision, see id., [3] and on October 28, 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Laginess, 495 Mich. 880 (2013) (table).

         On April 21, 2014, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. He argues that his trial attorney's omissions resulted in ineffective assistance and that the prosecutor withheld favorable evidence from him and committed other misconduct.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97 (2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under the “contrary to” clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable application” clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000) (O'Connor, J., opinion of the Court for Part II). “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Id. at 411.

         “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt, ' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on his or her claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 103.

         III. Analysis

         A. Defense Counsel

         Petitioner raises several issues concerning his trial attorney. There can be “no dispute that the clearly established federal law here is Strickland v. Washington, ” 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 189 (2011). Under Strickland, a defendant must show “that counsel's performance was deficient” and “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.” Id.

         The “deficient performance” prong of the Strickland test “requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. “Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential.” Id. at 689.

         To demonstrate that counsel's performance prejudiced the defense, a defendant must show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Id. at 694. “This does not require a showing that counsel's actions ‘more likely than not altered the outcome, ' ” but “[t]he likelihood of a different result must be substantial, not just conceivable.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 111-12 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 693).

         Review of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim is “doubly deferential” under

         AEDPA,

because counsel is “strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment, ” Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. __, __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 17, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013) (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 690, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); internal quotation marks omitted). In such circumstances, federal courts are to afford “both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.” Burt, supra, at __, 134 S.Ct., at 13.

Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1151 (2016) (per curiam).

         1. Trial Counsel's Alleged Failure to Request Critical Information

         Petitioner claims that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to request critical material that could have been used to impeach the prosecution's witnesses. The material in question consisted of Korejsza's written plea agreement with the prosecution and pre-trial statements made by other prosecution witnesses.

         a. Korejsza's Plea Agreement

         Petitioner alleges that defense counsel should have moved to produce and unseal Korejsza's written plea agreement with the prosecutor. Petitioner contends that the precise terms of the plea agreement were never disclosed to him and that defense counsel needed to know the full parameters of the plea agreement to impugn Korejsza's integrity, to neutralize his testimony, and to provide the jury with critical information regarding Korejsza's motive and credibility.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals determined on review of Petitioner's claim that defense counsel was aware of the contents of the plea agreement and that his failure to move to unseal the entire plea agreement did not deprive Petitioner of a substantial defense. The Court of Appeals noted that the jurors were made aware of Korejska's plea agreement, his felony convictions, his incarceration, and his sentence and yet found his testimony credible enough to convict Petitioner. The Court of Appeals concluded that, even if defense counsel's failure to move to unseal the entire plea agreement fell below a standard of reasonableness, there was not a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's error, the result of the proceedings would have been different.

         The state court's factual findings are supported by the record, which indicates that defense counsel asked the prosecutor for a copy of Korejsza's written plea agreement. The prosecutor responded by explaining that the trial judge in Korejsza's case had sealed the plea agreement at the request of Korejsza's attorney. The prosecutor nevertheless provided defense counsel with a copy of Korejsza's plea agreement with her office, as well as the affidavit supporting the investigatory arrest warrant. See prosecutor Alison A. Furtaw's letter to Petitioner's trial attorney on May 18, 2011, ECF No. 9-8, Pg ID 1746; see also 3/10/12 Post-Conviction Mot. Hr'g at 5, 15-16.

         After Petitioner's trial, the prosecutor asked Korejsza's trial judge to unseal the plea agreement for purposes of the hearing on Petitioner's post-conviction motion. Korejsza's judge denied the prosecutor's request. (3/30/12 Post-Conviction Mot. Hr'g at 4-5.) Although the judge subsequently granted the prosecutor's request for disclosure of the agreement, see People v. Koresjza (sic), No. 10-4218-FH, Opinion and Order (Wayne Cty. Cir. Ct. June 4, 2012), it is clear that a pretrial motion from defense counsel to produce and unseal the plea agreement would ...


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