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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA vs. ROCKY JOE HOUSTON

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Magistrate again denies recusal in latest hearing

By Damon Lawrence

Rocky Houston couldn’t make up his mind on Friday.

A hearing was held at the federal courthouse in Knoxville to address several motions he filed with the court.

He initially told U.S. Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley Jr. he wanted to argue only one, but by the end of the hearing he ended up arguing all of them.

Houston’s wavering, along with his continued tangents about alleged conspiracies, resulted in a long-winded hearing that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours.   

“You’ve taken up the entire morning,” Shirley said.

Houston was indicted by a federal grand jury in January on 14 counts of being a felon in possession of firearms. He faces up to 140 years in prison.

Houston has been acting as his own attorney in the case. Shirley has advised him to do otherwise during previous hearings. On Friday, he again asked if Houston wanted an attorney.   

“Right now, I’m going to go on pro se,” Houston said.  

One of the motions he filed was to recuse Shirley.

“You make that motion to recuse me each hearing and I deny it every time,” Shirley said.

“I will deny it again today.”

Houston asserted that Shirley needs to recuse because his older brother, Leon Houston, named the magistrate as a defendant in a lawsuit.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Shirley said.

Last year the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating allegations that Rocky Houston, who was convicted of a felony in 2010, was in possession of firearms.

A video camera installed on a utility pole near Houston’s South of the River residence allegedly captured him carrying and shooting weapons.

Leon Houston faces one count of possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

Knoxville attorney Joseph Fanduzz filed the motion to suppress the video footage before Shirley allowed him to step down as Leon Houston’s court-appointed attorney.

Rocky Houston also filed a motion to suppress the footage in his case.

When arguing why it should be thrown out, he read word-for-word from Fanduzz’s motion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings pointed it out to Shirley.

“You’re just reading from your brother’s brief,” Shirley said.

Rocky Houston responded by telling Shirley he wanted to adopt Fanduzz’s motion.

“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” Shirley said. “It would have been so much easier.”

Rocky Houston also addressed his motions to dismiss the indictment and enlarge the jury pool in the case to 500.

“It sure would be a big help if I had these handcuffs off,” he said.

Houston is being held at the Knox County Jail and was shackled for the hearing.

His request to have the handcuffs removed was denied.

Shirley took all of Houston’s motions under advisement and plans to issue a ruling at a later date.
Houston’s March 26 trial date was also postponed. Shirley set a tentative date of July 16.

Houston also told Shirley he no longer wants Knoxville attorney Norman D. McKellar to serve as his advisory counsel. He said he is unhappy with McKellar because subpoenas he wants issued for Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan, U.S. Magistrate Bruce Guyton and U.S. Attorney William Killian have not been served.

“He (McKellar) did the right thing, and you were wanting to do the wrong thing,” Shirley replied.

In order to have the subpoenas issued, Shirley said Houston must show the court how the presence of those federal officials is necessary for an adequate defense.

Houston claimed they are part of a conspiracy against him.

“The fact that you or your brother file something and make certain allegations doesn’t establish it as true,” Shirley said.