The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Appearance of a Conflict of Interest

One of the major complaints about the Yolo County Criminal Justice system is the apparent close ties between the District Attorney's Office and the County Judges. Overly prosecutor-friendly judges seems to be common-knowledge in Yolo County.

One huge apparent conflict of interest is that Judge Stephen Mock is the lead Superior Court Judge in Yolo County. His wife is Ann Hurd, the Chief Deputy District Attorney. Judge Mock assigns cases to judges while his wife assigns prosecutors to the same cases.

The outward apparence here is that there is a conflict of interest in this situation. Indeed this has been a source of defense attorney complaints for some time.

Some have suggested the problem is more appearance than fact. They cite that the Judge position as one that is more administrative than a position of power. Moreover, they suggest that Hurd and Mock themselves go to great lengths to be above the board.

Nevertheless, this is a troubling arrangement for a number of reasons.

First, our system is predicated on the notion that we rely on rules and structure to prevent abuse of power rather than the good will of individuals.

Madison at the founding of our nation wrote in Federalist #51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
The basic premise here is that we produce government to control the governed but also the government itself. We do that through structures and laws that do have to rely on the good will and good behavior of individuals. So an apparent conflict of interest that is not abused, is still a conflict of interest. When Mayor Sue Greenwald the other week had an issue come up involving a portion of town where she owned property, she recused herself from offering in the deliberations or the policy decision. She may have indeed acted in good faith had she continued to sit, but the very possibility that interests would conflict necessitated her from recusal.

The second basic problem, if even if Mock act honorably and ethically in his position, the very fact that a Judge would be married to a Deputy DA in the same jurisdiction is a cause for concern. Once again, the suggest has been made that if anything Mock is more pro-defense counsel in his decision, once again, we are relying on the honor of a man rather than leaving no chances. Hon. Mock may indeed be above reproach, but it is the system that we are concerned about.

I think we need a close look at the way our system runs here in Yolo County, there have been a number of stories and incidents that are of concern. This one was brought to my attention by one of the readers of this forum, but there are several others that should be examined as well.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting