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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Public Defender Requests Judge Mock be Disqualified from Hearing Murder Case

Saturday's Woodland Daily Democrat reports that the man suspected of killing a retired UC Davis professor will attempt to remove Judge Stephen Mock from hearing further proceedings.

Public defender, Richard Van Zandt incidicated that he intended to make a motion to disqualify Judge Mock, but the Daily Democrat reports that he did not elaborate on the specific reason that he should be disqualified.

However, one easy point of speculation quickly goes to his marriage with Ann Hurd, who works for the District Attorney's Office. 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.

Adding more fuel to that speculation is that this is not the first instance where a defense attorney questioned the ethicacy of Judge Mock presiding over such a case. This follows a high profile murder case involving two men charged with killing a CHP officer that was held up while a court ruled on whether Jude Mock's relationship with the No.2 person in theYolo County District Attorney's office represented an inherent conflict of interest.

On November 7 in our article, "Appearance of a Conflict of Interest" we suggested that this relationship presented at least the appearance of a conflict of interest even if both individuals performed their duties admirably. Others have countered that Judge Mock's positions is an administrative position rather than one of true authority and they suggest that if anything he is more favorable toward defendents than others in his department.

This may in fact be true, although, looking at a few cases, I begin to wonder about that. Particularly his failure to intervene in the Berny case when it was clear that something was amiss with Judge Fall.

Regardless of the propriety, it is becoming increasingly clear that as defense attorney's begin to make an issue of this relationship (at this point I am jumping to the conclusion that this is the reason for the request), the issue becomes less one of principle and more one of practicality.

Can this county afford that this relationship is challenged each and every time Judge Mock presides over a high profile case?

These delays and additional hearings simply add to the growing cost of the criminal justice system. It would seem the best interest of all involved if one of these individuals were transferred to an adjacent county. In the interest of expediency and efficiency of the court system this would seem the easiest solution if someone in the place of power can make it so.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting