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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sideshow Continues in Murder Trial; Chief Justice Called in To Help

California's Chief Justice Ronald George has been asked to intervene in the Yolo Superior Court's handling of the case against a man who has been accused of killing a Yolo County Sheriff's Deputy. Justice George will appoint an outside judge who will then rule on the motion to disqualify every Yolo County Judge from hearing the case.

Three Judges have already disqualified themselves two because they had worked with the Sheriff's Deputy in past employment and the third because as Judge, they had ruled on a family law issue involving the defendant.

The other seven refused to disqualify themselves and Judge Rosenberg ruled that he had no power to remove those judges and he refused to disqualify himself.

He is quoted in the Sacramento Bee saying:
"It would be easy to disqualify myself with the stroke of a pen... There being no good reasons to disqualify, I decline to disqualify myself from hearing this case."
Judge Rosenberg then apparently read aloud his entire nine page ruling into court where he criticized bailiffs and sheriff's deputies for their decision to prevent access to the June 18 arraignment.

The Sacramento Bee continues:
The judge said he had not known the outer doors of the court building were locked until after the hearing was over.

Deputies had made a "unilateral decision to prevent access" to the public and the suspect's family, while allowing fellow officers and the victim's family to enter through side doors, he said.

He said a judge would have to be "downright stupid" to "sanction, condone, or collude with other judges to actually bar the press and the public from an arraignment courtroom."

A former Yolo County supervisor and state political figure, Rosenberg said he had been accused of many things during his public career. But, "I don't think I've ever been accused of being stupid," he said.
Sacramento News 10 quotes Judge Rosenberg:
"The public and the press should never be barred from a criminal hearing or trial because of a locked door," said Rosenberg.

Responding to defense allegations that Rosenberg and other judges delayed their June 18 caseloads to allow their bailiff to attend Topete's arraignment, Rosenberg said, "... there is not a scintilla of evidence presented that I knew other departments were doing so, nor that I and any other judge 'colluded' to close our departments..."
Dean Johansson the public defender then apparently objected to the entire filing being read into the record.
"That was a political speech."
To which the Judge responded:
"One could say it's a political (defense) motion. The motion has attacked the integrity of the entire bench."

Basically what has happened to this point is that three Judges have disqualified themselves who have direct past dealings with either victim or the defendant. The grounds for getting the other seven disqualified seem rather steep at this point, although having Justice George intervene to name a judge to rule on the remainder of the motion is rather unusual.

I remain at a loss here as to the defense strategy. I do not understand why they want to remove the judges but keep the case in Yolo County where they would still have to deal with the sheriff's department.

That said, I think bringing in outside help is a good idea at this point. At the very least, fresh and hopefully unbiased eyes can take a look at the motion and make the key determination--can this guy get a fair trial. Personally I do not think he can get a fair trial at this point in Yolo County.

One can probably find a jury that has not heard about this case--although I always have to wonder about such juries that do not follow the news at all. But I have to question whether the Sheriff's Department can do their job in a professional way after what we have seen to date.

One can probably criticize Judge Rosenberg for reading his nine page ruling. But I also commend him for asking for outside help here.

At this point it appears that the charges have not been read to the accused. This is an integral part of the criminal justice system where the accused has the right to get the charges read against him in a public hearing that ensures that the state is not merely charging him in an ad hoc or secretive fashion. It is what separates our legal system from those in tyrannical countries.

This episode has become a tremendous sideshow. And it does a disservice to the memory of the fallen Sheriff's deputy and his family. As such, we would like to see a quick resolution of these side issues so that the main trial can move forward and the defendant can hear the charges read against him.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting