Criminal Justice

Court Finds ‘Substantial Evidence’ Orange County DA Retaliated Against Judge Who Exposed Misconduct

Despite calling it an "extraordinary abuse," a California appeals court upheld the Orange County D.A.'s tactic of disqualifying a judge from cases.

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Joshua Sudock/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A California appeals court ruled Monday that the Orange County District Attorney's Office's tactic of repeatedly disqualifying a judge who exposed prosecutorial misconduct from cses is an "extraordinary abuse" of state law, but still legal.

The California Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the OCDA operated within the law when it repeatedly had Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed from cases because of perceived bias—a retaliatory tactic known as "papering" a judge—but said the state supreme court precedent it was bound by should be revisited.

"As courts work to keep doors open and to provide timely and meaningful access to justice to the public, the extraordinary abuse of [judicial disqualification] is a barrier to justice and its cost to a court should be reconsidered," Justice Kathleen O'Leary wrote in the majority opinion.

Prosecutors from the OCDA first began allegedly papering Goethals in 2014, when he was presiding over the capital murder case of Scott Dekraai. In several lengthy motions that Goethals allowed to move forward, the public defender in the case revealed that the OCDA and Orange County Sheriff's Department had been operating a secret jailhouse informant program. In 2015, Goethals removed the entire OCDA from the case, finding that two sheriff's deputies had either lied or intentionally withheld evidence from the court.

As the appeals court noted in its Monday ruling, Goethals had only been disqualified from a murder trial once in the three years prior. However, in the 18 months after the Dekraai case blew up, Goethals was disqualified from 46 out of 49 murder cases he was assigned.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard Aronson said "the district attorney engaged in blanket papering of Judge Goethals and did so to retaliate and punish a widely respected and experienced jurist the district attorney previously accepted on a routine basis."

The OCDA brought the appeal after another superior court judge denied its challenge to remove Goethals from a case, arguing the repeated disqualifications were retaliatory and significantly increasing the caseload of other courts.

In a statement released Monday, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said that, while he agrees with the ruling, he "maintains that there has never been 'blanket papering' of any judicial officer. Any exercise of preemptory challenge made by any member of the OCDA has been the individual prosecutor's decision to do what is in the best interest of the People, public safety, and crime victims."

The fallout from the Dekraai case has led to sentences being overturned or vacated, or charges being dropped, in nearly a dozen other cases so far. Scott Sanders, the public defender in the Dekraai case, says the OCDA and sheriff's department operated the jailhouse informant database for decades, and it could have tainted numerous other cases.

"The idea that a prosecutor's office has in essence elected to punish a judge for calling out its misconduct is profoundly concerning—so much so that a court was willing to suggest the law should be changed," Laura Fernandez, a Yale research scholar who studies prosecutorial misconduct, said. "When prosecutors engage in these kinds of extraordinarily abusive tactics, it undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole."


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32 responses to “Court Finds ‘Substantial Evidence’ Orange County DA Retaliated Against Judge Who Exposed Misconduct

  1. I don’t think I can pass judgment here without knowing party affiliations.

    1. I was going to say, the “acquittal plus chastisement” seems to be very du-jour when it comes to political misconduct

      it provides the media something to ruminate about, while giving the system a pass from ever actually policing their own

      1. To be fair to the court here, from reading the opinion real quick, the court of appeals is basically saying “this is total bullshit, but we’re stuck here because of California Supreme Court precedent, which they should really change.”

        1. Why would I want to be fair to the court, ever?

        2. I don’t really have a deep opinion on the subject, but my instinct is to generally dislike editorializing from the bench.

          the question i ask myself is, would i think it was OK for the judge to suggest what the law *should* be, if the positions were reversed? or would i go, “STFU and enforce the law”?

          1. “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

            1. pretty sure this has had very little to do with legislation that was ever on the publics radar, and everything to do with a state courts bullshit interpretation of a law.

  2. Prosecutors are such assholes.

    In pop culture defense attorneys are often depicted as grimy little shits but how are they any different than prosecutors these days?

    1. Defense attorneys aren’t trying to ruin lives?

      1. Good point.

      2. They ruin the lives of the victim’s family, who they rob of the satisfaction of seeing somebody go to prison. Not necessarily the man who did it, but at least somebody.

      3. this little spate of comments is such a black whole of stupid Im scared to respond. Congratulations, im taking my toys and leaving the reason comments again you authoritarian bastards

    2. Their different in the fact that DA’s have the power and resources of the state behind them and are immune to law suits for wrong doing.

  3. Solution: Let’s just make DAs de facto judges, with the power to convict and sentence.

    Hell, with overcharging and plea bargaining, we’re almost there anyway.

    1. It’s worse than that. Even in Dredd (at least the second movie), Judge Dredd was willing to sentence rogue Judges just as harshly as he sentenced perps. These fuckers would never do that.

      1. Speaking of movies having more integrity than real life, in the original Bourne movies, the lynch pin of the series was that the government was crossing the line by assassinating American citizens and had to be stopped.

        How quaint.

      2. Hell, in the /books/ Dredd actively worked to prevent the higher-up Judges from illegally stopping a referendum to vote on whether or not to restore democracy, even though the character believed democracy was a naive, failure of a political system, merely because the referendum was being held legally.

        Mega City 1 being what it is, voter turnout was ridiculously low, and the majority that did vote voted against democracy, but it goes to show that the character will enforce the law no matter what.

        It’d be nice if we had someone around with Dredd’s mentality. Of course, we’d have to deal with him enforcing the bad laws that are on the books and simply unenforced (like how adultery is illegal in a bunch of places), but a cop willing to arrest other cops for breaking the law would be worth that annoyance.

  4. A government official who retaliates against those who expose deceit and fraud? Where have I heard that before…oh yeah, Lamar Smith subpoenaing not only DAs investigating fraud, but also scientists, groups, and philanthropic organizations.

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016…..ience.html

    1. Funny, you wrote “investigating” instead of “perpetrating”.

      Global warming: such obvious BS now that they have to use the state to silence people for opposing it because they can’t win on evidence.

    2. “Lamar Smith subpoenaing not only DAs investigating fraud!”

      You’re right, Lamar Smith is a hero, he’s part of the reason we know those DA’s are retaliating against Reason and others for exposing the deceit and fraud in their investigation.

      I’m surprised your so obviously anti-DA here.

      1. So much for outrage at retaliatory government officials. If they’re tyrants for what we believe, all is good, eh?

  5. Any exercise of preemptory challenge made by any member of the OCDA has been the individual prosecutor’s decision to do what is in the best interest of the People, public safety, and crime victims.

    What about the children? NOBODY EVER THINKS OF THE CHILDREN!!

    1. Right. And more than one court has now said “Nobody believes you. You just look stupid–and even more mendacious than usual–by continuing to say it.”

      If he keeps it up, he might even receive a strongly worded letter.

      1. OMG will the lett …dare i say…go in his FILE?!?!?!?!

  6. “When prosecutors engage in these kinds of extraordinarily abusive tactics, it undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole.”

    But when prosecutors engage in different kinds of extraordinarily abusive tactics, it confirms the integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole.

    /Comey

  7. Prosecutors rarely get gigged for misconduct.

    Here in MA we had the bristol country DA decide that crimes against energy companies by environmentalists shouldnt’ be prosecuted because climate change.

    Followed a few years later by our new state DA deciding to go after a politically unpopular energy company for fraud that exists only in the minds of the cult afraid of climate change.

    And the mouthbreathers here are eating it all up!

  8. Wasn’t Rackauckas the Kelly Thomas case DA?

  9. Any exercise of preemptory challenge made by any member of the OCDA has been the individual prosecutor’s decision to do what is in the best interest of the People, public safety, and crime victims.

    Coincidence. Nothing more.

  10. In pop culture defense attorneys are often depicted as grimy little shits but how are they any different than prosecutors these days?

    Defense attorneys use loopholes and technicalities to return rapists and murderers to the streets where precious little children run and play. Prosecutors are making the world a safer place.

    duh

  11. “The fallout from the Dekraai case has led to sentences being overturned or vacated, or charges being dropped, in nearly a dozen other cases so far. Scott Sanders, the public defender in the Dekraai case, says the OCDA and sheriff’s department operated the jailhouse informant database for decades, and it could have tainted numerous other cases.

    Are arsonists, murderers, and rapists walking free because of this? That’s completely irresponsible. That’s pathetic.

    I just checked, and the DA had run unopposed in two out of three elections. He won with 70% of the vote last time.

    I guess being elected as DA is about winning the endorsement of the police associations, and this DA appears to have been endorsed by every police association in the county–going way back.

    http://www.smartvoter.org/1998…..dorse.html

  12. the public defender in the case revealed that the OCDA and Orange County Sheriff’s Department had been operating a secret jailhouse informant program. In 2015, Goethals removed the entire OCDA from the case, finding that two sheriff’s deputies had either lied or intentionally withheld evidence from the court.

    And all involved in this misconduct were prosecuted, right?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  13. How is this a punishment? Did the judge get a pay cut.

    Honestly, why are we surprised that a bunch of DAs decided individually they didn’t want to be in this guy’s court? He made life hard for them.

    What I don’t understand is why the other judges aren’t being hard asses now that the evil has been revealed.

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