Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Judge won't recuse himself


Superior Court Judge Brian Hill said yesterday that he does not intend to recuse himself from overseeing the second preliminary hearing for a 15-year-old Santa Barbara boy who has been charged with murder.
“At this point in time I don’t think that under the law as I see it there’s a basis to recuse myself,” Hill said. “

After a 12-day preliminary hearing in August 2007, Hill ordered the defendant, Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez, to stand trial.
While awaiting that trial, Juarez’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, filed a number of motions with the court that challenged the way Hill conducted the first preliminary hearing. Atkins argued that Hill’s actions warranted the dismissal of the case.
On Feb. 3, Judge Frank Ochoa dismissed the case, but did so due to a procedural error made by the prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer.
After the case was dismissed, Dozer acted quickly to have Juarez rearrested. He re-filed charges against Juarez and opted to once again try the boy as an adult for the stabbing death of 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares during a March 14, 2007 gang brawl on State Street.
As the case moves through the courts for the second time, it has once again been assigned to Hill for its duration. Atkins told Hill yesterday that she thinks it would be appropriate for the judge to dismiss himself from overseeing the preliminary hearing given his prior ruling and history with the case.
“We feel that you’re in a peculiar and unusual situation that could be eliminated if you scheduled the preliminary hearing to another judge,” Atkins said.
She asked Hill, if he does end up hearing the case, that he be objective in his fact-finding and consider each piece of evidence presented as though it were the first go-around.
Hill pledged to do so, and noted that he not only has the ethical obligation to recuse himself from hearing a case if there is a legal conflict of interest, but he also has the ethical obligation to hear all of the cases assigned to him.
In this case, Hill said to his knowledge there is now legal conflict of interest. The judge did however invite Atkins to present any case law she can find that would state otherwise.
If Atkins does find any legal reasoning for Hill’s dismissal, it will likely be presented to the court on Feb. 28 when a date for a new preliminary hearing will be set.
Hill said any motions filed by the defense or prosecution between now and the end of the preliminary hearing, whether they’re identical to past motions or not, must be re-filed.
“We’re starting from scratch,” he said.

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