Monday, May 12, 2008

High Court says DAs can stay on cases

BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

A Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney was given the green light yesterday by the California Supreme Court to continue as prosecutor in the Jesse James Hollywood murder case.
The decision by the state’s high court puts to bed a nearly three-year battle between Hollywood’s attorneys and the District Attorney’s Office. The two camps have been at odds over whether Ronald Zonen, the former prosecutor in the case, erred when he cooperated with the filmmakers of “Alpha Dog,” a movie about Hollywood’s alleged involvement in the murder of a 15-year-old boy.

When Hollywood’s defense filed a motion in late 2005 to recuse Zonen, it was denied by the Superior Court, which among other things, found the prosecutor had no financial interest in disclosing the information, and the “legal or ethical breach, did not rise to the level of a conflict warranting recusal.”
In 2006, the appellate court overturned this ruling and ordered Zonen off the case.
At that point Zonen was removed as prosecutor, but according to Patrick McKinley, chief assistant district attorney, the appellate court’s decision was appealed before the state supreme court because they believed the initial ruling was correct.
“We’re very happy to have won because the [appellate] court was unnecessarily harsh in criticizing our deputies for what now turns out to be not even enough to take them off of a case,” he said. “We’re elated with the result today.”
The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling says that a motion to recuse a prosecutor cannot be granted unless the information provided creates a conflict of interest that would make it unlikely for the defendant to receive a fair trial.
Hollywood’s attorney’s argued Zonen acted illegally and unethically by disclosing confidential documents, including criminal records, police reports and probation reports to the filmmakers, the ruling says. The attorney’s claimed Zonen’s cooperation in the film created a distorted view of Hollywood, who faces the death penalty, and that Zonen “sought to burnish his own legacy” by publicizing the case.
Though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Zonen, it also scolded the prosecutor for his actions and said he should not “escape censure.”
“We find his acknowledged actions in turning over his case files without so much as an attempt to screen them for confidential information highly inappropriate and disturbing,” the court said.
The ruling says Zonen told the court he decided to run over the materials to the filmmakers “in the hope that the publicity would result in Hollywood’s apprehension.” Hollywood had not yet been captured when Zonen provided the filmmakers with the files.
McKinley said Zonen did not have permission from then-District Attorney Tom Sneddon to participate in the film, and the measures that were taken, if any, to discipline the prosecutor, can’t be discussed due to personnel confidentiality.
In an unrelated case, the Supreme Court also ruled in favor of Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley, who was ordered by the appellate court to recuse herself from a rape case.
McKinley said the District Attorney’s Office didn’t file an appeal in this instance, but the high court heard the case anyway because of its similarities to the Hollywood matter.
In this instance, the defense for Massey Harushi Haraguchi, who had been charged with rape, argued that the novel “Intoxicating Agent,” which was written by Dudley, contained a fictional account of the rape of an intoxicated person, a fictional trial held at the same time Haraguchi’s and character in the novel that bore resemblance to Haraguchi.
Like the Hollywood case, the appellate court found Dudley erred because her views in the novel were, “so one-sided as to raise a reasonable possibility she would not exercise her discretion evenhandedly.”
Similarly, the court also found the book did not represent a large enough error on Dudley’s part to warrant her recusal, and the book itself was low profile enough so as to not impact the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
“We do not condone actions that place a prosecutor's literary career ahead of, or at odds with, her fealty to the fair and evenhanded pursuit of justice and the community interest,” the ruling says.
McKinley said neither prosecutor would resume the cases in question to prevent any possibility of appeals down the road. He said both cases will likely be back on the court calendar in the next 60 days.

1 comment:

Ken J. said...

Wow. Massey Haraguchi is an employee of Big Dogs / The Walking Company. First the payroll scandal, now this...