Gavel

By Tony Saavedra / Staff Writer
Oct. 8, 2016 – Updated 10:56 a.m.

Local public defenders, frustrated by the District Attorney’s practice of barring certain judges from key homicide cases, have taken their argument to the California Supreme Court.

The high court was asked in late August by the Orange County Public Defenders Office to take the case. The 4th District Court of Appeal recently ruled that the D.A.’s practice of blocking certain judges, known as “blanket papering,” was legal. But appellate justices also said the practice was disruptive and abusive and should be revisited by the Supreme Court.

It’s unclear if that will happen. Supreme Court justices can refuse the case and let the appellate ruling stand, or they can take the case and issue their own ruling.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office issued a legal brief in September asking the high court not to get involved.

“For almost 60 years, (state law allowing papering) has been a valuable tool for litigants to ensure judicial fairness and integrity and to avoid even the suspicion of unfairness,” wrote Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Fitzpatrick. “It guarantees an extraordinary right to disqualify a judge when the litigant does not believe the judge can be fair or impartial.”

At issue is a state law allowing attorneys on both sides to disqualify any judge – no questions asked – for bias. The action is called a peremptory challenge.

The District Attorney’s Office is accused of misusing this law against Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who was disqualified from at least 46 cases in an 18-month period.

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