Judge Thomas M. Goethals: Just a Good Old Boy, After All

[Moxley Confidential] Why can't the judge presiding over People v. Scott Dekraai muster the courage of TV's Judge Judy?

Judge Thomas M. Goethals: Just a Good Old Boy, After All
Josue Rivas
Good old boy

We don't have to guess about whether Orange County law-enforcement officials violated ethical obligations in major felony cases and, with hopes of covering up those failures, lied under oath or became infected with sudden, convenient memory losses when their rear ends plopped down on the witness stand.

We know brazen cheating happened, partly because, since March, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals ordered dozens of hours of testimony by sheriff's deputies, police officers and prosecutors. He also acknowledged the ugly truth in an Aug. 4 ruling that ended special evidentiary hearings. "Many of the witnesses who testified during the course of this hearing were credibility-challenged," Goethals wrote in his 12-page opinion tied to the ongoing People v. Scott Dekraai, the 2011 Seal Beach salon shooter. "Others undoubtedly lied."

With those two simple but alarming sentences, the judge did what has proved so difficult—almost impossible, really—for so many members of Orange County's judiciary. He acknowledged law-enforcement corruption, a fitting term given the implications of powerful government agents betraying oaths to tell the truth. He also declared that the "serious" misconduct "merits a significant sanction."

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Goethals had set the stage for a historic ruling to confront bad actors living well at the public trough, robbing taxpayers of honest services and believing they could repeatedly lie in open court without consequential, career-damaging rebuke. If government officials can say anything that suits their fancy in pursuit of winning criminal convictions, our court system is a sham or, as Goethals calls it, "a house of cards." Surely, a judge—who has no greater task than to protect the integrity of the criminal-justice system—would at least put Judge Judy-style fear into law-enforcement liars.

But, incredibly, Goethals wasn't up to even TV judge standards. Judge Judy famously barked, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." Judge Tommy might as well amend the declaration to "Go ahead, officer, pee on my leg, assure me under oath it's raining and watch me let you get away with it."

Move over, Conan the Barbarian. Goethals is now the executive producer of one of the biggest flops in Southern California legal history. Given the opportunity to send an unmistakable signal that lies won't be tolerated from police and prosecutors, he did nothing.

Well, that's not exactly right. He pretended to do something. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, Dekraai's legal counsel, argued the appropriate penalty for the government's misconduct was to recuse the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) from the case in exchange for the California Attorney General's office and to ban the death penalty as an option in favor of a 400-year-plus sentence without the possibility for parole. The request wasn't unreasonable. The special evidentiary hearings did nothing but bolster Sanders' claims that prosecutors systematically hid exculpatory evidence and operated an illegal jailhouse-informant program, points originally hailed by OCDA officials as a conspiratorial nut fantasy.

Instead of rendering meaningful punishment, however, Goethals chickened out. He banned OCDA from using illegally obtained, surreptitiously recorded statements against Dekraai during upcoming death-penalty hearings, a sanction better described as a tender caress than a wrist slap. Why? Because 104 days earlier, OCDA officials conceded on the record they would not try to introduce those statements.

In response, Sanders was diplomatic, calling the ruling "disappointing." Others in the defense community described themselves as angry. Some of my readers unsurprisingly told me the ruling disgusted them.

The outrage-empty ruling contains additional, unforced errors. Though Goethals declared that cops and prosecutors lied or robbed him of complete answers by feigning memory losses, he protected the offenders by not naming the liars or identifying their lies in his ruling. The lack of specificity has consequences.

For example, Goethals' opinion also slammed "former prosecutors" for lying during the hearings. Intended or not, that identification includes Judge Terri Flynn-Peister. OCDA and OCSD fibbers—when their memories fell suspiciously in place as scapegoats were needed to divert Sanders—asserted Flynn-Peister was the person who ordered evidence hidden while she served as an assistant United States attorney in Santa Ana and helped run a joint federal/state organized-crime task force.

But Goethals also chose to give OCDA, his former employer, the benefit of the doubt as much as possible by ignoring reality.

Two-faced Mexican Mafia hoodlum Fernando Perez, a prized, veteran jailhouse informant placed next to Dekraai's cell to learn defense trial strategies? A coincidence.

Potential exculpatory evidence—17,000 pages!—not turned over to Sanders for years? Accidental failures, despite prosecutors acknowledging in writing their discovery games were intentional based on a belief the defense had no damn business seeing the information.

Falsified law-enforcement declarations and dubious oral arguments? Not intentional moves to mask cheating, but rather, according to the judge, "the product of woefully inadequate legal training, along with a lack of professional energy and strategic imagination."

See? Prosecutors stumbled absentmindedly into unethical moves that in all instances just happened to aid their pursuit of putting Dekraai on Death Row. What tremendous luck.

No worries, though. Goethals is willing to hurl these words at OCDA: "The events associated with the current hearing do not constitute the district attorney's finest hour. Nonetheless, after an exhaustive evaluation of the totality of this record, the court finds that the district attorney's well-documented failures in this case, although disappointing, even disheartening to any interested member of this community, were negligent rather than malicious."

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44 comments
tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"I have absolutely no influence over the outcomes of the trials that are held in these courtrooms". - Judge Derek Johnson.


Ok then what are you doing on the bench?


Prosecutors and judges are worms.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

So what are the judges doing by protecting the law enforcement criminals by hiding evidence.

Take the unethical judges off the benches and bust the judges and the cops.

stephen268
stephen268

It's all about marginal cheating growing older, maturing and consuming the institution. These folks belong in jail. They are dangerous, malicious, self absorbed and vindictive. Too much power has been I trusted to prosecutors. They need to be brought down hard. The judge failed. He needs to fall with them. Disgusting is a nice way to put it.

N-16
N-16

It's ironic that in this case an informant wasn't even needed, plenty of evidence. No need to lie and deny about anything, but they did.

lancechendrickson
lancechendrickson

Sanders should move for reconsideration, and for specifics re: which ones the judge found to be lying.  If he's successful, all the liars will have to be on "Brady" lists for the rest of their careers.


If (as expected) the judge turns that motion down, Sanders should appeal, and/or move (in every pending criminal case) for disclosure (under Brady) of a list of the caught liars.  That is... he should rub the judge's nose in it.  "You wanna protect liars, Sparky?  I'm gonna make you fight to do it in front of the whole rest of the system."

tomuban
tomuban

Judge Thomas M. Goethals



I shared the stories of this case with 3 of my nieces and nephews.  One is going to graduate from West Point next year,one has a full scholarship to Stanford, and the other is fielding great offers from colleges hear and abroad. They all aspire to be part of the justice system.

This case has disillusioned them. 

As they told me, a judge sets precedent legally and politically. They said that prosecutors will be able to do anything they like to get a conviction, they have nothing to lose. 

They can't understand why you are not righting a wrong.

I told them to remember your name. Remember this case.

Precedent. Yes.

Judges can fail. See Judge Thomas

From the mouths of children.

Joseph Forth
Joseph Forth

Goethals was brilliant as an attorney. Apparently he is now a rubber stamp for dirty law enforcement and DAs.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

Well that's not surprising!  I would have been more shocked if he had done the right thing.  And that's just really sad.  The criminal justice system is a business and it employs a lot of people.   He's not going to rock the boat unless he's thinking of retiring soon.  That's when elected officials tend to do the right thing.  Such as pardons etc.  Happens at the end of term or at least that's how I see it.  Kind of a shame, he seemed like one of the more open-minded judges.  

stan_best
stan_best

This is called police state. Juries don't convict police when police very rarely get prosecuted. Police lying is rampant and as there is no punishment for lying. Lying goes on in police reports and on witness stand often

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

If YOU TOO are tired of them protecting each other


than in every political race vote in a libertarian candidate



the fact that it will teach both parties that the people will no longer accept their garbage is good enough


and then unless the libertarians divest themselves ( this one could be tough) of the exact same power hunger


un elect them too 


and where guts/courage are present 

recall them 



we dont have to be perfect, cause we are not, but to intentionally keep oneselves locked in a losing system, when change is at their fingertips


is insane



no , my guy/girl is ok ,its them other guys


nope 


just third party it!!!

chulavistafoto
chulavistafoto

His ruling clearing lack legal cajones.  He could have body slammed the continued prosecutorial abuse of discovery obligations and legal ethics in this case. 

ANONYMOUS
ANONYMOUS

IMO, Mr. Sanders is an example of a hard working and ethical attorney that took an oath to represent his client.  Sanders did not have to work this hard to uncover prosecutorial misconduct; after all, his client already plead guilty to the murders. The people of OC have 4 more years of TRack's shenanigans and the only hope we have is for the FBI or USDOJ to investigate exactly what transpired in Judge Goethals' courtroom.  Or, in the alternative, and this is personal opinion, maybe someone needs to start regularly checking the bank accounts of judicial officers and well-connected criminal defense attorneys.

Bubblehead
Bubblehead

Add me to the list of the disgusted. Apparently there are a long list of people who can look themselves in the mirror, knowing that they've lied and cheated to put people behind bars for years who did not deserve to be there. Actually I bet they really can't look themselves in the mirror--or sleep very well. Karma has a way of really getting you in ways you don't realize, but I digress.

If the lawyers won't police themselves, then it is up to the press to do it, so thank you, Mr. Moxley. Keep it up. And thank you, Mr. Sanders, for uncovering this and putting yourself in the line of fire. I hope that other defense attorneys are not discouraged from doing this very same thing every time they see corruption, until the public is roused and finally decides to clean house.

heardenoughalready
heardenoughalready

DDA Eric Peterson should have been named as one of the people who lied under oath. It's a shame the Judge protected him by not calling him out. If I were a DA I'd look at this as a license to bend the rules of ethics.

Very sad day, indeed.

ANONYMOUS
ANONYMOUS

Great info!  Tragically, Judge Goethals is a former law partner of infamous criminal defense attorney Gary Pohlson, Esq.  IMO, Judge Goethals probably sought counsel regarding his potential for committing judicial and political suicide in the event he ruled with integrity and courage!

IMO, as we all know, the DA and the politically-connected criminal defense attorneys all play nice together.... and if one dares to rock the boat, you might as well kiss any judicial and/or criminal defense law practice goodbye forever!  Judge Goethals, like MANY other members of the Orange County Superior Court bench (not all of course), go through the motions but in reality, it is all about theatrics...  IMO, no one dares to cross DA Rackauckas.... the public has witnessed exactly how vindictive the DA's office can be if one dares to challenge TRack's prosecutorial integrity (??), if that is what you call it.  And, the taxpayers have paid millions of dollars in legal fees and lawsuit settlements because of TRack's refusal to uphold multiple state and federal statutes relating to conflicts of interest and questionable prosecutorial decisions.


Judge Goethals has secured himself a much longer judicial career and TRack's merry men and women that he allegedly supervises, will continue to violate the civil rights of children and adults, without accountability. 



meheecan-cris-doner
meheecan-cris-doner

i am honestly not surprised by the decision. from the highest court to our local courts, there is corruption. judges such as scalia, thomas, alito, kennedy, powell, rehnquist, etc... have all demonstrated how corruption is embedded in the AMERIKKKAN judicial system. the funniest part is how some people in the public believe that we have the best system in the world. well to burst their bubble, we don't. that is why blacks, Mexi-CANS, and other minorities are disproportionately incarcerated and blacks are 3x's more likely to get the death penalty if they kill a white person, in comparison to the former being the latter

Dweezle
Dweezle

@stan_best I will guess Police training includes classes on evading perjury charges.

meheecan-cris-doner
meheecan-cris-doner

barf! libertarians suck balls. the biggest government moochers that will ever exist. they fashion their business enterprises as free market, but receive billions of dollars in government subsidies.

rscottmoxley
rscottmoxley topcommenter

@Bubblehead Yep, imagine the pressure on law enforcement cheaters if the LA Times, OC Register, Associated Press and LA television/radio news stations had the balls to spend just a FEW MINUTES informing the public about the horrendous corruption Sanders' hearings revealed. Wait! Wait! No! No! Look here: A car chase on the 101!

rscottmoxley
rscottmoxley topcommenter

@fishwithoutbicycle Exactly. How can a judge, who wants us to believe he's all about ethics and honesty, be so emotionless, so snivelingly hand-wringing when--by his own statement--police officers, deputies and prosecutors lied repeatedly in his court under oath--in a capital case, no less? Such despicable conduct doesn't warrant outrage, your honor? How many more lies could law enforcement officials have uttered before you decided to locate the courage to do the right thing? 5? 25? 75? Sadly, Mr. Goethals, you've become Orange County's version of wide-eyed George W. Bush continuing to read "My Pet Goat" while everything decent falls apart. 

PoliticalJ.Steiner
PoliticalJ.Steiner

@meheecan-cris-doner  Hey, don't forget SCOTUS latest 9-0 ruling in Riley v. CA in which they overruled the Cal supes (5-2) ruling on letting LE look through our smart phones after arrest without a warrant!  If it weren't for the SCOTUS these political CA judges would have our rights denied to us all day long.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@rscottmoxley @fishwithoutbicycle It's kind of hypocritical that he's essentially allowing perjury if it's on the side of the DA without any consequences.  When the average person takes the stand they are always warned of the consequences of perjury and the charges and sentence you can expect.  Kind of pathetic.  By the way, isn't that what Daniel Wozniak's ex-fiancee is still being prosecuted for because she lied to the cops about Wozniak?  Talk about putting someone through the ringer, being engaged to a cold blooded murderer isn't punishment enough for her probably giving him the benefit of the doubt and telling a lie to cover his butt?  Poor thing was days away from getting married to a sociopath and now she's prosecuted?  What about the informants though?  Since he's not allowing the testimony will that affect other cases with informant testimony, prior and future?  

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@rscottmoxley @fishwithoutbicycle


what?


you blame Bush for not scaring the children and acting calmly in the face of disaster!?


I am NO fan of GWB  but the past 6 years have plenty of examples to choose from and for you to ignore it


puts you as GUILTY as the one you rail against

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@rscottmoxley @fishwithoutbicycle 

That was an exquisite rant. Beautiful, really.

I think Judge Goethals should have consulted you about how to find his lost balls...because you certainly have them in spades, Mr. Moxley. :-)

meheecan-cris-doner
meheecan-cris-doner

sweet liberty, ha! this nation is founded on slavery and continues to be til this day.

meheecan-cris-doner
meheecan-cris-doner

ha! you are another of the many pendejos that take persons statements out of context.

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 @rscottmoxley @fishwithoutbicycle

I was wondering when my pet goad was going to chime in...

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@meheecan-cris-doner


like mexico and spain and africa etc


EXCEPT you refuse to live THERE


you refuse to give up your tee pee to those you claim you cry for


you refuse to give up all your worldly possessions to them too


ahahaha



sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@fishwithoutbicycle @sweetliberty17761776


All stated on a day when Obams is bombing Iraq


Bush gave more money for welfare and to Africa then any other potus up to that point in time


etc etc


he was a rino



his stance against abortion aside , he was a liberal


of course you hate him ahahaa

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 @fishwithoutbicycle 

May I remind you that Iraq is a quagmire Obama inherited from Dubya's administration.

Giving aid to Africa is not convincing evidence of that Dubya was a RINO. And as far as I'm concerned you can't be a liberal and anti-choice...there's no such thing. And ANY politician being anti-choice is a HUGE deal-breaker for me.


fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 @fishwithoutbicycle 

As I recall Obama has since changed his position on gay marriage. Perhaps he was always in favor of it but wouldn't publicly support it when it was politically unpopular to do so. That would be a chickenshit thing to do, of course, but it's quite typical of politicians on both sides of the aisle, I'm afraid. Like I said, I'm not in love with the guy.

 
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