After months of highly embarrassing revelations involving incompetence and corruption during special evidentiary hearings tied to an ongoing mass murder case, Orange County's law enforcement breathed a collective sigh of relief today.
Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals conceded police, deputies and prosecutors were "credibility challenged" after "undoubtedly" lying under oath in his court to fight allegations filed in an historic, 505-page, January 31 motion by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.
Let me repeat: law enforcement officials were caught lying under oath, news that surely would bring painful rebuke to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system, right?
But Goethals, who called government actions in the People v. Scott Dekraai "serious misconduct," chickened out after writing, "Many of the witnesses who testified during the course of this hearing were credibility challenged. These witnesses include current and former prosecutors. Others undoubtedly lied."
He couldn't muster the courage to issue any meaningful punishment for the public corruption, hence the sighs of relief inside the Orange County District Attorney's office, Orange County Sheriff's Department and Santa Ana Police Department.
Sanders, who represents Dekraai, had asked the judge to punish the misdeeds by recusing the DA's office or banning the office from seeking the death penalty in the case.
Goethals decided to block the government from using illegally obtained Dekraai jailhouse statements during the upcoming penalty phase, an essentially meaningless move--a wrist slap that was, in reality, more of a tender caress--because prosecutors months ago agreed not to use the statements.
To arrive at the controversial decision, the judge ignored overwhelming evidence of purposeful cheating (violating discovery obligations and abusing jailhouse informant programs) to label years of misconduct the result of simple negligence and not "malicious" acts that constitute "outrageous government conduct."
He ordered a Sept. 12 hearing to discuss a penalty phase trial date.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Dekraai while Sanders wants his client to receive a 400-year-plus sentence without the possibility for parole for the 2011 murders of eight people at a Seal Beach salon.
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As a result of Sanders' work, prosecutors were forced to admit they'd violated discovery obligations to share exculpatory evidence with defense lawyers in more than a dozen felony cases, including one completed murder case that now has to be retried.
Read this week's upcoming Moxley Confidential on Wednesday for more comprehensive coverage of the unheroic ruling.