Noting that "tempers are running high," an Orange County Superior Court judge presiding over a death penalty case involving the 2011 mass shooter in Seal Beach today cautioned battling prosecutors and public defenders to end the "name calling" and conduct themselves professionally.
"The level of name calling doesn't help much," said Judge Thomas M. Goethals, who ordered a March 18 hearing into three, bombshell defense motions regarding allegations of gross government misconduct in the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, who killed eight people at a salon. "These are serious motions."
Goethals had planned to launch a March 11 evidentiary hearing on motions filed by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who wanted the session moved back to March 24 when he would have had enough time to analyze documents prosecutor Dan Wagner recently released to him.
The judge agreed that it appears the Orange County District Attorney's office may have violated discovery of evidence rules for more than a year, but said he was only willing to give Sanders until March 18 to prepare.
Sanders has accused prosecutors of purposefully withholding evidence and, with the assistance of jail deputies, illegally circumventing his client's constitutional rights by employing a jailhouse informant, a two-faced Mexican Mafia hoodlum, to befriend and ask Dekraai their questions after the defendant refused to cooperate with the government.
During the hearing, Sanders reported that Wagner, who'd previously called the public defender's assertions nonsense, had admitted to him in writing that he erred by withholding evidence.
Wagner, the chief of Tony Rackauckas' homicide unit, did not dispute the public defender's characterization.
The prosecutor sparked a lecture from Goethals when he stood and declared he was ready to proceed to trial immediately.
In the view of the judge, Wagner's declaration was disingenuous and unfair to the defense because the prosecution stalled giving Sanders documents for "at least a year."
Sanders--who believes prosecutors have engaged in a systematic effort to cheat as well as a cover up of their tactics--added, "I'm still not getting discovery."
Goethals said he is "anxious" to hear the evidence of alleged DA misconduct and to determine "where the truth lies."
He said, "I expect it will take weeks."
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The trial had been scheduled to begin on March 24, but that date is now an impossible target.