Hours after OC Weekly revealed ethical problems concerning Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) use of questionable informants in a solicitation-of-murder case against former gangster Joseph Govey, prosecutors this morning dropped all charges.
On Tuesday, Beth Costello, Govey's prosecutor, told the Weekly she'd dismissed three of the most serious charges against Govey on Sept. 22 because she wanted to hide records from Renee Garcia, the defendant's defense lawyer, in hopes of protecting the safety of the informants.
The assertion was odd for several reasons including that the informant identities have been well known: criminals Alexander Frosio, Carl Johnson Jr., Arthur Palacios and, Huntington Beach Police Department's prize, veteran snitch, Marcel Irazarry.
But Costello also said the earlier dismissal of solicitation-of-murder charges wouldn't alter the fact that Govey still faced, according to her, "life" in prison on counts stemming from an Aug. 2011, high-speed police chase.
Today's unexpected move--dropping more than a half dozen remaining counts--in Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals' court leaves Govey facing a maximum 12-year term for alleged prior probation violations that will most likely be significantly reduced by the defendant's current, nearly four-year stint in the Orange County Jail.
Without the relentless prodding of Santa Ana-based lawyer Garcia, Costello could have sent Govey away for the rest of his life.
The prosecutor had been ordered by Goethals to surrender key evidence to the defense today, an order prosecutors ducked.
"They didn't want to disclose the [informant] records," Garcia told the Weekly.
Though Govey hadn't been transported from Orange County Jail for the proceeding, Garcia visited him after the hearing and reported that he was both "thrilled" and "relieved" by developments.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff at the OCDA, was not thrilled, saying the court forced Costello into an untenable situation that "unfortunately" benefits "a dangerous, white supremacist, third strike, gang member last seen fleeing police with a firearm in his possession."
Schroeder explained the dismissal this way: "We do not believe the [court-ordered discovery of records to the defense] was relevant to the case and, if released, would endanger the lives of witnesses and their families--that's why we are unable to proceed [against Govey]."
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, the man whose probing has put annoyed prosecutors on the defensive this year, views Costello's action as an attempt to thwart future inquiries into questionable law enforcement conduct.
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"It is impossible for me to look at the dismissal of Mr. Govey's case as anything other than a desperate attempt to keep evidence damaging to the OCDA and the sheriff's special handling unit in the jail from being discovered," said Sanders, who represents accused killers Scott Dekraai and Daniel Wozniak. "Ultimately, prosecutors' continuous efforts to battle transparency, when it comes informants, undermines any reasonable faith in the justice system."