‘And 99.9 percent of the challenges come from the defense bar.’
Statement: “And 99.9 percent of the challenges come from the defense bar,” said Assistant District Attorney and former Superior Court Judge Jesse Rodriguez, during an interview on KPBS’ These Days about the district attorney’s boycott of local judges.
Analysis: Rodriguez was defending the District Attorney’s Office’s recent actions against local judges, which included a boycott, the threat of a boycott and an attempt to have a judge removed from a case.
Both Rodriguez and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis have emphasized that the challenges are rare among prosecutors, especially when compared to defense attorneys.
While those assertions might be true, no hard data is available to support them. What’s more misleading, though, is the implication that challenges from prosecutors and defense attorneys carry the same weight in the courthouse.
But first, let’s look at the 99 percent statistic from Rodriguez. No one keeps data on the number of challenges made against judges, and by whom. Each challenge is only recorded in paper case files, a San Diego Superior Court spokeswoman said.
District attorney spokesman Paul Levikow said Rodriguez “was speaking anecdotally based on his years as the supervising judge in South Bay and his time spent as the supervising criminal judge downtown.”
OK, so now let’s look at the comparison that’s being drawn. Do challenges from the District Attorney’s Office and defense attorneys have the same impact?
No, they don’t.
The challenges from prosecutors have received so much media attention because they can essentially limit a judge to handling less glamorous civil cases. A courthouse is filled with defense attorneys, but only one office is bringing new felony cases before the court — the District Attorney’s Office.
So when the District Attorney’s Office boycotts judges, they don’t get felony criminal cases. When defense attorneys boycott judges, they still have plenty of work with other criminal cases brought by prosecutors.
A challenge from the prosecution signals to the supervising judge, who makes case assignments, to no longer send criminal cases to that judge.
That’s a big deal for judges seeking re-election, because it’s their rulings on high-profile criminal cases that make them well known in the community. A history of being tough on crime also makes for a more effective re-election campaign than being tough on business or personal disagreements.
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— KELLY THORNTON