The Orange County Bar Association this week publicly blasted District Attorney Tony Rackauckas over reports that his office has systematically steered cases away from Superior Court judge’s courtroom since he convened a hearing last year on allegations that DA attorneys engaged in misconduct during their prosecution of mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.
“I am proud to be a leader of a bar association willing to speak out on behalf of the judiciary and who are unwilling to be intimidated,” said Ashleigh Aitken, president of the Orange County Bar Association.
According to the Los Angeles Times, on 57 different occasions in 2014 prosecutors filed affidavits against Judge Thomas Goethals that seek to disqualify certain judges from cases, compared to just five times between 2011 and 2013.
Those actions, the OCBA resolution states, “could be construed as an attempt to intimidate not just that judge, but the entire judiciary, who will and must remain independent.”
District Attorney officials declined comment on the bar resolution.
Last August, after an unprecedented hearing on a jailhouse informant program operating in county jails, Goethals issued a stinging opinion that DA prosecutors improperly withheld evidence from Dekraai’s defense team.
Goethals reconvened the hearing this year after new evidence was brought to light, and ultimately barred the DA’s Office from trying the case. The state Attorney General Kamala D. Harris launched an investigation into the DA’s handling of the case following Goethals’ ruling.
While the local bar association, one of the largest voluntary bars in California, stated that it was taking no position on the propriety or impropriety of the recent rulings by Goethals, it did formally urge “citizens and litigants to support judicial independence as an integral part of our American justice system.”
Representing 9,300 attorneys across Orange County, the “OCBA publicly disapproves of the use of tactics which are, or have the appearance of being, punitive and retaliatory towards any sitting judge and which exceed the realm of appropriate criticism and exercise of the protected right of appeal, or which unnecessarily impede the public’s access to justice.”