Appearance of Conflict Grinds CHP Murder Case to a Halt

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On November 7, 2006 we reported on the apparent conflict of interest between Judge Stephen Mock and Yolo County Prosecutor Ann Hurd:

“One huge apparent conflict of interest is that Judge Stephen Mock is the lead Superior Court Judge in Yolo County. His wife is Ann Hurd, the Chief Deputy District Attorney. Judge Mock assigns cases to judges while his wife assigns prosecutors to the same cases.”

The Sacramento Bee on Friday reports that a death penalty case involving two men charge with killing a CHP officer is on hold while a court decides whether Mock should be removed due to his wife’s job.

“An out-of-county judge, specially appointed to hear the controversy, has already decided in favor of Mock. That judge ruled that though it was a “close call,” Mock can remain impartial.”

Their argument, as we suspected a month ago, centers around whether Judge Mock can separate his professional and private lives. Moreover, the defense argues that it is the “perception of the potential” for partiality that is the central issue.

While these are all issues that we brought up last month, it is unclear whether Hurd serving as Chief Deputy District Attorney in the office rather than the prosecutor in the case that is before Mock will taint the judgement of Mock. If a more general finding comes down, it seems likely that Mock would never be able to preside in a criminal case while his wife is in a leadership position at the District Attorney’s Office.

A November 13, 2006 article in the Davis Enterprise suggests that is indeed the issue at stake.

Defense attorney argued that a judge can be disqualified “if the judge or spouse of the judge is a party to the proceeding… It is presumed that Judge Mock’s spouse would participate in making policy decisions of the prosecutor’s office handling this case, and some observers may reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge will be able remain impartial throughout the course that this case make take,” the motion states.

Mock challenged this charge, noting that District Attorney David Henderson–his wife’s boss–has exclusively handled this case.

“… I can say with certainty that my wife has never handled this matter, and that she has not – indeed she cannot – supervise Mr. Henderson inasmuch as she is in a subordinate position to him”

As we have mentioned in the original article, sources claim that Mock and Hurd go to great lengths to act in a professional and ethical manner. However, as the delays in the case illustrates a further problem here–the mere appearance opens the door for the defense to use this as a delaying tactic. In the end, it will cost the county a great deal of time and energy to fight this move by the defense. Is this a worthwhile use of resources, when clearly in the future this issue will come up again?

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Appearance of Conflict Grinds CHP Murder Case to a Halt”

  1. Anonymous

    The fundamental issue is not about this high profile murder case. Everyone is watching this case so I am certain the DA and Judge will carefully weigh all of their actions. But what about all of the other low profile cases? Are people getting fair trials/hearings or not? Every case that goes against the defense is tainted by the possibility that the relationship had something to do with the outcome.

    The issue was raised in the murder case because outside attorneys are involved. The local lawyers are afraid to bring it up in fear of court/DA backlash. That is not right nor is it fair.

    The relationship itself poses the problem not the people themselves. Nothing can be done to completely mitigate the problem short of asking one of them to work in a different juristiction.SAH

  2. Anonymous

    The fundamental issue is not about this high profile murder case. Everyone is watching this case so I am certain the DA and Judge will carefully weigh all of their actions. But what about all of the other low profile cases? Are people getting fair trials/hearings or not? Every case that goes against the defense is tainted by the possibility that the relationship had something to do with the outcome.

    The issue was raised in the murder case because outside attorneys are involved. The local lawyers are afraid to bring it up in fear of court/DA backlash. That is not right nor is it fair.

    The relationship itself poses the problem not the people themselves. Nothing can be done to completely mitigate the problem short of asking one of them to work in a different juristiction.SAH

  3. Anonymous

    The fundamental issue is not about this high profile murder case. Everyone is watching this case so I am certain the DA and Judge will carefully weigh all of their actions. But what about all of the other low profile cases? Are people getting fair trials/hearings or not? Every case that goes against the defense is tainted by the possibility that the relationship had something to do with the outcome.

    The issue was raised in the murder case because outside attorneys are involved. The local lawyers are afraid to bring it up in fear of court/DA backlash. That is not right nor is it fair.

    The relationship itself poses the problem not the people themselves. Nothing can be done to completely mitigate the problem short of asking one of them to work in a different juristiction.SAH

  4. Anonymous

    The fundamental issue is not about this high profile murder case. Everyone is watching this case so I am certain the DA and Judge will carefully weigh all of their actions. But what about all of the other low profile cases? Are people getting fair trials/hearings or not? Every case that goes against the defense is tainted by the possibility that the relationship had something to do with the outcome.

    The issue was raised in the murder case because outside attorneys are involved. The local lawyers are afraid to bring it up in fear of court/DA backlash. That is not right nor is it fair.

    The relationship itself poses the problem not the people themselves. Nothing can be done to completely mitigate the problem short of asking one of them to work in a different juristiction.SAH

  5. Doug Paul Davis

    I agree on the fundamental issue. My understanding though is that this has been a long time source of speculation by even local defense attorneys, now exacerbated by Hurd’s elevation to Chief Deputy DA.

    But yes, I agree with you. There will always be questions and always be additional scrutiny on any ruling handed down by Judge Mock. And it goes both ways–he may become so careful to avoid appearances of impropriety that he actually becomes unfair the other way. The suggestion has been made to me that he is if anything more lenient on the defense than some of the others–is that because he fears the consequences of appearing to side with the DA’s office? That too is of concern.

    How difficult would it be to switch his jurisdiction? I don’t know.

  6. Doug Paul Davis

    I agree on the fundamental issue. My understanding though is that this has been a long time source of speculation by even local defense attorneys, now exacerbated by Hurd’s elevation to Chief Deputy DA.

    But yes, I agree with you. There will always be questions and always be additional scrutiny on any ruling handed down by Judge Mock. And it goes both ways–he may become so careful to avoid appearances of impropriety that he actually becomes unfair the other way. The suggestion has been made to me that he is if anything more lenient on the defense than some of the others–is that because he fears the consequences of appearing to side with the DA’s office? That too is of concern.

    How difficult would it be to switch his jurisdiction? I don’t know.

  7. Doug Paul Davis

    I agree on the fundamental issue. My understanding though is that this has been a long time source of speculation by even local defense attorneys, now exacerbated by Hurd’s elevation to Chief Deputy DA.

    But yes, I agree with you. There will always be questions and always be additional scrutiny on any ruling handed down by Judge Mock. And it goes both ways–he may become so careful to avoid appearances of impropriety that he actually becomes unfair the other way. The suggestion has been made to me that he is if anything more lenient on the defense than some of the others–is that because he fears the consequences of appearing to side with the DA’s office? That too is of concern.

    How difficult would it be to switch his jurisdiction? I don’t know.

  8. Doug Paul Davis

    I agree on the fundamental issue. My understanding though is that this has been a long time source of speculation by even local defense attorneys, now exacerbated by Hurd’s elevation to Chief Deputy DA.

    But yes, I agree with you. There will always be questions and always be additional scrutiny on any ruling handed down by Judge Mock. And it goes both ways–he may become so careful to avoid appearances of impropriety that he actually becomes unfair the other way. The suggestion has been made to me that he is if anything more lenient on the defense than some of the others–is that because he fears the consequences of appearing to side with the DA’s office? That too is of concern.

    How difficult would it be to switch his jurisdiction? I don’t know.

  9. davisite

    There’s plenty of work for Judge Mock that would not be in conflict with his wife’s position as Deputy DA. Family law, Juvenile, Civil..
    The presiding judge of Yolo county makes these judicial assignments.

  10. davisite

    There’s plenty of work for Judge Mock that would not be in conflict with his wife’s position as Deputy DA. Family law, Juvenile, Civil..
    The presiding judge of Yolo county makes these judicial assignments.

  11. davisite

    There’s plenty of work for Judge Mock that would not be in conflict with his wife’s position as Deputy DA. Family law, Juvenile, Civil..
    The presiding judge of Yolo county makes these judicial assignments.

  12. davisite

    There’s plenty of work for Judge Mock that would not be in conflict with his wife’s position as Deputy DA. Family law, Juvenile, Civil..
    The presiding judge of Yolo county makes these judicial assignments.

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