Defense Asks Judge to Step Down Because She’s Also Overseeing Anti-Fascist Hearing Next Week
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – One of the most telling parts of criminal jury trials is often pre-trial motions, because that’s where many of the “ground rules” are set that can make, or break, a case for the prosecution or defense.
Wednesday was no different here in Sacramento County Superior Court in the first day of a felony assault trial of William Planer – a self-described neo-Nazi accused of assault with a deadly weapon during a violent clash between fascists and anti-fascists at the State Capitol in June of 2016.
At least nine people were stabbed or beaten at the Capitol, and hospitalized. Some were in the hospital for weeks because their wounds were so serious.
The first pre-jury salvo fired Wednesday was a motion to remove the newly-named judge from the case. It failed. And the trial is set to reconveneThursday with jury selection.
But Wednesday motions took center court. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie was assigned the case early in the day, and by the afternoon was forced to respond to a motion by defense lawyers Jem Martin, Michelle Spaulding and Matt Martinez asking her to remove herself from the case.
The defense team insisted that because Judge Eurie is presiding over a preliminary trial of three anti-fascists also being charged with assault in the 2016 Capitol clash, she may have some “personal knowledge” that could “disadvantage” Planer. He’s been in jail on high bond for more than a year and a half. Planer has convictions for robbery and firearm possession..
Attorney Martin specifically noted that the judge had already seen evidence and heard testimony – and ruled on it – in the other case and that may somehow affect her decision-making in the Planer case.
“We may ask the judge to reverse rulings she’s made in that other case,” said Martin, quickly adding that “we don’t think it’s actual bias but the appearance of bias.”
Eurie rejected the notion, noting that “I do not have personal knowledge…jurors will serve as arbiter in this case (not me).”
The rest of Wednesday was spent deciding what evidence could be presented to the jury and when it’s chosen, through a series of motions in limine by both the defense and Deputy District Attorney Casey Sinclair.
One defense request would be to consider the “issue of racial bias” in choosing jurors because, as defense counsel Martinez noted, “it’s inevitable that it will come up” in the trial of an accused neo-Nazi racist.
The judge agreed to some degree, citing cases where “intended victims” (people of color, etc.) were excluded from juries. She said she would allow lawyers from both sides to address potential jurors on the questions of that nature.
The defense also objected to anticipated presentation by the prosecution of video of the fighting at Capitol that was secured off the internet and YouTube, citing concerns about editing and chain of custody.
“There is no way of know who took the video, and where. It needs to be authenticated,” said Martin. The judge ruled that “at this time” those videos will be allowed, although in the “other” case – the anti-fascist preliminary trial testimony that continues next week – she has leaned toward suppression of some photographic evidence.
The judge will address that and other motions early Thursday before jury selection begins.