By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Judge Sonia Cortes is the only person of color sitting on the bench in Yolo County. She has not had a criminal calendar since prior to the pandemic, yet the Vanguard learned this week that the DA’s office has used Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 to disqualify a judge from presiding over a matter if that judge “seems to be prejudiced” against the attorneys.
Deputy DA Frits van der Hoek filed one of the motions on November 2 in a matter that is scheduled for January 12, 2023, in Department 11.
Deputy DA Robin Johnson filed the other on November 3 in a co-defendant case.
In her declaration, “I am the attorney for The People in the above-entitled action. That the Honorable Judge Cortes, the judge before whom a jury trial in the aforesaid action is pending, is prejudiced against The People or the interests of The People so that affiant believes that The People cannot have a fair and impartial hearing before the judge.”
Under the law, 170.6, each side gets one such challenge against a judge in a given case. The challenge must be made in a timely matter.
Moreover, under the law, they don’t have to actually prove that the judge is biased or present factual reasons for their claim.
While 170.6 is a routine matter, the practice of “papering a judge” to remove cases from appearing before them has been used at various times to intimidate, retaliate and, in one case a few years ago, effectively remove a judge from a criminal calendar.