Sacramento County District Attorney Adds Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto to Growing Enemies List – Joining Unhoused, Whom He Wants to Jail and City of Sacramento, Which He Wants to Sue

Possessions of a homeless person on Capital Mall Drive in Sacramento on Saturday, September 11, 2021.(Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento District Attorney Thien Ho in recent weeks has picked fights with the homeless community and the city of Sacramento—threatening to criminalize the former and sue the latter—and now apparently has found another target: a Sacramento County Superior Court judge.

Ho’s office admits it has “decided to freeze out (a judge) from hearing any criminal cases coming from its prosecutors, employing a rule that allows them to reject a judge for being prejudiced against their interests,” according to a Sacramento Bee story this week.

The Vanguard has been unable to talk with the court or Ho to confirm the events, but the Bee said Ho’s office told the Bee the office’s prosecutors “plan to use a section of the California Code of Civil Procedure to ‘blanket paper’ Judge Stephen Acquisto, a 10-year veteran of the bench.”

While the DA’s office didn’t say what prompted the decision, longtime Sacramento defense attorney Mark Reichel suggested he may well have incurred the ire of the DA because he hasn’t always ruled in the prosecution’s favor.

Reichel told the Bee, “Obviously, he rules on hundreds of cases throughout the year. It appears on a few occasions where he rules against the prosecution they are of the opinion that his rulings should be 100 percent of the time in their favor.”

Reichel added Acquisto has a reputation “as a really bright judge, and there’s no one who would say otherwise. He reads and applies the law like we would require.”

A former federal public defender but veteran private defender for many years now, Reichel did offer some insight in his interview, noting, “Most people are saying it’s because (the judge) is being a judge and fairly applying the law to the facts, which at times will require him to rule against the prosecution.”

But the DA’s office is very clear. According to Deputy District Attorney Scott Triplett, in an email to the Bee, he said, “Yes, we are exercising our authority pursuant to CCP 170.6 as it relates to Judge Stephen Acquisto. At this time, we will not provide further information on this matter.” 

The Bee, without naming names, said lawyer “gossip” has speculated the DA’s decision may have been related to a case the judge presided over dealing with “California’s revised felony-murder law that allows for defendants who received life sentences as accomplices in murder cases to seek new sentences.” Over the past several years, hundreds of inmates have filed to have their life sentences overturned.

The Bee wrote that “two sources, who spoke anonymously to The Bee because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the re-sentencing in a 2008 second-degree murder case may have sparked the D.A.’s move. In that case, the defendant was serving a 15-years-to-life sentence and successfully sought re-sentencing that allowed for his release from prison despite opposition from the DA’s office.”

The Bee added this apparently didn’t please the DA, writing “sources also said Acquisto had been the subject of an earlier move by Ho’s office to keep cases from being assigned to Acquisto temporarily.”

Reichel, and other lawyers familiar with the judge, have “defended (the judge’s) impartiality.”

And, the arch enemies of the DA’s Office, the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office, said it has no problems with Acquisto.

 “While we do not always agree with his rulings, he endeavors to find a just resolution in every case before him. Public defender attorneys have appeared before Judge Acquisto on a wide variety of cases over the years and have found him to be a fair and impartial judge,” the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office said in a statement to The Bee.   

It’s not clear if Ho’s office’s “papering” of Acquisto is permanent, but the office did notify Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Bowman the last day of July, according to a court email forwarded to The Bee. 

Acquisto and Bowman were appointed as judges in December 2013 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Meanwhile, Ho issued more threats this week to the city of Sacramento, sending a letter to the city threatening to take legal action in 30 days if the city doesn’t start arresting homeless people for blocking sidewalks, despite a federal court order obtained by the Sacramento Homeless Union preventing the city from doing so for most of the month of August.

Ho’s pressure tactics may have worked—the city, despite the court order, may be hit with contempt charges if the homeless union gets what it wants after the city late last week and this week cleared the unhoused from their temporary homes, despite the federal court order that supposedly prevented the sweeps.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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