Yolo DA Targeting Judge Wolk with Motions to Disqualify under 170.6

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – The Vanguard learned last week that the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office has been repeatedly filing 170.6 motions to disqualify Yolo County Judge Dan Wolk.

This is a pattern that has repeated itself multiple times over the years—allegedly because a judge has ruled against the DA on a key case or on a number of critical issues.

Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 170.6, “A party to, or an attorney appearing in, an action or proceeding may establish this prejudice by an oral or written motion without prior notice supported by affidavit or declaration under penalty of perjury, or an oral statement under oath, that the judge, court commissioner, or referee before whom the action or proceeding is pending, or to whom it is assigned, is prejudiced against a party or attorney, or the interest of the party or attorney, so that the party or attorney cannot, or believes that he or she cannot, have a fair and impartial trial or hearing before the judge, court commissioner, or referee.”

In short, at least ten days before the date of the next hearing, an attorney can effectively disqualify a judge.  They can only do this once and they can do it summarily, by simply declaring prejudice.

The Vanguard was alerted to this in the case of People v. Charles Spurlock.  David Wilson, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney, filed the 170.6 motion on June 10.

There is no hearing when this occurs—the case is simply re-assigned to another department, in this case the department of Judge Sam McAdam.  Ironically, Judge McAdam last year was subject to a similar campaign which ultimately resulted in his being moved from criminal to civil court, although he has retained jurisdiction of the Carlos Dominguez case which comes back to his courtroom this week.

The Vanguard has identified another seven cases that have been reassigned to Judge McAdam after Judge Wolk was disqualified by a 170.6 motion filed by the DA’s office.

All of them were filed on June 10, 2024.

This is one of the implicit powers that a DA has.  Because the DA’s office acts as gatekeeper for all criminal cases, they have the power to divert all cases from a given judge.  This puts pressure not only on the targeted judge to “get in line” but also sends a message to other judges not to cross the DA’s office.

This is a tactic used frequently by the DA’s office in Yolo County.  In the past, they have pressured judges to retire and other judges to move to a civil docket.

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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8 Comments

  1. Richard McCann

    This seems to be an abuse of the DA’s office. How this power got slipped into state law leaves the executive power unchecked is remarkable.

    1. David Greenwald

      The purpose of the law makes sense, it allows the defense or prosecution to bypass a judge that they think they will not get a fair hearing from. Part of the problem is that there is no check on it – in other words, they file the motion, it’s timely, the judge gets disqualified. And you can only do it once, so it’s less judge shopping and more judge avoiding. The problem is that the defense bar is divided between public defenders, conflict counsel and private attorneys, whereas the prosecution is only represented by the DA’s office (except under very rare circumstances) which means that the law gives the DA de facto gatekeeping to exclude a judge they want to target and there is, again, no effective check and balance.

        1. David Greenwald

          Yes. A single attorney can disqualify a single judge from hearing a case.

          But that’s different from “papering” where a DA’s office can pressure a judge or judges using the 170.6.

      1. Keith Olsen

        DA’s judge shopping probably happens all of the time.  Just take a look at Judge Merchan who somehow miraculously has sat on three Trump related cases in the last few years.  One would have better odds winning the lotto than the chances of that happening.

        1. David Greenwald

          This isn’t shopping. You can’t select the judge you want, you can only eliminate the judge you don’t want. The power here is the ability to pressure a judge through the strategic use of 170.6.

  2. PhilColeman

    Inasmuch as any attorney of record can exercise this option to exclude, where are the summations for similar filings and patterns by Yolo criminal defense attorneys and the public defenders office?

    Or do we accept on faith along that there are no instances of suspected judicial bias in Yolo County that favor of the prosecution?

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