Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Arabian Says He May Ask High Court to Recuse Entire D.A’s Office From Jesse James Hollywood Case
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An attorney for accused murderer Jesse James Hollywood said yesterday he may ask the California Supreme Court to disqualify the entire Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office from the case.
Former Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian, who is representing the defendant along with Encino attorney James Blatt, said the question of whether a relatively small prosecutor’s office can fairly prosecute a case in which an influential deputy has been disqualified is “a serious question for the high court to look at.”
Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal Thursday ordered Deputy District Attorney Ronald Zonen off the Hollywood case, but declined to disqualify District Attorney Thomas Sneddon—who leaves office in January—and the rest of the office.
A Santa Barbara Superior Court judge earlier declined to disqualify Zonen or the office. Hollywood, allegedly a former San Fernando Valley drug kingpin, was captured in Brazil last year after nearly five years at large.
He is accused of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of the 15-year-old half-brother of a former friend who owed Hollywood a drug debt. Four other defendants have been convicted in the case.
The Court of Appeal, in an opinion by Justice Kenneth Yegan, agreed that Zonen abandoned his role as dispassionate public advocate in order to assist the producers of “Alpha Dog,” a feature film based on the case that is set for release on over 1,000 screens early next year.
The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was set for wide release this past April, but that was delayed after Universal Pictures replaced New Line Cinema as the film’s distributor. A limited December release, which would qualify the film for Oscar consideration, is a possibility, the trade publication Variety reported in June.
Zonen claimed that he has no interest in the success of the film project. He cooperated with the producers, he said, because he felt the exposure would help lead to the arrest of Hollywood, a fugitive at the time who was later taken into custody by Brazilian police after a traffic stop.
But Yegan, while praising Zonen for his motives and zeal, said that the court would not, particularly in a death penalty case, “give our imprimatur to Zonen’s conduct or embolden other prosecutors to assist the media in the public vilification of a defendant in a case which is yet to be tried.”
The justice elaborated:
“Perhaps without intending to do so, Zonen has potentially infected the jury pool with his views on the strength of the People’s case. Prosecutors should try their cases in courtrooms, not in the newspapers, television, or in the movies. As far as we know, no prosecutor has ever been a consultant (even without pay) to a film director on a pending criminal case that he or she is prosecuting. To say that Zonen went too far in his attempt to apprehend petitioner is an understatement.”
The panel, however, said that it would not disqualify the entire office based on what it characterized as mere speculation that another prosecutor could not handle the case fairly.
Arabian, however, told the MetNews that the entire 45-member prosecutor’s office should be disqualified because “a wall of insulation is impossible with Zonen still around.”
The Court of Appeal ruling gave the defense “half the apple,” Arabian said, “but the entire apple would keep the system of jurisprudence clean in the state of California.”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company