Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Appeals Court Orders New Hearing Without Specifying Any Flaw in First Hearing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who pled guilty, pursuant to a plea bargain, to shooting at an occupied vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon is entitled to a new evidentiary hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea based upon his post-plea knowledge that the jailhouse informants who were to testify as to his inculpatory statements were members of the Mexican Mafia who were paid to be snitches, an appeals court has held.
The decision, rendered Friday by Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in an unpublished opinion, is an unusual one in that it declares that the trial court “is directed to conduct a new evidentiary hearing on defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea” without specifying any flaw in the initial proceeding or what should be done differently at the new one.
Winning the reversal and remand is Juan Jose Ruiz, who admitted shooting at occupants of an automobile from his bicycle. They were unharmed.
In seeking to withdraw his plea, Ruiz argued that his Brady rights—under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland—were violated because he was not given information about the prospective witnesses that could have led to their impeachment.
After denying Ruiz’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, Orange Superior Court Judge James E. Rogan—a former member of the House of Representatives who served as a prosecutor of President William Clinton in his impeachment proceeding in the Senate—sentenced Ruiz to 23 years and 8 months in prison, pursuant to the plea bargain.
No Disapproval Expressed
The appeals court, in an opinion by Justice Richard D. Fybel, reversed the judgment without expressly disapproving Rogan’s denial of the plea-withdrawal motion. Fybel wrote:
“In supplemental briefing, in addition to seeking outright reversal of the order denying his motion, defendant suggested that we reverse the trial court’s order denying defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea and remand the matter to allow the trial court to conduct a new evidentiary hearing. The Attorney General has no objection to this disposition. We agree that such a resolution makes sense, and therefore reverse and remand with directions.”
However, no direction was set forth other than the command to conduct a new hearing.
Fybel supplied this discussion:
“Evidence that the informants were used to obtain confessions from inmates (who may have been represented by counsel), in exchange for significant personal benefits, could have been used by defendant, at a minimum, to attack the informants’ credibility. Defendant could also have sought other relief….
“Had defendant been aware of all the circumstances of his contacts with the informants, defendant may not have pled guilty. We cannot, however, make factual determinations about what defendant would or could have done. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea and remand the matter for an evidentiary hearing.”
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein, who was a Court of Appeal research attorney prior to his appointment to the bench, expressed bewilderment over the opinion in the “post-plea buyers-remorse motion” case. He remarked:
“The opinion doesn’t say the ruling was error—this must be a stipulated reversal. Or not: the opinion doesn’t say so; nor does it make the findings required for a stipulated reversal by [Code of Civil Procedure] section 128(a)(8). The opinion says, ‘We agree that such a resolution makes sense.’ ”
He said that appellate lawyers “will fondly recall” the “luminous” dissent by then-California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard (now retired) in the 1992 case of Neary v. Regents of University of California. There, the majority said that “as a general rule parties are entitled to a stipulated reversal by the Court of Appeal absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances that warrant an exception,” to which Kennard responded:
“A judgment duly rendered by a court of this state is a matter of some gravity, not a trifle to be annulled for no better reason than that one party wishes it and has purchased the other party’s acquiescence by a substantial cash settlement.”
She maintained that “[t]he presumption should be against stipulated reversal, not in favor of it.”
Klein also recounted the “Kline kerfuffle.” On June 30. 1998, the Commission on Judicial Performance instituted proceedings against Court of Appeal Presiding Justice J. Anthony Klein of the First District’s Div. Two for announcing in a case that he was refusing to follow Neary. The commission, in response to a public uproar, dismissed the proceedings on Aug. 19, 1999.
The former Superior Court judge continued:
“Too, why does the court, after announcing this agreed-upon disposition in the opinion’s third paragraph, discuss the facts and the law? For guidance in future cases? Not in an unpublished, uncitable opinion. To hint the trial court should grant the motion on remand? To suggest the DA’s office be recused? (“Defendant could also have sought other relief.”) Surely not. There must be some other, legitimate reason. Based on experience, I suspect a few particular innocent, bureaucratic reasons, but there is no point in explicating them publicly.”
Commenting on the decision, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said:
“Given the Attorney General’s concession, this appellate result was pretty much inevitable.”
“Judge Rogan is an exquisite jurist. He will follow the court’s directive and conduct hearing.
“Brady remains the most challenging issue for the criminal justice system.”
The case is People v. Ruiz, G051709.
Tustin attorney Richard Schwartzberg, serving under appointment by the Court of Appeal, acted for Ruiz. Deputy Attorneys General Eric A. Swenson and Joy Utomi represented the People.
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