Wednesday, September 5, 2001
Disqualification of Juror Because of ‘Painter’ Husband Held Racially Suspect by Court of Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Orange Superior Court judge should have granted a mistrial, after a prosecutor who struck three Hispanics from a jury panel said he had knocked one woman off because her husband was a “painter,” the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The deputy district attorney trying Daniel P. Gomez for burglary expressed the assumption that Annabel Ramirez meant to say that her husband was an artist. That might make her “liberal,” the prosecutor complained.
The fact that the prosecutor went no further in questioning Ramirez leaves that explanation for the challenge suspect, Justice William Rylaarsdam wrote for Div. Three.
“The prosecutor’s logic is almost surreal: A ‘painter’ must be assumed to be an artist, artists must be assumed to be ‘liberal,’ and liberals must be assumed to be antagonistic to the prosecution,” the justice wrote. “Furthermore, one who is married to a liberal spouse must be assumed to share his or her ideology. Take that, Mary Matalin and James Carville!”
The jury eventually impaneled—whose racial makeup could not be determined from the record, Rylaarsdam said—convicted Gomez of first-degree burglary after prosecutors presented evidence that his fingerprint was found on a VCR in a residence. The owner said her home had been ransacked and about $5,000 worth of property taken.
After Ramirez was removed from the panel, Judge Charles Margines asked the prosecutor to explain the reasons for striking her and the other two persons of Latin origin. The prosecutor said that Raymond Ornelas was young and might be skeptical of fingerprint evidence, and that Jason Saldana, a cable technician who worked in other people’s homes, might identify with the defendant.
As for Ramirez, the prosecutor told the judge:
“I just got off a jury where her husband was a philosopher and anyone close to painting, philosophy, acting, I don’t like to keep. I don’t care. I’ll kick them off.”
The judge said he was confused as to whether Ramirez’s husband was an artist or a house painter, as the defense attorney suggested, but ultimately ruled that the challenge was not pretextual and denied the defense’s mistrial motion.
A fourth Hispanic prospective juror was removed for cause after he told the judge he might be biased against the prosecution for challenging the other Hispanics.
The explanation for striking Ramirez, Rylaarsdam wrote, amounted to “pure speculation.” Presiding Justice David Sills joined in the opinion, adding in a separate concurrence that the Supreme Court might wish to review the issue of when a juror’s political views are relevant to a peremptory challenge.
“If some farfetched link to ideology is enough to justify a peremptory challenge, then we might as well bury Wheeler and its progeny. As this case illustrates, inventive prosecutors will always be able to link some otherwise ‘group neutral’ characteristic to ‘liberalism.’ Today it is women who are married to painters. Tomorrow it’s anybody who ever thought of dabbling in art.”
Justice Kathleen O’Leary dissented. While the “prosecutor’s rationale was foolish, sexist, and probably based on a fallacious assumption about what sort of painter the husband was,” she wrote, “it was at least plausible.”
The case is People v. Gomez, 01 S.O.S. 4530.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company