Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Re Freeman (Cal. Supreme Court - May 18, 2006)


Freeman is sentenced to death. He makes an unusual claim: that the trial judge had an impermissible ex parte communication with the prosecutor, and in which the judge told the prosecutor that he should be using his peremptory challenges to excuse Jews from the jury, allegedly because the judge did not believe that Jews would be willing to impose the death penalty. After which, Freeman alleges, the prosecutor did just that, and impermissibly struck three jurors from the panel because he perceived them to be Jewish.

What's even more unusual is the evidence that Freeman has to support his assertions. A declaration from the prosecutor himself, in which he admits both that the ex parte communication occurred and that he thereafter struck the three jurors on account of their race. As I said: Wow.

Some will be more surprised -- and others less surprised -- at the final piece of this puzzle. Notwithstanding this confession, the California Supreme Court unanimously refuses to grant relief.

The Court agrees with the special master that the prosecutor, John Quatman -- who is currently retired in Montana -- was simply lying about all of these things. Now, based upon what the Court says, I tend to agree that Quatman was probably (1) ethically challenged as a prosecutor, (2) wanted to win far too much, and (3) had a strong dislike of various people in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. Okay.

But what the California Supreme Court doesn't at all credibly explain -- at least in my mind -- is why Quatman would lie about this. The Court says that Quatman hated a number of people in his old office. Sure. I agree with that. So I see why he'd perhaps make up lies about them. Maybe he'd say that they expressly directed him to excuse Jewish jurors. That'd be an entirely credible lie, and would "get back" at them for the things (real or imagined) that they did to him.

But why attack Judge Golde?! Who went to Quatman's wedding, for God's sake, and with whom Quatman was indisputably a friend?! Why would Quatman drag Judge Golde's memory -- he had died several years earlier -- through the mud, with incredibly devastating allegations, on behalf of someone who Quatman prosecuted and who Quatman presumably continues to think deserves to die?! I just totally don't get it. At all.

The Court's story about how Quatman would want to "get back" at his old office by telling such a tale simply doesn't make sense. You don't make up a baldfaced lie about your dead friend simply to "get back" at your enemies in a way that, really, utterly fails to reflect poorly on them at all. That just doesn't make sense to me. And that the California Supreme Court would say, yeah, we're totally confident that there was no impropriety here -- confident enough to put a man to death -- is also a conclusion that's difficult for me to stomach.

Oh. One more thing. Regardless of whether the conversation took place, Quatman admits that he struck three jurors because they were Jewish. A result that is entirely consistent with the State's assessment of Quatman's character: ethically challenged, wanted to win too much, etc. What's the Court's response? "Well, there's no real evidence that these jurors were actually Jewish." Other, of course, than their Jewish-sounding names and the fact that Quatman admits that he struck them because he thought they were Jewish!!

This one is interesting. You don't read these every day. A prosecutor who admits to illegal misconduct. And a Court that refuses to believe the confession.

Interesting, to say the least.