Thursday, October 05, 2006

Haraguchi v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 5, 2006)

Another home playoff game by the Padres, another trip to PETCO Park by yours truly, another disappointing loss, and hence another late post.

There was, however, an opinion that came out today that's definitely worth reading. This opinion by Justice Yegan (1) involves an interesting issue, and one that I haven't seen ever before, and (2) is, at least in places, fairly harsh; indeed, a lot harsher than I'd have been.

Justice Yegan grants a writ and holds that Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley (of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office) needs to be recused from the prosecution of Massey Haraguchi because Dudley has written a self-published book (through the online shop Infinity Publishing "for a one-time setup fee of only $499") that's pretty much a "fictional" story about her pending prosecution of the defendant. Basically, Haraguchi is being prosecuted for the rape of an intoxicated woman on the beach at the same time that Dudley has written a "fictional" book about a fascinating, vivacious prosecutor -- herself -- prosecuting a defendant for the rape of an intoxicated woman on the beach. (I could discuss more plot line similarities and the like, but I'd hate to give away the ending. Read the entire opinion for more interesting details.)

Justice Yegan says, nope, sorry, you can't do that. His reasoning is, in places, fairly persuasive; for example, he rightly argues that the book (which Dudley is actively publicizing and that's for sale in various places in Santa Barbara) creates a conflict of interest. For example, I agree with Justice Yegan when he says: "Dudley will garner no laurels, and this case will not generate favorable media publicity for her book, if she enters into a negotiated settlement with petitioner. If, on the other hand, she tries the case before a jury and obtains a conviction, her victory may be acclaimed in the media. Dudley could expect such acclamation to generate favorable publicity for her book, especially since the defendant in the book is charged with the same crime as petitioner. Thus, Dudley's desire to promote her book could motivate her to try the case even though the matter might be fairly resolved through a negotiated plea to a lesser charge." That, in my mind, is a fairly serious conflict, and one that might well justify recusal.

That said, in some places, I think that Justice Yegan may go a bit overboard; and, in places, be perhaps overly harsh. For example, Justice Yegan says that, in writing the book, "Dudley is using her official position to obtain personal financial gain. . . . No current public employee should be permitted to exploit his or her official position as a lever to earn extra private income." I'm not sure that's entirely true. Recusing Dudley is one thing, but this seems like an attack on her ethics, and I'm not sure that it's justified.

Justice Yegan is also not favorably impressed by the book itself, and argues that "Dudley presents a biased, black-and-white view of the participants in the criminal justice system. She portrays prosecutors as fearless champions of truth and justice. On the other hand, she characterizes the defendant in the novel as "despicable," "felony ugly," a "pig," a "heartless bastard," and a "dirt bag." Defense counsel is portrayed as "disingenuous and manipulative" and as deserving to have his "ass" kicked. These stereotypical generalizations have no place in a current public prosecutor's thinking processes even if they are uttered in a fictional account." Justice Yegan's predicate factual assessments may well be correct -- and this book indeed does not sound like the greatest novel ever written -- but I'm not sure that a prosecutor can't validly even think these things about a defendant, at least sometimes.

Justice Yegan isn't unrelentingly harsh, and says -- albeit in a footnote -- that "Our opinion should not be construed as an attack on the character of this prosecutor. We view Dudley’s conduct as a single lapse of judgment." But that isolated footnote, which comes at the very end of the opinion, is overshadowed by the tone and content of most of the preceding opinion.

At the end of the day, Joyce Dudley is out. Judge Yegan decides not to recuse the remainder of the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office, but does grant the writ and kick Dudley off the case.

The lesson for the day: Don't publish a book about a case you're currently prosecuting. At a bare minimum, wait until the case is over, my friend.

P.S. - Dudley's book is called "Intoxicating Agent" and is available here for $13.95. It's currently No. 1,588,785 on the bestseller list. Let's see if it doesn't move up in the charts a bit after the free publicity garnered by Justice Yegan's opinion.