Judge denies motion in murder trial

Santa Clara County Judge Linda Clark has thrown out a motion to disqualify a San Francisco Superior Court judge from ruling on a motion related to the murder trial of a tenant rights lawyer, according to the ruling obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi had argued Judge Ethan Schulman should not rule on his motion to dismiss murder charges against his client because he alleged the judge was biased against Latinos and criminal defendants.

Although the decision was signed Monday, Adachi said on Friday that he had yet to see the ruling.

“The fact that this decision by an out-of-county judge has been circulated to the media and has not been provided to the party who made the challenge is outrageous,” Adachi said. “The superior court needs to answer for it.”

The news provides yet another twist in the murder case which was already overflowing with complexity, legal maneuverings, and surprises.

In his filing, Adachi cited racially insensitive comments Schulman allegedly made to a Latina defense attorney, Elizabeth Camacho. Camacho said in the motion that Schulman asked her “when is this telenovela going to end?” outside the judge’s chambers, referring to an opening statement she was making at the time in an unrelated case.

“I have been fully and demonstrably committed to equal justice throughout my career, both as a lawyer and as a judge,” Schulman wrote in a response to Adachi, categorically denying the allegations. “I devoted a substantial part of my career as a lawyer to advancing the interests of the Hispanic community.”

Clark wrote in her ruling that the court did not need to determine if Schulman made the statement, because even if he had, it would not have provided grounds for disqualification.

“The telenovela statement described by Ms. Camacho may have been unseemly, racially insensitive or improper – but it does not demonstrate a racial bias that will support blanket recusal of Shulman in other cases involving Latinos two and a half years after it was made,” Clark wrote.

“No reasonable person would question impartiality in this case based on a single comment made in one case out of hundreds, more than two years ago, by a jurist whose work on Latino issues has garnered numerous awards and recognitions,” she continued.

Adachi said he had been calling the court for the past week to determine what the status of his motion was but had received no response.

“To me there’s something shady that’s going on here if supposedly there’s a decision made, and they haven’t had the courtesy to send it to the parties,” he said.

News of the decision comes one day after jurors heard opening arguments Thursday in the murder trial of Carlos Argueta, 34, who is accused of stabbing 61-year-old James “Rick” Thomas to death outside the Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant at Sixth and Market Streets in 2015.

A different judge previously dismissed the case against Argueta, but a grand jury indicted him on murder charges last year.

Adachi was seeking to prevent Schulman from ruling on a motion to dismiss the grand jury indictment, alleging prosecutor Andrew Ganz misrepresented evidence to the jury in order to obtain the indictment.

“It’s insane that today is Friday, I have not received a copy of it, the court has not returned my phone calls, and we’re in trial,” Adachi said. “I don’t know if this is some kind of strategy on their part not to give us a copy of the decision.”

Adachi said according to statute, he has only 10 calendar days from the date of the decision to file an appeal.

The district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

“There is no excuse for what’s happened here,” Adachi said. “I’m definitely going to ask to hold whomever is responsible accountable.”

Adachi was elected to his fifth four-year term as public defender on Tuesday, running unopposed.

The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.