No delays seen for Ayres trial

A judge’s decision to recuse himself from the case of accused serial molester William Ayres should not delay the trial of the once-prominent child psychiatrist, prosecutors said Friday.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Runde surprised attorneys on both sides by bowing out of the case Tuesday, citing “antipathy” toward counsel. Runde said he could not be impartial at an upcoming hearing to suppress evidence in the case.

His decision, however, while unexpected, makes little difference in the case. A different judge would have presided over the June 23 trial since Runde is essentially retired, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Runde will no longer preside over the April 4 hearing in which defense attorneys will argue to exclude evidence coming from police seizure of more than 600 patient files.

A new judge has not yet been assigned to the hearing, but Wagstaffe said prosecutors are confident it will take only a day to conduct.

Vicki Balfour, who urged authorities to investigate Ayres’ past after her friend came forward as his alleged victim, said she wasn’t discouraged by the latest development in the case.

“I’m confident this trial will see the light of day. I think the victims are too,” she said.

Meanwhile, attorneys on both sides said they remained confused about toward whom the judge felt antipathy.

Whichever judge is appointed to hear the April 4 hearing, Weinberg said he is confident that the evidence contained in the patient files would be suppressed. The state appeals court granted Weinberg the right to the hearing last week after Runde refused to hear the motions.

Weinberg said Friday that authorities using the files in order to search for potential victims violated the privacy of hundreds of former patients and that the files themselves were seized improperly.

Prosecutors say they were looking for specific evidence within the files. Attorneys for the California Psychiatric Association backed up the defense’s claims in a brief filed with the state appeals court, saying the seizure violated patient confidentiality. The organization would hold no sway in San Mateo County’s prosecution, Wagstaffe said.

San Mateo police arrested Ayres in April 2007 after a four-year investigation. The charges against him involve seven former patients between 1991 and 1996. More than 30 other men have come forward, but their cases fall beyond the statute of limitations.

tbarak@examiner.com

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