Judge Ralph Strother is one of the judges assigned to the Twin Peaks Biker Shootout. This past week he was forced to take the witness stand and defend himself.
Criminal defense attorneys for the bikers have argued that Strother has not been impartial to the defense and has favored the prosecution. As a result, a recusal hearing was held. A retired judge presided over the hearing.
Red Flag #1
One issue involves the choosing of the trial date for Jacob Carrizal. Carrizal is scheduled to go first with his trial date scheduled for September 11. However, other bikers wanted to be tried first, even filed motions for speedy trial which is a motion to schedule a trial within a specific time period. District Attorney Abel Reyna want Carrizal to go first.
The defense argues that Judge Strother showed favoritism to the District Attorney’s office by scheduling Carrizal’s first. Judge Strother does have discretion in how he runs his court calendar and that was his position, but as I have mentioned endless amount of times before, with the scrutiny that this case is under, why not go out of your way to avoid any indication of inappropriate behavior? He could have easily flipped a coin to determine who goes first. I’ve seen it in court myself.
Judge Strother testified that “…both sides seemed to be OK with it and we set it.” Of course, the other side denies they were okay with this.
Red Flag #2
Another issue by the defense regards warrants that were served on their clients in order to obtain DNA samples.
On February 16, Judge Strother scheduled a hearing in order to allow the District Attorney’s Office to serve the warrants.
Criminal defense attorney Clint Broden stated “Judges should not be in the business of helping the prosecution. He called that docket for the sole reason of helping the prosecution execute those warrants.”
Judge Strother did admit the DNA warrants could have been handled better, but since he was out of the office, he blamed his staff. Judge Strother is correct in his response that the DNA warrants would have been served anyway, and that he had the legal authority to do so. However, that is not the issue with the defense.
The defense is concerned with “ex-parte communications.” Ex-parte means when one side speaks with the Judge about the case without the other party present. Judge Strother denies that any ex-parte communications took place. However, the hearing was scheduled with his office to execute the warrant, apparently without the defense knowing about it.
Judge James Morgan, the retired judge that presided over the hearing, has not ruled on the recusal motions filed by the defense, but did state that attorneys may submit memorandums of law supporting their position.