Irish case continued
The ongoing legal saga of Brigid Irish was continued Friday, Nov. 6, 2015 when Irish’s Public Defender, Chris Hamsher, requested a continuance from Judge Hoak.
He made the request on Friday to allow time to fully digest an order Judge Hoak issued Thursday, Nov. 5; the day before the Friday proceedings. In her Thursday order Judge Hoak denied a motion to recuse herself in the case.
Hoak’s order was a response to a motion for substitution of Judge filed by the Defense in the case in late Sept. The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, filed a response in support of the motion in late Oct.
Hoak’s six-page order is part of the public record and explains her reasoning for denial of the motion for substitution. In her order Judge Hoak also cites legal precedence stating she, “has a duty to remain on this case if a motion to recuse is not sufficient… Unless a reasonable person could infer that the judge would in all probability be prejudiced against the petitioner, the judge’s duty is to sit on the case.”
Judge Hoak outlines the defenses listed reasons for requesting a substitution of judge: 1) there is an appearance of bias because Grand County is a small, rural county and this judge is a resident and taxpayer of Grand County who regularly interacts with and depends upon other employees and officials of Grand County government; 2) because this judge is the sole sitting District Court Judge in a small county and this case involves a substantial crime against he county that has prompted ongoing public and political controversy; 3) the Court has expressed impatience with the Defendant about the progress of the case which the District Attorney has not shared and this has devalued the Defendant’s constitutional due process right and the Defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel; 4) the Court made statements suggesting the Defendant may have changed attorneys as a delay tactic and may do so again in the future and the Court was angry in doing so which created bias; 5) the Court on July 15, 2015 made several statements demonstrating the appearance of prejudice and suggesting an improper role in the process of plea negotiations.
Her Honor then proceeds to respond, point by point, to the various contentions made by both the defense and prosecution in the motion for substitution and the DA’s response.
In addressing the first point listed above Judge Hoak states, “Simply because a judge may know and work with people involved in Grand County government or because this judge pays property taxes in Grand County does not create an actual or an appearance of interest or prejudice. The Defendant does not allege that this judge works with or depends on any employee who has knowledge of the facts of this case.”
In addressing the second point listed above Judge Hoak states, “In rural districts, there is often only one available District Court Judge for the county. As a result, a single District Court Judge in a rural area always sits on cases involving substantial crimes, whether there is ongoing public and political controversy or not. It would be absurd for a judge to always have to recuse simply because there is a substantial crime with an ongoing public and political controversy. If that were true, a rural judge would then seldom sit on a case.”
In addressing the third point listed above Judge Hoak states, “The Court can be impatient with the slow movement of a case without being interested or prejudiced or creating an appearance thereof. It is, however, the duty of a judge to make sure the parties and counsel are moving a case along. The Defendant has not accused the Court of failing to give the Defendant enough time nor is there any evidence the Court did not grant the continuances sought by the Defendant.”
In addressing the fourth point listed above Judge Hoak states, “This Court is entitled to have an opinion and is entitled to render that opinion in the Courtroom. The Defendant does not allege the Court stated this as a fact, but merely suggested it as a possibility. Such a suggestion was merely an observation of the Court and does not show interest or bias on the part of this judge. The use of a harsh tone by a judge does not mean there is interest or prejudice on the part of the judge or the appearance thereof. Additionally, as claimed by the Defendant, this was a one-time instance.”
In addressing the fifth point listed above Judge Hoak states, “The Court cannot address the statements the Defendant alleges the Court made because the Defendant did not cite the specific statements. The Court did not improperly interfere in the process of plea negotiations. This judge simply rejected the plea agreement. The judge did not suggest what sentence was appropriate in the case or what plea bargain the parties should reach. The Court merely told the parties that it would not accept the parties’ plea agreement (specifically the sentencing concession) and why… This does not show any interest or prejudice or the appearance of interest or prejudice by this judge.”
Judge Hoak goes on to address contentions made by the Defendant’s attorney’s investigator who also filed an affidavit supporting the motion for substitution of judge; specifically addressing impacts of media coverage of the case.
“The Defendant’s attorney’s investigator’s affidavit addresses significant media coverage of the Defendant’s case, cites to a quote from a newspaper article, quotes a reporter’s courtroom observation, and cites a public opinion poll put forth by the newspaper. The fact that there is significant and ongoing media coverage of the Defendant’s case does not show an appearance of or actual bias or prejudice on the part of this judge. The Court’s statement, ‘By discarding them (the checks) she denied the county the benefit of those funds for services there were providing’ is a statement of fact and does not show interest or prejudice or the appearance thereof. The fact that a local newspaper stated this judge intimated ‘she was not happy with the agreement as it was presented’ is irrelevant. The Court is authorized to express an opinion or emotion upon receipt of plea paperwork… The public poll has nothing to do with the Defendant’s grounds for recusal.”
She goes on to address the issue further stating, “Part of this judge’s job is to evaluate the nature of the case as well as the proposed plea bargain. This judge did just that. This Court ultimately rejected the tendered plea agreement in this matter based upon this judge’s belief that the tendered plea bargain diminished the seriousness of the crimes committed and because this Court believed the acceptance of the alleged plea bargain would send the wrong message to the community about embezzlement in this jurisdiction. The only reason this judge rejected the plea agreement was because it would require the Court to place the Defendant on probation.”
Judge Hoak then goes on to address a series of contentions made by the DA’s office in their response in support of the motion for substitution of judge. Judge Hoak states, “The People allege that this judge rejected the plea agreement in this matter to curry favor with the voters because this judge stands for retention in 2016…This judge herby makes very clear to the People and the Defendant in this matter that this judge never has and never will put her own interests before the interests of justice while sitting on this case or any other case in the Fourteenth Judicial District. The Court reminds the People and the Defendant that this judge has rejected plea bargains in many cases, both those that have received media attention and those that have not. s a side note, if this judge were politically motivated, this judge would recuse from this case as that would be a far easier path for this Court to take.”
Judge Hoak continues responding to contentions made by the DA’s office regarding what the DA’s office viewed as sentencing disparities between the Irish case and another adjudicated by Judge Hoak earlier this year.
“The People, in their response, chose to highlight a case where the People disagree with this Court’s sentence to show that this judge’s position in rejecting the plea agreement in this matter is incongruous and unreasonable. The Court reminds the People that the Court must judge each case individually and that reasonable minds can disagree over a criminal sentence… This judge would submit that sentencing a recovering addict who had solidly maintained his sobriety for over eighteen months and for whom the People did not seek a prison sentence due to his cooperation with the People is far different than a Court examining a plea bargain for an alleged embezzler of taxpayer funds for whom the People wish to bind this Court to a probationary sentence.”
Irish is scheduled to be back in District Court on Fri. Nov. 13 at 1:15 p.m. for Arraignment.
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