SAN DIEGO — The judge in Mayor Roger Hedgecock's campaign money laundering case has refused to remove himself from a hearing on jury tampering allegations involving his bailiff, ruling that the defense request "discloses no legal ground" for his removal.
Saying that Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr.'s refusal to remove himself from the Nov. 4 hearing creates "the appearance . . . of possible impropriety," Hedgecock's attorneys said Tuesday that they plan to appeal the decision.
Stepping up their legal battle to prevent Hedgecock's sentencing and ouster from office next week, the mayor's attorneys said they will ask the 4th District Court of Appeal to rule this week on whether Todd should preside over Monday's hearing. If Hedgecock loses his request for a new trial at that hearing, he could be forced from office two days later, when Todd is scheduled to sentence the mayor on his conviction on one count of conspiracy and 12 counts of perjury.
"Right now, by (Todd's) sitting in judgment of allegations against his own bailiff, there always will be a pall over the proceeding as to whether or not any impropriety took place because of the close relationship between them," Hedgecock attorney Oscar Goodman said Tuesday.
Todd presided over both of Hedgecock's trials. The mayor's first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 for conviction.
In earlier motions seeking Todd's removal from the hearing for a new trial, Goodman noted that the defense intended to call the judge to testify and that Al Burroughs Jr., the bailiff accused of tampering with the jury during deliberations, is "an arm of (Todd's) court."
However, in a four-page order Monday, Todd ruled that the defense's motion "discloses no legal ground for (the judge's) disqualification." In addition, Todd ruled that Goodman cannot call the judge to testify at next week's hearing and dismissed most of the defense's jury tampering evidence as "conclusionary . . . and inadmissible hearsay."
Todd's decision reiterated many of the same legal points made in briefs filed by Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller Jr. in opposition to Goodman's request for a new trial. In urging that Goodman's motion for a new trial be rejected "out of hand without even holding a hearing," Miller also referred to evidence submitted by the defense in support of the jury tampering claims as "inadmissible evidence and hearsay."
Hedgecock's legal status was thrown into limbo two weeks ago when one juror and the attorney for another signed sworn statements alleging that Burroughs, in violation of court rules, talked with jurors on numerous occasions about the case and the progress in their 6 1/2-day deliberations.
However, sworn documents from the 10 other jurors, filed by Miller's office Monday, disputed those allegations and were cited by the district attorney as proof that "there was not anything even remotely approaching jury tampering."
At a news conference Tuesday, Michael Pancer, a second Hedgecock attorney, argued that the jurors' affidavits filed by Miller's office "tend to substantiate our position that there was misconduct and jury tampering" in Hedgecock's case. Pancer noted, for example, that some of those jurors' statements confirmed that Burroughs had told them an anecdote about another case dealing with the crucial legal term of "reasonable doubt."
Confident of New Trial
Although most of the 10 jurors said they viewed the bailiff's story as a joke, Goodman argues that the bailiff's "mere telling of the tale" was improper and is sufficient grounds for overturning Hedgecock's conviction on conspiracy and perjury charges stemming from allegedly illegal contributions to his 1983 mayoral campaign.
Even if they fail in their effort to disqualify Todd from the case, Hedgecock's attorneys said Tuesday, they remain confident that they will prevail in their bid for a new trial.
"I think there's enough evidence of clear misconduct that, no matter which judge hears this motion, he'll have to grant a new trial," Goodman said.
Hedgecock was convicted of conspiring to funnel illegal contributions to his 1983 mayoral campaign and falsifying public disclosure statements to conceal the scheme.