Calling the case one of "statewide importance," a San Diego Superior Court judge said Friday he hopes to arrive at a decision "as soon as possible" on a prosecutor's novel request to make public the cost of defending a murderer.
At the close of a special hearing, Judge Charles R. Hayes said he is aiming for a decision soon because of the strong "public interest" in Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Shore's request to reveal the cost of defending Joselito Cinco, a former auto mechanic convicted of murdering two San Diego police officers.
Hayes acknowledged that he will be the first California judge to interpret a provision in state law that keeps confidential the amount of public money spent for legal defense in death-penalty cases.
Because his decision will be a first, "I'd like it to be behind me as soon as possible and arrive at the (appellate courts) as soon as possible," Hayes said.
The judge did not indicate Friday, however, how long he will take to decide.
Hayes is being asked to choose between the public's right to know how it spends money defending people accused of murder and the time-honored rule protecting lawyers' confidences.
The state law, enacted in 1977, sets up a process in capital cases by which a defense lawyer asks a judge for public funds to pay for "investigators, experts and others" that the lawyer feels would be helpful.
The law itself does not say whether the secrecy should end when the case ends. Cinco, 29, committed suicide in December, 1988, in his cell at San Quentin, making his case one of the first to become final since the Legislature restored the death penalty in 1977.
At Friday's hearing, Hayes said he had reviewed the Cinco file and found that expenditures--reportedly close to $1 million--were "entirely reasonable and appropriate. As a taxpayer, I am nothing but pleased so far."
If there had been improprieties, Hayes said, he felt he would have had to make public the details of the expenditures.
Because there weren't, however, he turned to the "important question" he called the special hearing to answer. Hayes has already held one hearing on the issue, in July.
The state law goes into tremendous detail in setting forth the process by which attorneys request funds, Hayes said. But even with that detail, it doesn't go on to say that there should be disclosure at the close of a case, which would have been a "very easy step for the Legislature to take," he said.
Without that explicit authority, Hayes wanted to know whether there was a good reason for him to allow disclosure.
Marilyn Huff, a San Diego attorney who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the San Diego Union and Tribune newspapers, said judges had long recognized, even without explicit authority, that court records should be public records. Shore agreed and said a judge's job involves interpreting laws.
Cinco's attorney, John Cotsirilos, cautioned against judicial activism, however.
Cotsirilos also repeated what he said in July, that he does not object to making public a lump sum but was concerned that disclosure of names of expert witnesses he consulted, and the details of their conversations, would violate his ethical obligation to keep certain matters secret.
Cinco was convicted and sentenced to die in June, 1988, for killing two police officers in Balboa Park on Sept. 14, 1984.
Because of extensive publicity, Cinco's trial was moved to Orange County, where a jury found him guilty of the murders, which occurred when Cinco and another man were trying to avoid misdemeanor citations for providing liquor to two teen-age girls.