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D.A.'s office appeals a ruling leaving Judge Goethals on the case of an H.B. man's slaying

D.A.'s office appeals a ruling leaving Judge Goethals on the case of an H.B. man's slaying
Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals has been sharply critical of the district attorney's handling of the Scott DeKraii case. In March, Goethals barred the district attorney's office from the case after finding that two sheriff's deputies had either lied under oath or willfully misled the court. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County district attorney's office is appealing a county judge's decision to deny a request to disqualify another judge hearing a murder case involving the killing of a Huntington Beach man.

On Dec. 3, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King denied the office's request to remove Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals from the case of Rito Tejeda, 22, a Santa Ana resident accused of murdering Frederick Sledge, 51, of Huntington Beach in 2013.

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King wrote in his ruling that the district attorney's office's requests to disqualify Goethals from many other recent cases have "substantially disrupted the orderly administration of criminal justice in Orange County, the sixth-largest county in the nation. It has negatively impacted not only the assignment of murder cases, but all felony cases as well."

King wrote that Goethals was disqualified at the office's request in 46 of 49 murder cases assigned to him between Feb. 25, 2014, and September 2015. From Dec. 7, 2010, to Feb. 24, 2014, Goethals was dismissed once in 35 murder cases, King said.

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The district attorney's office is appealing King's decision to the California 4th District Court of Appeal.

County prosecutors said in a statement last week that they are not "blanket papering" Goethals, a former homicide prosecutor and defense attorney. Blanket papering is a challenge tactic used by prosecutors to disqualify a judge they believe is prejudiced against them. The challenge does not have to be explained and prejudice does not have to be proved.

Goethals, 63, was appointed to the Orange County bench on Dec. 28, 2002, by then-Gov. Gray Davis.

There has been tension between Goethals and county prosecutors. In March, Goethals barred the district attorney's office from the case of admitted mass killer Scott Dekraai after Goethals found that two sheriff's deputies had either lied under oath or willfully misled the court when questioned about a secret system used to track jailhouse informants.

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In November, a group of legal leaders called for a federal investigation of allegations that the district attorney's office has hid information about the program from defense attorneys, including evidence that could be useful to defendants.

The state attorney general's office will handle the penalty phase in the case of Dekraai, who has pleaded guilty to murdering eight people in a Seal Beach salon in 2011.

"The OCDA is not 'blanket papering' Judge Goethals," county prosecutors wrote in their statement. "Even following his ruling recusing the OCDA on People v. Scott Dekraai, prosecutors have consistently litigated their cases in front of Judge Goethals."

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