SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi Tuesday filed a motion to recuse a judge from a murder trial, alleging the judge is biased against Latino defendants.
Carlos Argueta, a former attorney with the tenancy advocacy group Eviction Defense Collaborative, is being charged with murder and second-degree robbery for a September 2015 stabbing in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, which killed 61-year-old James Thomas.
In 2016, Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin dismissed all charges against Argueta and co-defendant Pascal Krummenacher, following a preliminary hearing in which defense attorneys argued the fatal stabbing was in self-defense. However, in 2017 a grand jury recharged Argueta.
The motion filed Tuesday is seeking to disqualify Judge Ethan Schulman from Argueta’s case, alleging that in previous cases Schulman has expressed bias against people of Latino background, exhibited racial insensitivity and showed a preference for the prosecution.
According to the motion, Schulman once allegedly asked a defense attorney of Latino descent, who was representing a defendant also of Latino descent, “When is this telenovela going to end?” after her opening statement.
In addition to the motion to recuse Schulman, Adachi is also seeking to dismiss the new charges against Argueta altogether, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
According to a motion filed earlier this month to dismiss the indictment, after the case against Argueta was first dismissed in 2016, prosecutor Andrew Ganz then allegedly presented the case to a grand jury with “dramatically” changed testimony from a witness.
Additionally, the motion claims that Ganz distorted testimony by a medical examiner during the grand jury hearing, which allegedly indicated during Argueta’s preliminary hearing that the fatal stabbing was in self-defense.
The motion also claims that Ganz encouraged the grand jury to rush the indictment by instructing them that if they didn’t indict Argueta within 20 minutes, they would have to return the following week.
Furthermore, the motion reveals that the California State Bar has charged Ganz with six counts of professional misconduct, stemming from a murder case he handled as a Solano County prosecutor between 2012 and 2014.
Argueta was first arrested along with Krummenacher in September 2015 in connection with the stabbing death of Thomas, which occurred near the corner of Sixth and Market streets around 10 p.m.
According to prosecutors, Krummenacher and Argueta had gotten into an altercation with Thomas and some other men as the pair were leaving a bar after a night of drinking.
As the two were walking, Krummenacher allegedly grabbed a red bag from Thomas, who was selling items on the sidewalk, believing the red bag belonged to him.
Thomas then, along with other men, attacked Argueta and Krummenacher and retrieved the red bag. The group of men followed Argueta and Krummenacher and attacked them again, this time taking Argueta’s black bag.
During the fight, Krummenacher was somehow able to retrieve the red bag he initially took and fled the area.
Argueta allegedly returned to the area where Thomas had been selling items in order to look for his black bag.
Thomas allegedly attacked Argueta again while another man struck Argueta in the head with a skateboard. At this time, Argueta allegedly pulled out a pocketknife.
Defense attorneys said that Thomas rushed into Argueta, causing the knife to enter Thomas’s chest.
Argueta continued to be attacked before he retreated into a nearby restaurant to wait for police to arrive.
Thomas was taken to San Francisco General Hospital but died from his injuries a short time later.
Krummenacher, a visiting law student from London who had been working as an intern with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, was also initially charged with murder, but the case was later dismissed.
Unlike Argueta, Krummenacher was not recharged by the grand jury.
Argueta is out on bail and is expected to return to court on September 28.
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