Dumanis doesn’t explain judge boycott


Without explanation, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has been steering cases away from Superior Court Judge John Einhorn, it was reported Sunday.

Einhorn, who has presided over high-profile cases such as the Bird Rock Bandits trial and Cynthia Sommer case, has been under a “blanket challenge” from the District Attorney’s Office for about two months, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Any time a case is assigned to Einhorn, prosecutors use a legal tactic called a peremptory challenge to block the case from going to the judge. Under the law, each side has one such challenge when assigned a judge. They do not have to state a reason for doing so, the Union-Tribune reported.

When asked about the boycott Wednesday, Dumanis issued a one-paragraph statement in which she called Einhorn a “well-respected jurist” but did give a reason for the standoff.

“This decision was made after careful consideration and thoughtful review over an extended period of time,” she said. “It is a judgment call made in the best interests of our clients, the People of the State of California, and the cases we are prosecuting.”

It is rare, though not unprecedented, for prosecutors to boycott a judge. Former District Attorney Paul Pfingst did it in 1996 against Judge Herbert Hoffman, who ended up retiring and deciding not to seek re-election two years later.

Einhorn declined to comment on the boycott when asked about it Tuesday. He told the Union-Tribune only that no one from the District Attorney’s Office had told him the reasons behind it.

Einhorn has been at the center of two high-profile cases in San Diego over the past year. Sommer was convicted of murdering her husband, Todd, in 2007 by poisoning him with arsenic. She was granted a new trial in November of that year.

Then in April 2008, new evidence was discovered — tissue samples of Todd Sommer that showed no traces of arsenic — and that led to prosecutors dismissing the case.

The retrial had been assigned to Einhorn.

Allen Bloom, Sommer’s lawyer, pressed for the case to be dismissed in a way that would preclude prosecutors from ever charging Sommer again.

That legal battle went on for more than a year, with prosecutors at one point telling Einhorn he had no authority to even hear the matter. Einhorn disagreed and said state law allowed him to consider the unusual request. The District Attorney’s Office asked the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego and the state Supreme Court to review that ruling, the Union-Tribune reported.

Eventually, Einhorn sided with prosecutors. On Sept. 25, he declined to permanently bar another prosecution of Sommer, but openly said he doubted the case would ever come to trial again.

It was around that time that the challenge apparently went into effect.

Bloom said he doubted that the move stemmed from the Sommer case, because he said Einhorn ruled against him on most issues. Still, Bloom said the move smacks of an effort to bully the judge.

“For the DA’s office to shut down an entire court as a policy is pure intimidation, not just of Judge Einhorn but the whole bench,” he told the newspaper. “They are trying to manipulate and shape the court, and that is a very scary proposition.”

Einhorn could have irked prosecutors in the Bird Rock Bandits case by dismissing gang allegations against five men charged in the beating death of a surfer.