Phillips wants DA's office off of ‘secret deal’ murder case

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini will have a full slate on June 8:

That's the day he will consider not only additional evidence of a 'secret deal' allegedly offered a 2016 murder defendant by then prosecutor Noah Phillips, but Fiorini now also will hear a motion from Phillips that the judge throw the Sacramento County District Attorney's prosecutors off the murder case.

The addition to the judge's calendar comes after a May 21 request from Phillips, who is accusing his boss and campaign rival Anne Marie Schubert of politicizing the accusations against him in the 2016 case.

“There is a substantial risk that the District Attorney’s representation would continue to be ... affected by her personal and professional interest in winning reelection against Mr. Phillips,” attorney Steven A. Lewis wrote in his motion, to disqualify Schubert’s office from the case against the four convicted in the August 2016 killing of 60-year-old Ashok Kumar.

“When the District Attorney has had the opportunity, not to mention the professional obligation to… uphold those convictions, she has chosen not to do so,” Lewis argued. “Instead, her focus has been on seemingly supporting the claims of the three convicted murderers in order to tarnish the reputation of her political opponent.”

Sacramento County prosecutors have not yet filed a response to the disqualification motion, court officials said.

It’s the latest move in an increasingly bare-knuckled political race where courtroom and campaign trail continue to be intertwined. Phillips, the DA’s principal criminal attorney fresh off of the revelation of a racist, sexist email on his workplace account uncovered during an internal District Attorney’s investigation into defense attorneys’ allegations of prosecutorial misconduct at the Kumar murder trial, is tangled in an ugly election fight against Schubert to become District Attorney.

Lewis concedes in his motion that the filing is “unusual.” Phillips is no longer a party to the case, though he and the allegations against him remain at the center of it. Supervising deputy prosecutor Dawn Bladet now has the case.

The ever-crowded hearing before Fiorini will fall three days after the election.

Lewis cites case law arguing Phillips can ask that the District Attorney’s Office be disqualified, saying “nearly every action the District Attorney has taken” in connection with defense attorneys’ efforts to win a new trial has been colored by Schubert’s quest to win a second term.

Schubert’s campaign has pounced on the misconduct accusations in television ads that label election foe Phillips as “unethical” and “dangerous,” and suggest that Phillips could face felony criminal charges if the accusations are borne out.

Phillips has repeatedly denied the accusations calling them variously a politically motivated prop engineered by Schubert, an abuse of power and a desperate gambit by an incumbent he said is “on the ropes.”

Defense attorney Michael Wise in April alleged Phillips made a secret deal with suspect Tiwan Greenwade by supplying Greenwade’s lawyer a “shopping list” of demands that Greenwade testify to to bolster Phillips’ case against Greenwade cohorts and murder suspects Vicky Lynn Rainone, Kumar’s wife, Rohini Kumar, and Wise’s client, Raghua Sharma.

In exchange, Wise alleged, Phillips lobbied jurors to convict Greenwade of manslaughter charges.

Jurors ultimately found Greenwade guilty of manslaughter in the August 2016 home burglary-turned-slaying. Kumar, Rainone and Sharma were convicted of first-degree murder. Wise and attorneys for Kumar and Rainone are demanding a mistrial.

Sentencing is also scheduled for June 8.

The DA’s office has since taken Phillips off of the case and argued that Phillips in an email appeared to tell defense attorneys that he planned to dismiss a special circumstance allegation against Greenwade without authorization from DA’s higher-ups.

Now, on a busy June 8, Fiorini will hear argument on whether Schubert's office can remain on the case.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee