Sacramento judge rejects Noah Phillips’ bid to throw DA’s Office off murder case

A Sacramento judge on Friday denied county Prosecutor Noah Phillips' bid to have the District Attorney's Office thrown off of the murder case it stripped from him in April after defense attorneys accused him of misconduct at trial.

In a 14-page decision, Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini ruled that he will not take the "extreme step" of removing county prosecutors from the case: "There is currently insufficient justification of taking the extreme step of recusing the Office of the District Attorney," Fiorini wrote.

Fiorini ruled that because Phillips is no longer on the case he had no legal standing to call for the office's removal, adding that he saw little evidence that prosecutors now on the case will deny the defendants a fair hearing.

"Such a conclusion, at this stage, would be based on speculation," Fiorini wrote.

Phillips was locked in an acrimonious and ultimately unsuccessful election battle to unseat Anne Marie Schubert as Sacramento County district attorney when defense attorneys in April alleged he worked a "secret deal" with a murder defendant to exchange testimony against his three co-defendants at trial in a 2016 murder case for the promise of a lighter manslaughter sentence.

Phillips, then the DA's principal criminal attorney, strenuously denied the allegations and said the defense claims were politically motivated and encouraged by Schubert. He was removed from the case and replaced by supervising Prosecutor Dawn Bladet.

Phillips later argued for the DA's removal from the case saying attack ads by Schubert's campaign in the waning weeks of the DA's race that highlighted the misconduct claims, labeled Phillips as "unethical," "dangerous" and "wrong for DA," and suggested that he could face felony charges were further proof that Schubert's camp was using the accusations for political gain.

The leak to reporters of an off-color email exchange between Phillips' uncle and Phillips uncovered during an internal DA's investigation into Phillips' conduct just days before the June election also fed Phillips' claims that Schubert's conflict of interest extended to the rest of her office.

But in the end, Fiorini said the question is whether the defendants in the case — not Phillips — would be harmed if the district attorney were allowed to proceed.

Fiorini said Phillips made a "persuasive argument" that the district attorney may have had a conflict with him, but pointedly added that "Mr. Phillips does not focus his argument on the interests of the defendants in this matter. Instead, Mr. Phillips appears to seek redress for possible political and professional harm he may have suffered as a result of the district attorney's use of the misconduct claims for political purposes."

Defense attorneys have called for a new trial based on the misconduct allegations. Fiorini will hold a hearing on the new trial motion July 27.

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