Midway through her first day as the presiding judge over the Korey Kauffman murder case, retired Contra Costa County Judge Barbara Zuniga asked with a somewhat exasperated tone, what exactly had been done on the case at the previous arraignment hearings, because it certainly hadn’t been to enter any guilty or not guilty pleas in the case.
By the end of Monday’s hearing only three of the eight defendants had been arraigned with the remaining defendants opting to continue their arraignments while the court slogs its way through a sea of legal motions.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office alleges Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman on March 31, 2012, and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation. Carson, along with his wife Georgia DeFilippo, Pop N Cork owners Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, former California Highway Patrol officer Walter Wells, and Turlock resident Robert Lee Woody are all charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy for Kauffman’s death. Carson also faces a charge of perjury. Christina DeFilippo and CHP officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane are facing charges of conspiracy and being accessories in the death and cover-up. Everyone but Woody was taken into custody on Aug. 14. Woody was arrested in March of 2014 and as of now his case is being tried separately.
Zuniga did manage to steer the court through to the completion of a few matters, though those are now prompting new additional hearings.
On Monday Christina DeFilippo, McFarlane, and Quintanar all entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them. They also refused to waive time, meaning the court is obligated to hold their preliminary hearing within 10 court days of the arraignment. However, Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued against holding the preliminary hearing for the three defendants so quickly on the grounds of judicial economy. Essentially, the cases will be remaining together and as such should have one preliminary hearing. Zuniga decided to hear both sides of the argument on Sept. 21 and render a decision at that time.
One matter that did get resolved Monday was the issue of whether or not Zuniga would continue as the presiding judge in the case. On Sept. 3, Defense Attorney Ryan Roth, who is representing Christina DeFilippo, filed a peremptory challenge to having Zuniga as the presiding judge. The challenge states Zuniga is “prejudiced against defendant or interest of the party” and therefore should be removed from the case. The challenge was joined by Defense Attorney Percy Martinez, who is representing Carson. Zuniga ordered the challenges stricken the following day and on Sept. 10 the two attorneys filed peremptory challenges again against the judge, citing the same reasons.
California law gives the defense and the prosecution one chance each to have a judge removed from the case. Ferreira argued the defense used their one chance when Defense Attorney Martha Carlton-Magana made a peremptory challenge on the San Joaquin County judge assigned to the case at the Aug. 25 hearing.
Ferreira argued that at the Aug. 25 hearing Carlton-Magana turned to the other attorneys and asked “should I use mine?” and was given an affirmative response.
Martinez argued that his client has “an adverse interest” from that of his co-defendants and as such their peremptory challenge shouldn’t exclude him from making his own.
Zuniga ruled in favor of the prosecution, citing the idea of adverse interests were based solely on speculation and that the recourse for challenging her order was through the appeal process and not by filing the motion again.
The court did come to a compromise on the issue of how the defendants would be shackled at the jail and when in court. Zuniga ordered the five defendants that remain in custody be unshackled while in the courtroom.
The five defendants are being held in maximum security and as such they have their hands and ankles shackled and attached to a waist shackle. In the interview room they have an additional shackle which chains them to the floor, according to their attorneys.
At a previous court hearing, the defense attorneys argued that such measures make it impossible for the defendants to aid in their own defense by the mere fact they can’t turn over page documents or sign their names without difficulty. After a brief hearing on the matter, Judge Peter Socrates Manoukian issued a temporary order allowing for the defendants to have one hand free from the shackles while meeting with their attorneys at the jail.
Carlton-Magana filed an order to show cause and hold Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson in contempt because he was “willfully and intentionally” ignoring the court's order, according to her motion. She states she went to see her client Baljit Athwal at the jail and despite the order her client was kept shackled the entire time of the interview.
The sheriff’s department sought to appeal the order, but when it was rejected legal counsel advised the sheriff to start unshackling one hand.
Zuniga declined to hold Christianson in contempt because she found he had not been properly served with the order, nor was county counsel given ample opportunity to state their case against the motion. The judge did say she found it “troubling” that the sheriff would ignore the court’s order.
As a compromise the custodial staff at the jail will remove the black box at the inmates’ hands, which limits mobility to just a few inches.
The sheriff’s department is planning to argue that the temporary order should be vacated at a Sept. 25 hearing.
The day’s proceedings ended with a bail expert testifying on behalf of Georgia DeFilppo in her bid to receive a lower bail amount. Because of the waning time the issue was not resolved and will be taken up again on Sept. 21.
The motion of whether or not the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office should be recused from the case and a motion to quash the arrest warrant in regards to some of the defendants have all been put off for later court dates.