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Judges for the Commission on Judicial Performance heard closing arguments Tuesday regarding an Orange County Superior Court judge accused of misconduct when he was a prosecutor in the case of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy killed in a crash.

Attorney Edith Matthai told the special masters for the commission that her client was unaware that California Highway Patrol officers had altered reports in the crash that killed David Piquette on July 7, 2006.

“One of the first claims made against (Orange County Superior Court Judge Mike Murray) was that he was involved in tampering of police reports and that is flat-out false,” Matthai said.

“There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support that allegation. DA Murray wasn’t even on the case when the reports were done.”

Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin filed the charges against Cole Wilkins before Yellin was elected judge. Later, Murray took over the case and was the prosecutor in the first trial.

A dispute erupted among CHP officers about the cause of the crash on the Riverside (91) Freeway when a stolen stove tumbled off the back of a pickup truck used in Wilkins’ getaway.

Wilkins stole so much furniture from a home under construction in Menifee that the getaway vehicle was “too fully loaded” to put the back gate down and the loot wasn’t secured properly, Matthai said.

Several motorists collided with the stove, Matthai said.

“We don’t know how many people hit it,” Matthai said.

Matthai argued it was “common sense” that the stove caused the crash. But initially the officer listed the cause of the crash as unsafe speed by Piquette, because he should have avoided the large object in the road.

Piquette did manage to swerve out of the way of the stove, but he slammed into a big-rig truck that jackknifed and fell onto Piquette’s car, crushing the victim to death.

Under a legal theory that allows prosecutors to charge first-degree murder when it was during the commission of another felony, Yellin filed the case against Wilkins.

“If that stove was not on the freeway Officer Piquette would not be dead,” Matthai said.

Even if Piquette was going too fast he wouldn’t have been involved in a deadly crash because he wouldn’t have had to swerve to avoid the stove, she argued.

“The bottom line of it all was that to avoid that stove with the time it takes to react and brake he’d have to be going 28 mph,” Matthai said, referring to the testimony of accident reconstruction expert Wes Van Diver.

“You can’t be going 28 mph on the freeway because then you become the stove, you become the obstacle in the freeway,” Matthai said.

Murray testified during the hearing that he felt Yellin had charged the case “appropriately.” He also testified it was not uncommon for police officers to disagree with a prosecutor’s filing decision in a case.

Wilkins’ attorney, Joseph Vodnoy, at sentencing sought a continuance based on allegations that the police reports were altered.

Muray testified that he had “concerns” about Vodnoy’s “lack of truthfulness” about why he needed a delay in sentencing.

One of Vodnoy’s “excuses” was that the “probation report was too long to fax,” Murray said. “It didn’t make sense to me. If something is 100 pages and you can only send 50 pages then send two faxes.”

Vodnoy mentioned two CHP officers he had never heard of before and weren’t involved in the case.

“It appeared he came in with a motion to continue that was obviously legally insufficient,” Murray said.

Murray asked Vodnoy to provide an affidavit with more specific allegations “so we could properly litigate them in front of Judge (Richard) Toohey and he refused.”

Murray conceded that the altered police reports should have been provided to the defense, but he didn’t learn about it until attorneys for the Orange County Public Defender’s Office started representing Wilkins years later after the defendant’s conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Murray said he asked Wilkins’ attorney for the information they have so the District Attorney’s Office could investigate and “she refused.” The office did start its own investigation and provided the information to defense attorneys and by then Murray was walled off from the case.

Matthai argued the hearing did not provide evidence of willful misconduct.

“DA Murray wasn’t knowingly refusing to do something,” Matthai said.

She noted Vodnoy never followed up on the allegations of the altered police reports.

When the case came back from the state Supreme Court Murray made a few appearances in court on the case and then had significant back surgery that laid him up for an extended period.

Matthai argued that defense attorneys told Murray “Give my client a deal or (Murray) will look bad.”

Murray’s response “was not the response of someone who thought they did something improper,” Matthai said. “If DA Murray thought he had done something wrong wouldn’t his response be make a deal. That wasn’t what his response was because he did not believe he had done anything wrong.”

The commission’s attorney Mark Lizarraga argued that Murray “makes absolutely no inquiries (on the claims of changed police reports) during the time period of January 2011 through July 2015.”

Lizarraga also argued that Van Diver was wrongly more concerned about passing along ”hearsay” than potentially exculpatory information to defense attorneys.

Lizarraga also challenged Van Diver’s testimony that he was not interviewed by CHP internal affairs when a CHP police captain testified that she questioned him about it.

“She’s a very credible witness,” Lizarraga said.

Lizarraga also noted that former Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, now an appellate justice, sanctioned the District Attorney’s Office and removed Murray and Yellin from further involvement in the Wilkins prosecution.

Wilkins was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Lizarraga said in his opening statement of the trial that CHP officers violated their own policies by changing the original patrol officer’s report.

Retired CHP Chief Steven Beeuwsaert testified at the hearing that he launched internal affairs reviews based on the altered reports in the Wilkins case as well as allegations of a fixed ticket for an Anaheim Ducks player at the time in 2008.

Beeuwsaert testified that he called Murray to tell him about the allegations regarding the altered report and Murray told him that it didn’t matter because the prosecutor believed the stove caused the crash.

Beeuwsaert said “the command was failing” in the Santa Ana CHP office at the time. Beeuwsaert said he couldn’t remember Murray’s name, but that he eventually figured it out when he found a declaration he made in a whistleblower claim against Beeuwsaert linked to the Wilkins case.

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