Lady  Justice

Amid defense allegations of misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants by sheriff’s officials and prosecutors, the Orange County Superior Court judge presiding over the trial of a double-murder suspect recused himself from the case on Tuesday.

Judge James Stotler was hearing the case of 30-year-old Daniel Wozniak, who had been scheduled to go on trial Feb. 13 for the May 2010 killings of Samuel Eliezer Herr, 26, and Juri Julie Kibuishi, 23. Defense attorney Scott Sanders, however, has been pushing for a delay while calling for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to be thrown off the case over the misconduct allegations.

Sanders has also signaled in court papers that he intends to seek the recusal of every judge in Orange County from the case.

With Stotler recusing himself, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King assigned the case to Judge Thomas Goethals, who has been presiding over the case of convicted mass killer Scott Dekraai, another client of Sanders, who has lodged governmental misconduct claims involving jailhouse informants.

Orange County prosecutors will have 10 days to object and request another judge, so it remains to be seen if the case will stay with Goethals.

Sanders wants an evidentiary hearing held to back up his claims that sheriff’s officials illegally used jailhouse informants to solicit incriminating statements from defendants, including Wozniak.

Sanders contends confidential informants are using threats of retaliation by the Mexican Mafia if some inmates don’t tell the truth about what happened in their case. At issue in the Wozniak case is the contact the defendant had with informant Fernando Perez.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy has argued that Perez was not yet working for the government when he chatted up Wozniak and would not be a witness in the trial anyway.

Also at issue in the Wozniak case is an interview the defendant did for the MSNBC program “Lockup.” Sanders alleges the interview was a set up by the defendant’s jailers to make him look bad, but the producer of the program said she was not directed by sheriff’s officials to interview Wozniak.

In court last week, Stotler expressed exasperation at the length of motions being filed by Sanders. He noted that he was relieved when a motion filed Thursday by Sanders was only 81 pages, only to realize the document was only a summary of a planned longer motion.

“Then I started to think I don’t know what this is and then my ultimate nightmare — this is a summary of the motion and I still might get 20,000 pages and 70 volumes” to rule on, Stotler said.

In court today, Stotler said he did not believe he could remain impartial in the case, so he recused himself.

“I did some soul searching whether I can maintain impartiality,” Stotler said. “The whole weekend I did some soul searching on this and that’s not appropriate judicial thinking. … The bottom line is I have to do the right thing here.”

The judge’s announcement drew an angry response from Herr’s father, who stormed out of the courtroom, pointing to reporters exclaiming, “Write this up. Another (expletive) year!”

Another senior prosecutor had to calm Steve Herr while Murphy told reporters, “James Stotler is a very thoughtful, careful man and we accept his decision.”

Later, Steve Herr called Stotler’s ruling was a “travesty of justice.”

“It’s a kick in the groin for me,” he said.

Wozniak is accused of killing Herr at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and then luring Kibuishi to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment, where he allegedly shot her and took off some of her clothes to make it appear that Herr killed her.

He is also accused of dismembering Herr and disposing body parts in the El Dorado Park Nature Center in Long Beach.

Authorities allege he killed Herr to steal Herr’s savings to pay for his wedding and honeymoon.

— City News Service

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