On Thursday, April 4, 2024, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that an Orange County judge disqualified San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore from presiding over several cases filed under California’s Racial Justice Act. Orange County Assistant Presiding Judge Cheri Pham issued the ruling, finding reasonable doubts over whether Judge Shore could remain impartial given remarks he made in previous court proceedings.

Judge Pham’s decision stems from efforts by the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office to remove Judge Shore from hearing motions filed under the Racial Justice Act, a state law passed in 2020 meant to address racial bias in the justice system. In multiple cases, Deputy Public Defender Abram Genser sought Judge Shore’s disqualification, citing concerns about comments the judge had made in prior RJA hearings. When Judge Shore declined to recuse himself from one such case, Genser and prosecutors could not agree on which other local judge should decide the disqualification motion, leading to it being referred to Judge Pham.

In a 16-page order, Judge Pham granted Genser’s request to disqualify Judge Shore from the homicide case involving Genser’s client, who is Black. Genser alleges the District Attorney’s office declined to offer his client a plea deal similar to that of a comparable White defendant. Genser is using the RJA to force prosecutors to disclose information about homicide cases over five years, including defendants’ and victims’ races and settlement terms.

Judge Pham ruled Judge Shore’s past remarks in other RJA proceedings could cause reasonable doubts about his impartiality. She noted Shore had previously questioned whether systemic racism exists in the legal system and statistics showing minorities face disproportionate imprisonment. In one transcript, Judge Shore reportedly said “There is absolutely no evidence that…the proportion of persons in an ethnicity committing a crime must be the same as the proportion of the population.”

While declining to disqualify Judge Shore based on a recent severe public censure for misconduct or a meeting with Public Defender officials, Judge Pham ordered his removal from the hearing Genser’s RJA motion and other RJA cases due to his “insensitive language and comments.” She said a person aware of Judge Shore’s remarks could reasonably believe he thinks some groups commit more crimes and doubts evidence of implicit bias against minorities.

In response, the San Diego Superior Court said another judge will assume the RJA cases but has not said which judges may handle future RJA motions. Judge Shore has 10 days to appeal Judge Pham’s decision.



Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune