On Saturday, January 20, 2024, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore may be removed from hearing criminal cases involving the Office of the Public Defender due to alleged racist and insensitive comments.
Judge Shore had already received a public censure last month from the Commission on Judicial Performance for missing 155 days of work without authorization.
According to a sworn declaration filed by Katherine Braner and Megan Marcotte, the heads of the San Diego Office of the Public Defender, Judge Shore made inappropriate remarks about Mexicans, Palestinians, and renters during a meeting with them on December 4, 2023. Braner and Marcotte expressed concern about Judge Shore’s integrity and judicial legitimacy after learning more details about his misconduct.
The declaration aims to disqualify Judge Shore from presiding over a Racial Justice Act motion in a homicide case. Deputy Public Defender Abram Genser had filed a motion under the Racial Justice Act, arguing that prosecutors showed racial bias against his Black client by rejecting a plea deal of 17 years that was similar to one accepted in another recent case involving a White defendant. The motion, assigned to Judge Shore, asked prosecutors to disclose information on past homicide cases and sentences to examine potential racial disparities.
Judge Shore has 10 days to decide whether to recuse himself from the Chambers case or face a hearing before another judge on his potential disqualification. If removed, it would mark an extraordinary step against a sitting judge. The four chiefs of the Office of the Public Defender previously met with court administrators to express “grave concerns” about Judge Shore remaining on criminal cases involving public defenders due to his dishonesty and unethical behavior.
According to the declaration, Judge Shore downplayed his public censure when meeting with Braner and Marcotte in December. Judge Shore purportedly said tenants have “too many rights” and expressed annoyance with individuals exercising legal defenses in housing cases.
The motion argues Judge Shore has demonstrated bias against Black people and downplayed systemic racism despite the Racial Justice Act’s acknowledgment of racial inequities in the justice system. It cites prior examples where Judge Shore allegedly argued Black people commit more crimes and used a racial slur in court. His impartiality has been “irreparably damaged” according to the sworn statement.
If Judge Shore does not recuse himself, Deputy Public Defender Genser can request a hearing before another judge to decide disqualification. Legal experts say the presiding judge also has the authority to reassign judges or remove them from criminal cases due to serious misconduct allegations.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune