On Thursday, May 9, 2024, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the San Diego Superior Court’s downtown central division had eliminated its pretrial motions department last month. This change appeared to be connected to recent controversies surrounding Judge Howard Shore, who was previously assigned to hear most pretrial motions at the downtown courthouse.

Judge Shore had been reassigned from the court’s criminal division, where he had served since 1998, to the civil division. He received a “severe” public censure in December from the California Commission on Judicial Performance for missing 155 days of work without approval. Additionally, attorneys from the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office had filed at least 19 requests seeking to remove Judge Shore from their cases, citing his censure and prior comments he made both in court and privately to public defender chiefs.

In March, Assistant Presiding Judge Cheri Pham of Orange County agreed with arguments from the public defender’s office in some cases, disqualifying Judge Shore from hearing several pretrial motions under California’s Racial Justice Act. Judge Pham ruled there were reasonable doubts about whether Judge Shore could remain impartial given “insensitive language and comments” he had made previously in court.

While the court spokesperson did not directly link the pretrial motions department’s elimination to the issues surrounding Judge Shore, attorneys believed it was related. Defense attorney Danielle Iredale said the successful requests to remove Judge Shore from cases due to potential bias had “changed the landscape.” Without the change, the public defender’s office likely would have continued seeking to disqualify Judge Shore from cases.

Previously, pretrial motions like those filed under the Racial Justice Act and other matters that would not be decided by the eventual trial judge were all heard by Judge Shore’s department. Attorneys from the public defender’s office viewed Judge Shore as unfavorable for their clients in these decisions. One disqualification request alleged a pattern of racist or insensitive comments made by Judge Shore over previous years in court.

Going forward, the article noted pretrial motions at the downtown courthouse will be assigned to various criminal divisions based on court needs and judge availability, mirroring procedures already in place at other San Diego Superior Court locations. While the court did not confirm the reasons behind the change, defense attorneys welcomed the move.



Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune