California Attorney General Rob Bonta and a local deputy district attorney marshal their best legal arguments and court precedents to persuade a judge to let District Attorney Summer Stephan prosecute a defendant in the 2021 Pacific Beach riot.
But Curtis Briggs, the Bay Area attorney seeking to remove Stephan from the case, hadn’t heard one of the rationales before.
“We do not ascribe much credit to assertions made by out-of-town defendants and their out-of-town attorneys about our community,” an attorney for Stephan wrote last week.
On Tuesday, Briggs told Times of San Diego: “Of all the responses I thought I would get when I laid out Stephan’s ties to and favoritism for right-wing hate groups, being an ‘outtatown lawyer’ was not one I expected.”
He’s practiced in over 24 California counties, he said via email, “and I have not heard that one yet.”
Briggs represents Jeremy White, accused of assault and conspiring with other “Antifa” adherents to violently disrupt a “Patriot Rally” three days after the Capitol insurrection.
But Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle, quoting part of the Briggs motion, wrote: “It is simply a lie that ‘Stephan’s Loyalty to Right-Wing Extremists Has Given Them Carte Blanche to Engage in Acts of Violence Against Racial Justice Protestors in San Diego County.’”
Stephan has a deep catalog of prosecuting hate crimes and white-supremacists, Doyle wrote, citing examples.
“This court may be aware of that record,” Doyle told Superior Court Judge Daniel Goldstein, set to hear the recusal motion Friday. “But for the benefit of the out-of-towners and any reviewing court, a sampling of that record has been submitted.”
Attorney General Bonta is legally required to respond to a disqualification motion such as his, Briggs said.
Bonta’s 16-page brief, filed Nov. 9, says defendant White “extrapolates” that Stephan’s anti-Antifa campaign platform when she ran for election five years ago raises a conflict of interest.
“In concluding that DA Stephan has elevated her political interests over that of impartial justice, Defendant relies on speculation, not established fact,” says the Bonta brief signed by Deputy Attorney General Britton B. Lacy.
“[White] has not shown that the trial prosecutor has a conflict or that the office as a whole would be unable to fairly prosecute this matter. Defendant has not met his burden to show that an actual conflict of interest exists or, if one does exist, that such a conflict is so severe that there is a reasonable possibility that he would receive unfair treatment should his case continue to be handled by” the county District Attorney’s Office.
“Consequently, the motion must be denied.”
Defendant White failed to provide any evidence of a conflict of interest other than his “opinions, suppositions and innuendos,” the Bonta team says, calling his claims “speculative and self-serving allegations.”
Colorful language animates the district attorney’s response as well.
White’s recusal motion is “riddled with fantasies and falsehoods,” Doyle writes, “and presents a disjointed litany of perceived grievances. … Recusing the District Attorney is a serious interference by the judiciary upon the powers of the executive branch and is permitted only in very limited circumstances, governed by statute.”
Doyle decries the recusal motion’s “alternate reality … that neither we as prosecutors, nor the
courts, operate under.”
The state and county responses also reject the effort to disqualify Stephan’s entire office.
“SDCDA employs around 300 deputy district attorneys across four geographic branches in a large county,” the Bonta brief notes, arguing that no evidence exists that Stephan exerted “any undue influence on every single one of her 300 deputy district attorneys.”
Bonta says the size of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is significant because a large office can more easily erect ethical walls and avoid a conflict of interest.
But back to the out-of-town lawyer aspersion.
In his formal response, Briggs called this “one of the more bizarre statements” in the DA opposition filing.
“The implications are that the law is somehow applied differently in San Diego and that notions of fairness in prosecution have a geographical element,” Briggs wrote. “Even though San Diego County is an amazing place, local pride should be the furthest consideration when it comes to holding a prosecutor to their duty of fairness and candor, and the prosecution should know that.”
Briggs said Stephan couldn’t explain her lack of charges against “the extreme right on January 9, 2021,” and the out-of-town lawyer statement is “further evidence that the prosecution will not give Mr. White a fair and impartial hearing, or trial.”
In an email exchange, Briggs reacted to Stephan’s listing of her hate-crime prosecutions.
“The video evidence shows that with Summer Stephan in charge, all you have to do to get away with criminal violence is yell ‘F*CK ANTIFA!’ while you commit that assault,” Briggs said. “You can break noses, brandish knives, use poles to beat up unarmed and barefoot people, throw military explosives, and shoot projectiles.
“You can then film yourself and upload your crimes onto your public social media and Summer Stephan just winks and nods and keeps counting her campaign donations for 2028.”
Bonta’s office also rejects Stephan having a conflict of interest for accepting a campaign contribution from a right-wing group that took part in the Pacific Beach melee — a $100 donation from the alleged president of the Southern California chapter of the American Guard.
“Stephan did not solicit financial contributions or reimbursement for prosecuting [White],” the Bonta brief says. “Even assuming right-wing extremists donated to DA Stephan’s 2018 campaign, [White] did not and cannot show that DA Stephan received ‘significant and substantial,’ let alone any, financial contributions of a ‘nature and magnitude likely to put the prosecutor’s discretionary decision making within the influence or control of an interested party.’”
Moreover, Bonta’s team adds, “there is no evidence that any of the line prosecutors in the office have been influenced by DA Stephan’s supposed intense interest in the case. As established, disqualifying an entire office is an extreme step.”
White isn’t alone among the Pacific Beach defendants to seek the recusal of Stephan and her office.
“Local counsel for Jesse Cannon has joined the motion,” Briggs said. “Jesse is a local hero in San Diego because he had the courage to speak out against police violence. He was frequently attacked and assaulted at local protests by hate groups and targeted by law enforcement and he is unfairly accused of the January 9th, 2021, incident.”
Eleven men were originally charged in the Pacific Beach clashes. Several have pleaded guilty.
Los Angeles County resident Jeremy Jonathan White might not be in court Friday “due to urgent financial constraints,” Briggs said. “Jeremy has to be at work on Friday. He is trying to get the morning off to appear by video. He has been following the motion exchanges closely.”
It isn’t clear whether Summer Stephan will appear in Judge Goldstein’s downtown court at 9 a.m. Friday.
Said Briggs: “She might. It will be a much more interesting hearing if she does show up.”