Nevada County District Attorney’s Office asks for judge to step away from murder case over ethics concerns
November 2, 2018
Nevada County prosecutors have asked Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson to step aside from the Isaac Zafft murder case, claiming he attended political gatherings for District Attorney Cliff Newell's opponent and may have violated a judicial ethics code.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh argues in a Thursday filing that Anderson appeared at political gatherings for Glenn Jennings supporters. Those appearances by Anderson may have violated the state's code of judicial ethics, because Anderson apparently supported a candidate for district attorney who was biased and had political reasons to undermine the Zafft case.
"It should be noted that Glenn Jennings ran a highly negative political race in which he was regularly attacking the District Attorney's Office and alleging corruption between the District Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Department," Walsh states.
Walsh claims that the political gatherings were held at Joey Jordan's home. Jordan in 2014 managed David Alkire's campaign for district attorney, and worked on John Foster's recent campaign for sheriff. She donated to Jennings' district attorney campaign.
Jordan denied Walsh's allegations. Anderson couldn't be reached for comment.
"I have never held a political gathering in my home for Glenn Jennings," Jordan said in a Facebook message. "Chris Walsh appears to have an interesting relationship with facts and truth."
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Walsh said the judge will have an opportunity to respond to the claims. A judge from outside Nevada County would review the information and, if needed, hold a hearing.
No hearing has been scheduled and no timeline exists for the proceeding.
Finley Fultz, the 29-year-old who faces a murder charge in connection with Zafft's death, was scheduled next week for a retrial. That retrial has been postponed because of Walsh's request for Anderson to be disqualified. No new date is set.
The campaign between Jennings and Newell was the most contentious of the June primary election season. Jennings attacked Newell's ability as a trial prosecutor. Newell said Jennings failed as a manager when serving in the District Attorney's Office.
Newell won re-election with 50.72 percent of the vote.
The backdrop to Jennings' campaign was allegations against Nevada County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Mackey, whom Jennings accused of lying on a search warrant.
A judge has since called Mackey's statements on a different search warrant inexact and inaccurate, but not lies.
Joe Alexander, who held the assistant district attorney position after Jennings, in a May letter to The Union blasted Jennings' accusations against Mackey. Alexander also referenced the Zafft case, claiming Jennings refused to assist sheriff's investigators because of an unrelated slight over a concealed carry permit.
Walsh included Alexander's letter to the editor in his motion to disqualify Anderson.
Walsh argues in court documents that he was excluded from Fultz's September trial because defense attorney Greg Klein, who represents Fultz, included the prosecutor on a list of witnesses. Walsh and Newell wanted to argue against the move, though the judge wouldn't allow it and held meetings with attorneys that excluded Walsh, who was co-counsel on the case.
Walsh also alleges Klein routinely calls him a liar and a cheat in court, and that Anderson takes no action.
"I have never appeared in front of a judge before who has tolerated another attorney to be verbally harassed to this degree," Walsh states. "It is worth noting that I have seen Judge Anderson interject and control his courtroom on other occasions when attorneys have interrupted and said something disrespectful."
Klein on Thursday called Walsh a liar and a cheat in Anderson's courtroom.
"I caught him lying on the record," Klein said. "He's roughly like our president."
Anderson said that day he'd meet with Klein privately. When Walsh asked about the reason for the meeting, Anderson said "behavior."
Klein, who declined comment, referred to an unofficial court transcript from Fultz's trial, which ended in a mistrial.
In that transcript Klein says prosecutors should have disclosed that Fultz's codefendants — Nathan Philbrook, 34, and Daniel Devencenzi, 33 — had to enter their pleas together. Without knowing that during trial, Klein couldn't properly question witnesses.
Additionally, Klein attacked prosecutors for videotaping an interview with the codefendants that lacks audio.
"They haven't given us that ability to have a fair trial," Klein argued.
Walsh said Friday no package deal existed when the two men entered guilty pleas. He added that he thought a court hearing which occurred after the faulty video was made corrected that issue.
Anderson last month declared a mistrial in Fultz's case, pointing to prosecutors withholding information from Klein and for failing to provide evidence in proper time.
Klein on Friday repeated his claims against Walsh, and said he'd file a formal complaint against him.
"I'm going to own your state bar license," Klein told the prosecutor.
"File away," Walsh replied.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.