SLO County judges to determine legitimacy of Judge Guerrero’s ruling

March 13, 2021

The 2nd District Court of Appeal determined this week that the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Appellate Division will hear the Attorney General and District Attorney’s appeals of Judge Matthew Guerrero’s recusal of all county prosecutors in the cases of a group of Black Lives Matter protestors who detained people on Highway 101 last July.

In early January, state and local prosecutors filed two appeals each, one in the felony case against Robert Lastra — the protester who allegedly smashed a car window onto a 4-year-old boy — and one in the misdemeanor filings against the remaining six defendants. Generally, the 2nd District Court of Appeal hears felony appeals while a panel of three SLO County Superior Court judges rules on misdemeanor appeals.

In these cases, the appeals will be jointly heard by three SLO County judges.

After legal briefs are filed by both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys, oral arguments will be scheduled and held before any decision is published.

During a Dec. 10 hearing, defense attorneys argued that District Attorney Dan Dow’s personal political opinions jeopardize the seven defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The defendants include Tianna Arata, Lastra, Sam Grocott, Jerad Hill, Marcus Montgomery, Joshua Powell and Amman Asfaw.

In opposition to the defense, Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez argued against the disqualification, noting the defense is required to show an actual conflict of interest and not a perceived conflict. In addition, the defendants’ attorneys failed to follow statutory requirements, such as proving affidavits and not relying on unsupported allegations, she said.

Judge Guerrero then ruled that Dow has a clear conflict of interest based on the wording of an email he and and his wife sent to supporters seeking donations. The email asked supporters to help Dow lead the fight against the “wacky defund the police movement and anarchist groups that are trying to undermine the rule of law and public safety in our community.”

Following the SLO County Superior Court Appellate Division’s ruling, either side will have the opportunity to appeal the case back to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura.

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The Court of Appeals could have recognized the conflict Superior Court judges would be placed in ruling for or against a fellow judge, The Court of Appeals job is to uphold or overrule Superior Court judges. The three judge panel will likely never make a ruling. They have to recuse themselves for the very reason reason stated my Mitch C..

Guerrero is a new judge and a bad appointment. While serving on the South County Sanitation District. he often sided with John Wallace who was ripping off the District. In ruling the D.A. could not hear the protesters case he was acting as their defense attorney his previous practice.

The whole thing is laughable. Judge Guerrero is prejudice against the D.A. and his office. There is a past history there. We’ll all see where the three judges stand. Will each be as they should be, followers of the rule of law, or give in to the political winds of shame and bias like Guerrero?

How can three judges who work day to day with the judge whose decision they are called upon to review render a decision that does not have a high degree of prejudice? I can see the decision now. “Well, Matthew, your understanding of the law is fully flawed, your ruling that the DA cannot prosecute the case in question is overturned”. Then the three judges are expected to have a cordial, productive working relationship with the judge who decision they just overturned. How much sense does it make to pit those who work side-by-side against each other?

The comment above is both obvious and correct. I practiced law in SLO County for about 20 years. There is nothing unusual about this case so far, except the original ruling disqualifying the DA in the first place. That judge was moved to a different court and will no longer hear the case. We want to believe the system works, which is why they get away with it.

Assemble nine equivalent judges and they will nearly always disagree in a 5 to 4 or more recently a 6 to 3 ratio. Some of them have no problem saying the others have a poor understanding of the law.

Certainly can’t have the DA be biased against crime, now can we….