Ruling disqualifying the SLO County District Attorney’s Office appealed

District Attorney Dan Dow

By KAREN VELIE

The California Attorney General’s Office on Friday appealed a recent court ruling that disqualified the entire San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting local Black Lives Matter organizer Tiana Arrata and six others defendants involved in alleged criminal acts during a July protest.

The state filed two appeals, 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, according to the people’s notice of appeal. The state is asking the SLO County Superior Court to consolidate the two cases for the appeals to insure uniformity in the rulings.

Generally, a three-judge panel from the SLO County Superior Court hears appeals of misdemeanor cases, while the Second Appellate District rules on felony appeals. Because the courts could potentially deliver conflicting results, the state wants the cases combined.

Tianna Arata outside courthouse, photo by Richard Bastian

During a Dec. 10 hearing, defense attorneys argued that Dow’s personal political opinions jeopardize the seven defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The defendants include 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.

SLO County Superior Court Judge Matt 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.”

Dow, who also does not support the judge’s finding of a conflict of interest, said his office also plans to appeal the rulings later today.

“I am supposed to advocate for justice and safety in our community, judges are supposed to be neutral,” Dow said.

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