San Luis Obispo BLM protesters want to disqualify Judge Rita Federman

Tianna Arata, in the center, stomping on a burnt flag

By KAREN VELIE

Attorneys for several Black Lives Matter protesters expressed interest on March 3 in disqualifying San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Rita Federman from the case, while at the same time displaying no interest in a diversion program that could lead to the charges being dropped against some defendants.

Curtis Briggs, one of Tianna Arata’s attorneys, said he wanted first to clarify Judge Federman intended to remain on the case, and then planned to file a peremptory challenge against her. Federman replaced Judge Matt Guerrero after he was reassigned to family court more than a month ago.

Attorneys can file an “affidavit of prejudice” to disqualify one judge without any showing of cause.

While Briggs did not mention his specific concerns with Judge Federman, it appears he wants to make sure she remains the judge on the case before he files his one permitted challenge. Federman is currently serving a temporary stint in the appellate court.

Deputy District Attorney Delaney Henretty then made a short statement before offering misdemeanor diversion to five of the seven defendants involved in the hearing, which means they could have their charges dismissed if they agree to attend classes or do community service.

“We are a nation of laws, not men,” Henretty said. “The right of free speech ends when you trample on the rights of others.”

Henretty then offered Sam Grocott, Amman Asfaw, Marcus Montgomery, Josh Powell, and Jerad Hill the opportunity to join the misdemeanor diversion program, noting they likely did not know they were breaking the law.

The offer did not apply to Arata, who is charged with 13 misdemeanors, or Robert Lastra, who is facing a felony charge of vandalism and a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment.

Briggs responded by asking the defendants to reject the offer. It is unclear if any of the defendants plan to accept Henretty’s offer.

The defendants are scheduled to return to the courthouse on April 9 for a hearing on a motion to compel discovery, and to hold prosecutors in contempt for allegedly withholding records they were court-ordered to provide.

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