SLO County judges hear appeal of Judge Guerrero’s ruling

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.