New Legal Developments

“Ethical Wall” Cures Prosecutor’s Conflict

Melcher v. Superior Court (People) (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 160

One bland line in a Cal App opinion just blew up the laws of ethics in California.
Defendant was accused of assaulting a police officer. The Officer was also the spouse of the District Attorney in that county. Defendant claimed there was enough of a conflict in the marital relationship that it was unlikely he could receive a fair trial.
Held: No abuse of discretion to deny motion to recuse the DA’s office. There were a number of discrete points of criminal law raised here. The DA’s office also claimed it had enacted an ethical screen (aka, a “Chinese Wall”) to keep the DA from influencing her underlings in this case.
And then this: “Third, the district attorney established an ethical wall that no evidence shows anyone has breached. Ethical walls are an accepted means of reducing the likelihood of a disabling conflict.”
In civil law, the establishment of an ethical wall is anything but “accepted”. Thus, this one line may have just changed the laws of ethics in California.
Also noteworthy, the Court of Appeals repeatedly cited that the Defendant provided no evidence that the DA was influencing her staff. Of course, if she was, and told them to keep their mouths shut, there would still be no “evidence” available to the Defendant.