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Judge removed from 'Sunny Day' gang case

 

A judge in one of the "Sunny Day" gang cases was disqualified on Friday after an attorney for one of the defendants raised a formal motion for his removal, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's office.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Robert Foiles announced that he was assigned to hear the attempted robbery cases for Raymond Louis Bradford, Leonard James Gaines, Rodney Levence Mitchell and Robert Wheller Jr. through their trials, when Bradford's attorney, Connie O'Brien, objected.

O'Brien invoked a Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 peremptory challenge to bar the judge from further hearings. Wheller's attorney, Eric Hove, objected to the challenge, but Foiles did not grant his objection, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Under section 170.6, a judge, court commissioner, or referee of a superior court shall not try a civil, criminal or special proceeding of any kind nor hear any case when it is established that the judge or court commissioner is prejudiced against a party or attorney or the interest of a party or attorney appearing in the case, as defined by other sections of the law.

O'Brien did not provide any reason for invoking the challenge, and Wagstaffe said he did not need to.

"Under law each side gets one free challenge. No reason has to be cited," he said.

Using the challenge to remove a judge is not usual, but it is not unheard of, he said. But O'Connor's move means that attorneys for all four defendants can no longer make any other free challenge.

O'Brien did not returned a request for comment.

Sixteen people are on trial in connection with the Sunny Day cases, which include multiple counts of murder, attempted murder, giving false statements, robbery, attempting to bribe witnesses and gang allegations. Four others have been indicted on perjury charges.

The defendants were indicted in March 2014 as part of a major gang crackdown known as "Operation Sunny Day," which referenced the code defendants allegedly used to indicate when a "hit" was completed.

Bradford also faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Wagstaffe said he expects that O'Connor will raise the challenge against Foiles again related to those charges.

Foiles' removal will not be a setback, he said.

"It doesn't affect the outcome -- at all. Judge Foiles is a good judge, and the case will be given to another good judge. These are big cases. They won't be given to a judge who has only heard civil and family law cases," he said.

The case for all four defendants was continued to Feb. 20 for designation of a new judge to hear the cases and to set a jury trial date. The defendants all remain in custody: Bradford's bail is set at $1,000,000; Gaines, Mitchell and Wheller are set at $600,000.

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