SLO judge will decide Staffel’s fate

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SLO judge will decide Staffel’s fate By Karen White / Senior Times Writer SANTA MARIA — San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera has been assigned to hear a motion involving the disqualification of a local judge. Public defender Mark Owens, representing a woman accused of leaving her newborn son in a trash container, is seeking disqualification of Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Timothy Staffel from hearing the case. Juana Santos Orocio, 24, is accused of abandoning her newborn on May 23, 2001, and is charged with attempted murder. The immigrant had arrived in Santa Maria six months pregnant, then had her baby two months later. She has been held in Santa Barbara County Jail awaiting trial since the baby’s birth. In late August, Orocio agreed to an agreement involving a no-contest plea and a five-year state prison sentence. Then on Sept. 7 she requested a change in plea, alleging she had never been told the plea would result in loss of custody of the child. The infant lived after being abandoned and is a ward of the court. Staffel slated a hearing on the change of plea and appointed Santa Maria attorney Mike Scott to represent Orocio only on this issue. The judge then called a meeting of Scott and Assistant District Attorney Christie Schultz, to coordinate this hearing. Owens allegedly was not notified and did not attend the meeting. He and his boss, Public Defender James S. Egar, then filed a motion to disqualify Staffel for engaging in ex parte communications with some, but not all, of the parties in the Orocio litigation. Staffel has prepared a response to this motion. It will be LaBarbera’s task to decide the question of the disqualification, under rules of the Judicial Council of California. Presiding Judge Rodney Melville of the Santa Maria Superior Court said that all the paperwork involving the issue, including Staffel’s response, was being forwarded to the administrative office of the JCA, then to the uninvolved judge for a decision. Melville said the ruling probably would take about 10 days. If Staffel is disqualified, Melville said the normal procedure would be to select another judge in the Santa Maria court to hear the case. Staffel set a Oct. 11 hearing on the case in his courtroom in an effort to keep the case progressing. He said this date could be change if he is replaced. * Senior staff writer Karen White can be reached at (805) 739-2217 or by e-mail at Oct. 3, 2002 :nav Source:

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