Kauffman murder case moves forward with multiple motions filed by defense attorneys
By Sabra Stafford
If there is any certainty in the case against defense attorney Frank Carson and the seven other defendants arrested alongside him in connection to the death of 26-year-old Korey Kauffman, it is that it is generating mountains of legal documents.
Carson and the other defendants are due in court Monday for what is presumably a continued arraignment, but attorneys on both sides have filed numerous motions on a variety of matters, making it an uncertainty on whether or not any of the defendants will enter guilty or not guilty pleas come Monday.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office alleges Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman on March 31, 2012, and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation. Carson, along with his wife Georgia DeFilippo, Pop N Cork owners Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, former California Highway Patrol officer Walter Wells, and Turlock resident Robert Lee Woody are all charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy for Kauffman’s death. Carson also faces a charge of perjury. Christina DeFilippo and CHP officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane are facing charges of conspiracy and being accessories in the death and cover-up. Everyone but Woody was taken into custody on Aug. 14. Woody was arrested in March of 2014 and as of now his case is being tried separately.
The case is currently assigned to retired Contra Costa County Judge Barbara Zuniga and she issued a minute order on Wednesday stating that Monday’s hearing would only deal with a motion regarding shackling at the jail, Georgia DeFilippo’s continued bail review, and the arraignment. All other matters would be scheduled for later hearings.
However, there is an issue over whether Zuniga will continue as the judge assigned to the case. On Sept. 3, Defense Attorney Ryan Roth, who is now representing Christina DeFilippo, filed a peremptory challenge to having Zuniga as the presiding judge. The challenge states Zuniga is “prejudiced against defendant or interest of the party” and therefore should be removed from the case. The challenge was joined by Defense Attorney Percy Martinez, who is representing Carson.
On Sept. 4, Zuniga ordered the challenges stricken, but on that same day Defense Attorney Alonzo Gradford filed a declaration of support for the challenge on behalf of his client, Eduardo Quintanar. His challenge was struck down on Wednesday. On Thursday, the attorneys representing Carson and Christina DeFilippo filed peremptory challenges again against the judge and as of Friday afternoon there was no reply from the judge.
One matter that will likely be debated on Monday is whether or not the defendants must remain completely shackled during interviews with their attorneys at the Stanislaus County Jail and at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Facility.
All the defendants charged with murder are currently still in custody, though Georgia DeFilippo and Wells were given the opportunity to post bail, albeit at $10 million each. They are all classified as maximum security inmates and as such they have their hands and ankles shackled and attached to a waist shackle. In the interview room they have an additional shackle which chains them to the floor, according to their attorneys.
At a previous court hearing, the defense attorneys argued that such measures make it impossible for the defendants to aid in their own defense by the mere fact they can’t turn over page documents or sign their names without difficulty. After a brief hearing on the matter, Judge Peter Socrates Manoukian issued a temporary order allowing for the defendants to have one hand free from the shackles while meeting with their attorneys at the jail.
The order has yet to have been carried out, according to the defense attorneys. Martha Carlton-Magana has filed an order to show cause and hold Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson in contempt because he has “willfully and intentionally” ignored the court's order, according to her motion. She states she went to see her client Baljit Athwal at the jail and despite the order her client was kept shackled the entire time of the interview. She states it was at this time that she was informed the sheriff would not comply with the court’s order.
Carlton-Magana’s motion was joined by Martinez on behalf of Carson on Thursday.
In response to the order to show cause, the sheriff’s department, through their attorney, argued the order to have the defendants unshackled should be vacated because in part they were not given an ample opportunity to brief the court on the legal and safety issues that would arise from unshackling.
The motion states the shackling policy that is in place is “designed to foster safety of the inmates, employees, and visitors” and “should not be disturbed by the Court.”
The motion argues that even allowing one hand to be unshackled would increase the risk and threat of violence and leaves open a possibility an inmate could obtain an item that could be later used as a weapon against the custodial staff or other inmates.
The motion points to the court’s previous ruling that the defendants remain shackled in court out of safety concerns as reason why they should remain shackled at the jail.
The court did allow for one exception to the shackling rule in court, allowing Carson to have one hand free so he could take notes during the proceeding. Carson has indicated he plans on serving as his own co-counsel, a move the district attorney’s office hopes to prohibit.
The district attorney’s office filed a motion to bar Carson from serving as his own co-counsel on the grounds that there would be a conflict of interest. Carson has served as the attorney for Woody and two likely witnesses for the prosecution – Ronald Cooper and Patrick Hampton. The district attorney’s office argued in their motion that Carson would be “in a position to use these former clients’ confidential information for his own benefit in placing blame for the current offenses upon persons other than himself.”
The motion also states that while a person has a constitutional right to counsel of their choosing, they do not have a guarantee for a “hybrid form of representation.”
While the district attorney’s office is trying to ban Carson from serving as his own co-counsel, some of the defendants have filed their own motions to stop the district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case.
Defense attorney Tim Pori, representing Georgia DeFilippo, has filed a motion to have the district attorney’s office recused from the case on the grounds that the district attorney’s office is carrying a vendetta against Carson because he has won several high profile cases against them, has filed lawsuits against their investigators, accused investigators and an attorney of jury tampering, and publically called out the office for corruption during his bid to be elected district attorney.
“There is a serious conflict of interest between the Office of the District Attorney and Ms. DeFilippo, where the district attorney’s personal entanglement with her husband, prominent local attorney Frank Carson, makes it impossible that she will be treated fairly at any stage of this proceeding by any prosecutor employed by that Office,” Pori wrote in his motion.
The motion was joined by the attorneys representing Carson, Wells, Quintanar, and Baljit Athwal.
The district attorney’s office filed a response to Pori’s motion, arguing “nowhere has defense counsel provided evidence of actual antagonism on the part of the district attorney’s office.”
The response from the district attorney’s office states the defense’s argument boils down to the district attorney disliking Carson and as such the prosecution would not go forward with the case in an evenhanded matter. Ultimately, the district attorney’s office called the contentions put forth “without merit.”
Pori has filed two other motions in the case – one is to have the Ramey warrant, which was used to make the arrests, quashed, while the other seeks to have the bail reduced for his client.
In his motion to quash the arrest warrant, Pori refers to the 326-page document as a “rambling and incoherent affidavit” and as such “the facts that mention Ms. Georgia DeFilippo in the affidavit for her arrest do not implicate her in the murder, or in the aiding, abetting, or encouragement of murder.”
Pori argues the arrest warrant in regards to Georgia DeFilippo lacks any probable cause and therefore her arrest was unlawful. Carson’s attorney joined the motion on Thursday.
The district attorney’s office filed a response to Pori’s motion that states the affidavit would lead a “reasonable person” to conclude “Georgia DeFilippo was in on the conspiracy to ‘send a message’ of violence to would-be burglars of their property in Turlock,” and that she “actively furthered and aided the plan to catch the trespassers and turn them over to Frack Carson.”
The response from the district attorney’s office also makes the argument that even if the arrest warrant was quashed it would not make the criminal charges go away.
In a matter that could potential be heard Monday is a request to have Georgia DeFilippo’s bail reduced. Stephen Krimel, owner of Nevada’s two largest bail bond companies and a certified bail expert used in the Stanislaus County case against A.J. Pontillo, submitted a statement of support for Georgia DeFilippo, saying she was an ideal candidate for release on her own recognizance or on a $100,000 bail.
All the defendants except Woody are expected in court on Monday for the continued arraignment.