The supporters of Remy O’Neill packed the courtroom Monday afternoon in a show of support on what was to be the day Malibu Municipal Court Judge Lawrence Mira ruled on a preliminary motion in the case of “People of the State of California vs. Remy O’Neill and the Road Worriers, a political action committee.”
The misdemeanor criminal case arose out of alleged violations of the Malibu campaign finance ordinance in connection with last year’s City Council elections.
But the hearing was an anticlimax because Mira removed himself from the case and transferred it to the court in Santa Monica, where the presiding judge will decide where it will be assigned for hearings on pretrial motions and ultimately for trial.
Mira explained his reasons to those in the courtroom, saying he was transferring the case because it was his responsibility under the judicial canons of ethics to determine not only if he himself could be impartial but equally important that people perceive the appearance of impartiality. He indicated this case was widely known in Malibu, that there was talk about it at community and political events and that under the circumstances it would be fairer to all if this was heard by someone other than himself and outside of Malibu. Additionally, he said he had read all the papers filed, and since there was a constitutional challenge to the statute by the defense, claiming that the statute interfered with freedom of speech and association, it was Mira’s belief that there would probably be testimony about the Malibu political process. He said he personally knew many of those people involved, including many present and past City Council members who might be witnesses in the case, and in fact had sworn many of them in and also as the presiding judge had supervision of all the Malibu judge pro tems of whom Jeff Jennings was one.
Under the circumstances, he said, he believed this case should be transferred and did so. A hearing is set for June 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Santa Monica Superior Court, Department A, unless rescheduled.
In an earlier, somewhat related action, the Court of Appeal issued a stay in the case known as “FPPC vs. Gil Segel and a group known as the ‘Malibu Citizen’s for less Traffic on PCH'” to allow the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a brief on behalf of Segel and the committee. The case, a civil enforcement matter, arose out of the same City Council election, and the appeal relates to a subpoena for bank records and other discovery information ordered by the Superior Court. It’s yet unclear whether the temporary stay was merely an accommodation by the court to the ACLU, or whether it represents a belief that this is a matter that should be set for brief and argument.