SANTA ANA – A coalition of community groups will unveil a new courthouse monitoring program today aimed at addressing growing concerns of rampant due process violations by the Orange County District Attorney’s office, according to the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal).
The program comes in the wake of widespread allegations that Orange County prosecutors and law enforcement officials used in-custody informants to elicit incriminating information from defendants despite a constitutional ban on such practices, while systematically failing to turn over related evidence to defendants.
“For years, Orange County residents have been subject to a justice system that fails to follow even the most basic evidentiary rules,” said Jennifer Rojas, a community engagement and policy advocate with the ACLU SoCal. “In light of those failures, community members hope their visibility in numbers within court rooms will send a message to elected judges, law enforcement, and prosecutors that the general public is watching and calling for favorable evidence to be turned over in a timely manner.”
Nearly three dozen individuals, who have been previously trained, will be assigned to fan out across the Central Justice Center courthouse and monitor pre-trial hearings, at which time the court often reviews evidentiary issues, including whether prosecutors have turned over exculpatory evidence, known as Brady-material.
“The coalition is here today in hopes of pushing along transparency and accountability,” said Ronnie Sandoval, of the Arthur’s Center for the Wrongfully Convicted. “Theresa Smith and I are involved, not only because of our compassion for the community, but because of the denial of due process to our sons, Arthur Carmona and Caesar Cruz. Justice is blind and we are all entitled to equal access to the law.”
Other coalition partners include the Law Enforcement Accountability Network, Youth Power Orange County, RAIZ and Chican@s Unidos. The coalition will continue to offer additional training to volunteers and organize subsequent court watch outings.
A similar court watch program was launched by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office in 2015. That program aims to shed light on racial disparities in the San Francisco judicial system.