Victory for Alex Sanchez Appeal, But...
In a victory for Alex Sanchez's defense team, a federal appeals court has ordered that more findings of fact be provided showing that the Homies Unidos founder should be denied bail. The court decision gives the Alex Sanchez case a "new credibility as a blatant injustice," according to human rights attorney Leonard Weinglass, who has been following the case closely.
While being a rebuke to Judge Manuel Real, the December 22 order by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit still sends the issue back to Real's courtroom for a remedy, indicating the discomfort of the higher court to go further in disciplining Real or sending the case elsewhere.
Real is widely regarded as a hostile judge who already has refused to allow Fr. Gregory Boyle to testify on grounds that his testimony is "irrelevant," and who engaged in numerous interruptions of defense council during the bail hearing on October 19. The judicial counsel of the Ninth Circuit last year examined eighty-nine cases where Real's behavior was protested, finding his pattern of conduct "problematic" and warning the judge to be "especially vigilant" in the future. A 2006 Supreme Court study cited Real as an example of the judiciary's failure to discipline its own.
In a bizarre twist two weeks ago, the federal court reassigned the Sanchez case to another judge, then reversed its decision two days later, claiming a mistake.
The Sanchez advocates say that Alex cannot receive a fair hearing in Real's courtroom, and have requested that Real be replaced with another judge.
In the latest development, the Ninth Circuit panel sent the case back to Real but issued an implied criticism. According to Weinglass, they explicitly admonished the judge to "accept and consider" evidence applying the heightened standards of "beyond a reasonable doubt" for holding Alex as a dangerous threat and "a preponderance of evidence" for assuring his court appearance. "That's pretty much most of what the petition sought, and should ordinarily lead to some rejoicing on our part."
Lead attorney Kerry Bensinger, who has faced Judge Real before, called it a "mixed ruling," since the case goes back to Real. Weinglass agreed that Real remains the major obstacle to a fair process. "Will Real understand that he's being reprimanded for his injudicious methods and take the hint and correct his behavior?... Here, I tend to be more pessimistic." Real could simply hold another hearing, make findings of fact in accordance with the demands of the Ninth Circuit, then deny bail again.
However, Weinglass contends, the Alex Sanchez case "now has new credibility as a blatant injustice, given the [conservative] nature of the three judge panel."
Now that a federal panel has found fault in the Los Angeles courtrooom, a crucial question is whether any future hearings are attended by key media people and by credible public advocates. National human rights groups are considering a deeper involvement in the new year.