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Kristin Smart case: Judge denies defense motion to disqualify SLO DA over wearing purple clothing

Dave Minsky | Santa Maria Times
Judge Craig van Rooyen in San Luis Obispo Superior Court Aug. 25. He denied the defense's motion to recuse the District Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case and will review Det. Clint Cole's personnel records.

On the 13th day of the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores, presiding Judge Craig van Rooyen heard the defense’s motion to disqualify the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office as well as Deputy District Attorney Christopher Peuvrelle from prosecuting the case.

The judge denied the defense’s motion to disqualify the DA’s Office and Peuvrelle.

Paul and Ruben Flores are being charged in relation to Cal Poly student Kristin Smart’s disappearance in May 1996. Paul Flores is being charged with murder and is accused of killing Smart during an attempted or completed rape. Ruben Flores, Paul Flores’ father, is being charged with accessory after the fact.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger, representing Paul Flores, said the prosecution team wearing purple ties during proceedings “brings into question the impartiality of the investigation.” He also said that the multiple people having worn purple during the hearing “trivializes what’s going on” and is a serious problem.

“You can’t adopt the team colors when that team is [attempting] to convict Paul Flores,” Sanger said.

A representative from the California’s Office of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General Seth McCutcheon, argued it was the defense’s burden to show how specific conduct biases the proceedings.

The Attorney General’s office would have had to take the case if the motion had been approved.

McCutcheon said California courts recognize that garments don’t necessarily indicate prejudice, especially without a jury.

“Expressing support of a victim is in the realm of prosecutorial discretion,” McCutcheon said.

Peuvrelle said that in Detective Clint Cole’s testimony he said he was wearing purple because it was Smart’s favorite color.

Judge van Rooyen ultimately said that it would be “unethical for a prosecutor to put on the case if he did not believe in the guilt of the defendant.”

Peuvrelle and the DA’s Office will continue to prosecute the case. He said that he didn’t agree that wearing the color purple is so pervasive that the defendant would be subject to prejudice.

After a short break, Judge van Rooyen granted the defense’s Pitchess motion for an in-camera review of Det. Clint Cole’s personnel records and files. This means the judge will review the information privately in chambers or out of public view.

A Pitchess motion is when the defense makes a request in a California criminal case to access a law enforcement officer’s personnel files for evidence of police misconduct.

Deputy County Counsel for San Luis Obispo County representing Cole, Ann Duggan, opposed the motion. Judge van Rooyen said that there was enough information to move forward with the in-camera review.

The judge said in reviewing Cole’s records he will be looking for alleged misconduct with witness Jennifer Hudson in the Kristin Smart investigation as well as any other alleged misconduct in Cole’s cases over the past five years.

The possible misconduct could include unprofessional communications with witnesses or revealing case information that may have impacted witness testimony.

Judge van Rooyen cleared the courtroom to conduct his review with the custodian of those records, the Office of County Counsel, represented by Duggan.

The judge said he would let the defense know if he comes to a decision by noon since the defense will be on the road for a case in another county. Otherwise, he will announce his decision on Monday, Aug. 30 when the preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue. The preliminary hearing is expected to last at least through Sept. 3.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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