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Name: Hollywood v. Superior Court
Case #: S147954
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/12/2008

Recusal was not necessary where the prosecutor consulted on a film of a criminal defendant’s story. Hollywood was a fugitive defendant in a capital case, when the lead prosecutor gave his files to a screenwriter/director making a movie on Hollywood’s life and crimes. He also consulted with the film maker. Hollywood was found and extradited, and subsequently moved to recuse the prosecutor, arguing that his involvement in the film precluded his prosecution of Hollywood in the capital case. The trial court found no conflict, but the appellate court granted a petition for writ of mandate. The California Supreme Court granted review in this case as a companion to Haraguchi v. Superior Court, to determine the extent to which prosecutorial involvement in cinematic and literary endeavors give rise to conflicts requiring recusal. The Supreme Court rejected the appellate court’s conclusion that a capital case was sufficiently different from an ordinary criminal case such that it required a higher standard of appellate scrutiny of recusal motions. It reversed the appellate court based on its failure to grant appropriate deference to the trial court’s ruling and based on insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that no disqualifying conflict existed and no unlikelihood of a fair trial had been proved. A defendant must identify and a court must find a conflict of interest that renders it unlikely a defendant will receive a fair trial. Here, there was no such conflict, even though the prosecutor’s actions in turning over his case files was inappropriate and disturbing.