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Name: People v. Superior Court (Humberto S.)
Case #: S149123
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/12/2008
Summary

Recusal was not required where the prosecutor advocated for third parties in a discovery dispute. During the prosecution of Humberto for continuous sexual abuse of a child, the prosecutor objected to the release of medical and psychotherapy records of the victim having been released to Humberto, and the trial court ordered the records returned. In subsequent litigation regarding the discovery, the prosecutor represented the victim’s interests. Humberto then moved to disqualify the prosecutor, contending that in opposing the disclosure motions, it had effectively represented three different third parties (the minor victim, her mother, and the psychiatrist) and had therefore created a conflict of interest. The trial court granted the recusal and the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court granted review to consider the application of the recusal statute to situations involving the alleged advocacy of third party interests. The Court reaffirmed that although the standard of review is abuse of discretion, this case demonstrates that that standard should not be interpreted as insulating the trial court’s recusal orders from meaningful appellate review. Where the trial court’s decision rests on an error of law, the trial court abuses its discretion. Here, the prosecutor’s actions did not amount to representation of third party interests. There was no divided loyalty or incentive at odds with the prosecutor’s duty to handle the prosecution fairly. Because the trial court’s decision to recuse the prosecutor rested on an error of law, it was an abuse of discretion.