Pubdate: Fri, 25 Feb 2000
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397

Half Of County's Judges Say They Can't Preside In Action Against Sheriff Pope

The hottest potato at Shasta County's courthouse Thursday was a contempt of
court action brought against Sheriff Jim Pope by an acquitted medical
marijuana patient.

By day's end half of the county's 10 judges had declined to hear the case
of Richard Levin, the 49-year-old Redding man whose marijuana was given to
a federal drug agent after Presiding Superior Court Judge Bradley Boeckman
had twice ordered Pope to give it back to Levin.

It was Boeckman - the trial judge in the Levin case - who originally was
scheduled to hear the contempt case.

But on Wednesday Boeckman signed an order removing himself from the case,
saying that his relationship with Pope and Undersheriff Larry Schaller
might lead someone to "reasonably entertain a doubt that this judge would
be impartial."

Boeckman noted that as presiding judge he is involved in continuing
discussions and negotiations with the sheriff over the merger of the county
marshal's office with the Sheriff's Department. The marshals provide court
security and act as bailiffs.

In addition, Boeckman said, he is negotiating with the sheriff's office in
an attempt to have the sheriff and other county departments take over a
lease the court has in an "outlying building."

Boeckman already had officially notified Levin's attorney, Eric Berg of
Redding, and Pope's county lawyers about those relationships, but neither
side chose to challenge him.

Though Boeckman initially had said he did not think his relationship with
Pope would interfere in the contempt case, he apparently changed his mind.

Next in line for the case came Judge James Ruggiero, assistant presiding
judge, but Ruggiero earlier had been disqualified on the criminal case at
Berg's request. So Boeckman sent the case to Judge Steven Jahr.

But Jahr is married to Karen Jahr, who, as county counsel, represents Pope.

Judge Jahr immediately disqualified himself because of the potential conflict.

By Thursday afternoon judges Gregory Caskey and Richard McEachen had also
declined to hear the case for reasons that were not immediately available.

That leaves judges Wilson Curle, Andy Anderson, Monica Balavage, William
Gallagher and retired judge Jack Halpin as potential candidates for the case.

Berg said he "regrets" Boeckman's decision, because "he calls 'em like he
sees 'em and I don't think he has a fear of the sheriff, and I think he
would have done what's right."

But now, Berg said, he would like to see an out-of-county judge assigned to
the case because an outsider would more easily withstand local political

"Very soon the sheriff will be in charge of court security and that alone
would give some judges pause," Berg said.

John Loomis, who is handling the sheriff's case for Jahr's office, had no
comment on the judicial round robin or on the possibility of an outside
judge being assigned.

"It's not for me to say," he said.

Berg filed the contempt citation Feb. 3. A flurry of filings and
counter-filings followed, with county lawyers arguing that Pope could have
gone to jail had he not complied with a federal seizure order for Levin's
41 dead marijuana plants and 1 pounds of pot.

Berg had arranged to pick up Levin's marijuana at 4 p.m. Jan. 21, but as he
and his client arrived at the sheriff's front door, the agent was walking
out the back door with the pot, deputies have said.

Levin was acquitted of growing marijuana for sale in December after jurors
found that his garden was legal under Proposition 215, approved by voters
in 1996.

Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or at  ---
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