Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 43 Cal. 4th 721, 182 P.3d 590, 76 Cal. Rptr. 3d 264
Hollywood v. Super. Ct.

Filed 5/12/08 (S148207, S147954, and S149123, all filed 5/12/08, are companion cases that will be
officially reported in that sequence.)


Ct.App. 2/6 B188550
Santa Barbara County
Super. Ct. No. 1014465
Real Party in Interest.

Does a prosecutor’s consulting with the makers of a major motion picture
that is based on a criminal defendant’s story create a conflict sufficient to require
recusal of the prosecutor when the defendant is finally brought to trial? Here, the
lead prosecutor, bent on tracking down the fugitive defendant in this capital case,
gave his case files to a screenwriter/director to make a movie based on the
defendant’s alleged life and crimes and consulted with the filmmakers during its
subsequent production. The defendant, Jesse James Hollywood, was ultimately
captured in Brazil and extradited to the United States. He moved to recuse the
prosecutor, arguing that the prosecutor’s involvement with Hollywood, the film
industry, precluded his prosecution of Hollywood, the capital defendant. The trial
court found no conflict warranting recusal, but the Court of Appeal independently

reviewed the record and granted Hollywood’s petition for a writ of mandate, with
one justice explaining the prosecutor had permitted “ ‘show business’ to cast an
unseemly shadow over this case.”
In this case and its companion, Haraguchi v. Superior Court (May 12,
2008, S148207) __ Cal.4th ___, we consider the extent to which prosecutorial
involvement in cinematic and literary endeavors may give rise to conflicts
requiring recusal, as well as the standard for reviewing whether the trial court
erred in finding the existence or absence of a disqualifying conflict. We reject the
Court of Appeal’s conclusion that capital cases are sufficiently different from
ordinary criminal cases that application of a higher standard of appellate scrutiny
to recusal motions is required. Furthermore, as in Haraguchi, we reverse the
Court of Appeal based on its failure to grant appropriate deference to the trial
court’s ruling and based on the presence in the record of evidence sufficient to
support the trial court’s conclusion that no disqualifying conflict existed and no
unlikelihood of a fair trial had been proven.
This case arises from the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas
“Nick” Markowitz. As did the Court of Appeal, we draw our description of the
crime from the People’s opposition to Hollywood’s petition for a writ of mandate.
Four people have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the Nick
Markowitz murder, but Hollywood, of course, has not; thus, our recitation of his
involvement is based on pretrial allegations.
According to the People, Hollywood was a drug dealer in the San Fernando
Valley and Nick Markowitz’s older half brother Ben one of his distributors. Ben
and Hollywood had a falling out over money Ben owed Hollywood. Ben broke
out the windows of Hollywood’s residence. On their way to retaliate, Hollywood,
Jesse Rugge, and William Skidmore spotted Nick on the street and kidnapped him,
perhaps with the idea of extorting repayment from Ben.
Nick was held hostage for three days. At some point he was released from
any physical restraints but did not flee. Hollywood eventually gave another
confederate, Ryan Hoyt, a gun and orders to kill Nick. Hoyt and Graham Pressley
dug a shallow grave in the foothills outside Santa Barbara. Hoyt and others then
drove Nick into the foothills and marched him to the gravesite. Hoyt hit him over
the head with a shovel, then shot him. The confederates buried Nick and returned
to Santa Barbara.
Within days, Nick Markowitz’s body had been found, and Hoyt, Rugge,
Pressley, and Skidmore had been captured. Hollywood, however, became a
In October 2000, the District Attorney of Santa Barbara County filed a two-
count indictment against Hollywood, Hoyt, Skidmore, Rugge, and Pressley.
Count 1 charged them with the murder of Nick Markowitz. (Pen. Code, § 187,
subd. (a).)1 It alleged as a special circumstance that defendants had committed the
murder during the commission of a kidnapping in violation of section 207.
(§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(B).) Count 2 charged defendants with kidnapping Nick
Markowitz for the purpose of ransom or to commit extortion in violation of
section 209, subdivision (a). Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney
Ronald Zonen prosecuted Hoyt, Skidmore, Rugge, and Pressley and obtained
convictions or guilty pleas for each.2

All further unlabeled statutory references are to the Penal Code.
Zonen elected to seek the death penalty only against Hollywood, the
alleged ringleader, and Hoyt, the alleged actual killer. Hoyt was convicted of first

(footnote continued on next page)

In the spring of 2003, Zonen was contacted by Nick Cassavetes, a film
director and screenwriter who wanted to make a film, Alpha Dog, based on the
Markowitz murder. Cassavetes asked Zonen “if he could provide any assistance
or materials to help create a screenplay, including trial transcripts, witness
contacts, etc.” According to Zonen, he decided to turn over materials to
Cassavetes and act as a consultant in Cassavetes’s preparation of Alpha Dog “in
the hope that the publicity would result in Hollywood’s apprehension.”
In March 2005, Hollywood was captured in Brazil and extradited to the
United States to be tried for kidnapping and special circumstance murder.
Hollywood’s defense learned of Zonen’s cooperation with the Alpha Dog
filmmakers and filed a motion to recuse both Zonen and the entire Santa Barbara
County District Attorney’s Office. Hollywood alleged Zonen’s cooperation in the
making of Alpha Dog created a conflict because (1) Zonen had acted illegally and
unethically by disclosing confidential documents, including criminal records,
police reports, and probation reports, to the filmmakers; and (2) by cooperating in
the making of a movie that presented a distorted view of Hollywood, Zonen
sought to burnish his own legacy (were he to later obtain Hollywood’s conviction)
and impaired Hollywood’s opportunity to receive a fair trial.
The trial court held two lengthy hearings to examine these contentions. At
the first, it announced its tentative conclusions that (1) Zonen had no financial
conflict, as he had received no consideration for his cooperation; (2) Zonen’s
disclosure of confidential information, whether or not a legal or ethical breach, did
not rise to the level of a conflict warranting recusal; and (3) Zonen’s asserted

(footnote continued from previous page)
degree murder and sentenced to death. Rugge, Skidmore, and Pressley were
convicted of or pleaded guilty to varying lesser crimes.

interest in burnishing his legacy by raising the profile of the case did not amount
to an impermissible conflict. Moreover, “even assuming one were to take the
view there was a conflict,” the trial court could “conceive of no likelihood that it
would prevent [Hollywood] from receiving a fair trial.” However, the trial court
continued the matter for an evidentiary hearing into whether Zonen might have
acted improperly by ordering Michael Mehas, an associate producer who had
interviewed numerous percipient witnesses while researching the film, not to
cooperate with the defense.
At the evidentiary hearing, the trial court allowed the defense to examine
Mehas extensively and also posed its own questions to determine what, if
anything, Zonen might have done to interfere with the defense. At the close of the
hearing, it concluded Mehas had elected to cease cooperation with the defense of
his own accord, Zonen had not acted improperly, and the defense had failed to
establish any conflict warranting recusal.
Hollywood filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal,
which summarily denied relief. We granted review and transferred the case back
to the Court of Appeal with directions to issue an order to show cause. After
further briefing and argument, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion the same day
as the companion case Haraguchi v. Superior Court. Emphasizing the unusual
and distinctive facts of these cases, the Court of Appeal exercised its independent
judgment and concluded: “In this first impression death penalty case we should
not give our imprimatur to Zonen’s conduct or embolden other prosecutors to
assist the media in the public vilification of a defendant in a case which is yet to be
tried. Perhaps without intending to do so, Zonen has potentially infected the jury
pool with his views on the strength of the People’s case. Prosecutors should try
their cases in courtrooms, not in the newspapers, television, or in the movies. . . .
To say that Zonen went too far in his attempt to apprehend [Hollywood] is an
understatement.” On that basis, the Court of Appeal held “justice would not be
served if Zonen remains as the trial prosecutor,” but it denied recusal of the rest of
the district attorney’s office.
We granted review in this case and in Haraguchi to consider both the
standard of review and its application to prosecutorial recusal motions based on
literary or cinematic endeavors.
I. Standards for a Motion to Recuse
As we explained in Haraguchi v. Superior Court, supra, __ Cal.4th at page
___ [at p. 5]: “Section 1424 sets out the standard governing motions to recuse a
prosecutor: such a motion ‘may not be granted unless the evidence shows that a
conflict of interest exists that would render it unlikely that the defendant would
receive a fair trial.’ (Id., subd. (a)(1).) The statute ‘articulates a two-part test: “(i)
is there a conflict of interest?; and (ii) is the conflict so severe as to disqualify the
district attorney from acting?” ’ (Hambarian v. Superior Court (2002) 27 Cal.4th
826, 833, quoting People v. Eubanks [(1996)] 14 Cal.4th [580,] 594.)” In
Haraguchi, we also reaffirmed the general rule that motions to recuse a prosecutor
are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. (Haraguchi v. Superior Court, at pp. __
[at pp. 5-8].)
The Court of Appeal in this case gave no deference to the trial court’s
findings of fact or its application of the law to those facts. Having rejected in
Haraguchi two arguments the Court of Appeal offered there in support of
independent review — that cases of first impression warrant heightened scrutiny,
and appellate courts have an independent interest in policing error pretrial — we
consider here an additional argument for more stringent review offered by the
Court of Appeal: potential capital cases like this one should be treated differently.
The Court of Appeal noted the United States Supreme Court’s oft-quoted
aphorism, “[D]eath is different.” (Gregg v. Georgia (1976) 428 U.S. 153, 188
(lead opn. of Stewart, J.); accord, e.g., Ring v. Arizona (2002) 536 U.S. 584, 606;
Harmelin v. Michigan (1991) 501 U.S. 957, 994; Ford v. Wainwright (1986) 477
U.S. 399, 411; Gardner v. Florida (1977) 430 U.S. 349, 357 (plur. opn. of
Stevens, J.).) We do not disagree. But the conclusion the Court of Appeal drew
— that this difference compels a different standard of review for such cases — is
We have consistently reviewed trial court rulings on recusal motions under
the abuse of discretion standard even in automatic appeals from death sentences,
albeit without expressly considering whether the punishment imposed might on
some theory warrant more stringent review. (See, e.g., People v. Griffin (2004) 33
Cal.4th 536, 568-570; People v. Millwee (1998) 18 Cal.4th 96, 122-125; People v.
Zapien (1993) 4 Cal.4th 929, 968; People v. Breaux (1991) 1 Cal.4th 281, 293-
295; People v. Hamilton (1989) 48 Cal.3d 1142, 1154-1156.) Today, we
expressly hold the abuse of discretion standard is the proper one for prosecutorial
recusal motions, even in capital cases.
Our criminal justice system strives in each case to afford defendants
procedurally fair trials while arriving at empirically correct outcomes, convicting
the guilty and absolving the innocent. (See People v. Superior Court (Greer)
(1977) 19 Cal.3d 255, 266 [the prosecutor is “ ‘the servant of the law, the twofold
aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer’ ” (quoting Berger v.
United States (1935) 295 U.S. 78, 88)].) The punishment at issue in capital cases
makes it all the more important to ensure fairness and arrive at accurate outcomes.
But nothing in the Court of Appeal’s proposed de novo standard of review
promotes those twin goals. For recusal motions in noncapital cases, we give trial
courts primacy in fact finding and in assessing whether and how great a conflict
exists not because the stakes are less and errors more conscionable, but because
our trial courts are genuinely in the best position “to assess witness credibility,
make findings of fact, and evaluate the consequences of a potential conflict in light
of the entirety of a case, a case they inevitably will be more familiar with than the
appellate courts that may subsequently encounter the case in the context of a few
briefs, a few minutes of oral argument, and a cold and often limited record.”
(Haraguchi v. Superior Court, supra, __ Cal.4th at p. ___ [at p. 7].) Nothing
about these circumstances suggests to us that de novo review of recusal motions in
capital cases would increase either the accuracy or the fairness of these
proceedings. The same point answers the Court of Appeal’s concern about
reducing the likelihood of belated reversal later on in the lengthy capital appeal
process; we have no basis on which to conclude independent review would reduce
the risk of error. We therefore conclude that in capital cases, as in all others, the
trial courts’ rulings should be reviewed only for an abuse of discretion.3
II. Application
We further consider whether the trial court erred in finding no conflict or
whether the Court of Appeal erred in reversing based on its independent view that
in fact the lead prosecutor should have been recused. Here, we have the reverse of
the Haraguchi circumstances: a fictional account that was intimately tied to and

As an alternate ground for independent review, Hollywood contends the
trial court in this case committed a litany of errors in evaluating the evidence and
applying the law. The conduct of a trial court in an individual case is no answer to
the institutional concerns that have led us to adopt abuse of discretion as the
appropriate standard of review. Moreover, abuse of discretion review is not
equivalent to no review; in cases where a trial court’s errors truly are as egregious
as Hollywood claims them to be here, reversal would be mandated even under
deferential review.

directly based on the prosecution at issue, but in which the challenged prosecutor
had no financial interest.
In the trial court and on appeal, Hollywood has identified as a source of
conflict (1) Zonen’s actions in disclosing confidential information, (2) his
cooperation in the distribution of an allegedly inflammatory portrayal of
Hollywood, (3) incidental future benefits to Zonen arising from the distribution of
Alpha Dog, and (4) the totality of the circumstances. We consider each in turn.
A. Disclosure of Prosecutorial Documents
Zonen concedes that in the course of assisting the Alpha Dog filmmakers,
he gave them materials from his Hollywood case file and from the case files of the
four completed prosecutions. Filmmaker Cassavetes described the materials
turned over as “voluminous.” The trial court assumed for purposes of its ruling
that everything in the case files for the completed prosecutions was made
Crediting Zonen’s statements, the trial court concluded that if Zonen
disclosed any confidential documents, such disclosures were inadvertent and at
most negligent, not intentional. The trial court was entitled to credit Zonen, and
his statements constitute substantial evidence. The trial court declined to make
findings on the further question whether Zonen’s disclosure of documents in fact
involved any Penal Code violations.4

On a related point, after listening to extensive testimony from Mehas, the
trial court made an express finding that Zonen had not attempted to dissuade him
from cooperating with the defense, concluding instead that Mehas had unilaterally
elected to cease cooperation because he felt bad about putting Zonen in an
awkward situation. In his briefing to this court, Hollywood persistently asserts
that Zonen acted improperly by dissuading a witness, without acknowledging the
trial court’s contrary factual finding or offering any argument as to why that

(footnote continued on next page)

Violations of the law regarding dissemination of confidential records are
sanctionable and may result in criminal prosecution and punishment. (See, e.g.,
§§ 11105, 11140-11144 [regulating dissemination of criminal records and making
unlawful dissemination a misdemeanor], 1203.05 [regulating dissemination of
probation reports].) Recusal is also an available sanction. Hollywood argues that
if zeal within legal limits does not amount to a recusable conflict, as we have said
(Hambarian v. Superior Court, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 843), then zeal that exceeds
legal limits perforce must amount to a conflict requiring recusal.
We disagree. While recusal may be available in cases where there has been
an illegal disclosure of confidential documents, it is not mandatory. Rather,
recusal is appropriate if and only if, as we have framed the test, the disclosure
gives rise to a conflict “ ‘ “so grave as to render it unlikely that defendant will
receive fair treatment.” ’ ” (People v. Vasquez (2006) 39 Cal.4th 47, 56.) Thus, it
is for the trial court in the first instance to consider whether the fact of disclosure
and its collateral effects (such as, for instance, a fear of being personally
prosecuted) are likely to affect the challenged prosecutor’s ability to exercise
discretionary functions in an evenhanded fashion and render a fair trial unlikely.
The trial court focused on that precise question, repeatedly asking
Hollywood’s counsel to explain how, if indeed Zonen had committed legal
breaches, they might create a conflict for him and deprive Hollywood of a fair
trial.5 In the end, the trial court was not persuaded that the disclosures did create

(footnote continued from previous page)
finding is unsupported by substantial evidence. In the absence of any such
argument, we accept the trial court’s finding.
At the first hearing, the trial court asked: “The question is, did any of the
documents being turned over to the filmmakers prevent your client from having a
fair trial? And if so, how?” At the second hearing, it inquired again: “But whether

(footnote continued on next page)

any conflict. Reviewing for an abuse of discretion, we agree. While in the
abstract it is conceivable a fear of criminal sanctions might alter how Zonen
handled this case, the trial court found Zonen credible and concluded the
possibility that confidential documents might have been disclosed inadvertently
would not prevent Zonen from acting fairly toward Hollywood. That conclusion
does not appear arbitrary or capricious and is supported by substantial evidence.
In adopting the contrary view, the Court of Appeal neither explained how
the disclosure of documents created a conflict nor how such a conflict might
deprive Hollywood of a fair trial. Instead, it appears to have reasoned that Zonen
committed misconduct and for that reason alone should have been removed as
prosecutor. Putting aside for the moment the absence of any trial court finding
that Zonen committed misconduct, we emphasize that recusal motions are not
disciplinary proceedings against the prosecutor. The ultimate focus of the section
1424 inquiry is on protection of the defendant’s rights, not whether recusal may be
just or unjust for the prosecutor. Thus, in some cases a prosecutor may have
committed misconduct but not be subject to recusal because the misconduct does
not impair the defendant’s right to a fair proceeding; in other cases, a prosecutor
may commit no misconduct but nevertheless be subject to recusal because a
conflict, through no fault of the prosecutor’s, jeopardizes the defendant’s rights.
Here, the trial court could conclude that even if there was misconduct, it did not

(footnote continued from previous page)
inadvertent or negligent, what I’m interested in is why the turning over of that
information, one, is a conflict, and, two, prevents your client from having a fair
trial. [¶] I mean, we haven’t even addressed the second point, which is how the
turning over of . . . information in police reports for the purposes of attempting to
create an accurate portrayal of people involved in a crime[,] how that would
prevent your client from having a fair trial.”

deprive Hollywood of his right to a fair trial. Under the circumstances, that ruling
was not an abuse of discretion, and we defer to it on appeal.
B. Distribution of a Motion Picture Reflecting the Prosecution’s
View of This Case
Next, Hollywood contends it was misconduct for Zonen to cooperate in the
dissemination of a major motion picture that would convey his (distorted,
according to Hollywood) view of Hollywood. 6 The Court of Appeal likewise
criticized Zonen for trying his case in the movies.
While the prosecution ethically may discuss information necessary to aid in
the apprehension of fugitives (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 5-120(B)(7)(b)), its
freedom to do so is not without limits. Certainly, a case might arise in which a

Since the trial court decided the motion to recuse, and over Hollywood’s
efforts to have distribution enjoined, Alpha Dog has been released. (Alpha Dog
(Universal Studios 2007); see Hollywood v. Universal Studios, Inc. (C.D.Cal.,
Dec. 12, 2006, Case No. CV 06-6849-RGK (RCx)) order, pp. 2-4 [denying
injunction on First Amendment grounds].) On our own motion, we have taken
judicial notice of the fact of its release.
The precise content of the film was not before the trial court, nor is it
particularly relevant to the recusal motion. The trial court assumed for purposes of
its decision that while Zonen cooperated with the intent that the filmmakers make
and distribute an accurate portrayal of Hollywood, his view of the facts and of
Hollywood might legitimately vary widely from the defense’s. The trial court thus
did not take issue with defense counsel’s representation that some moviegoers
thought Hollywood was portrayed as a “monster.” Similarly, we do not consider
whether the portrayal of Hollywood as “Johnny Truelove” in Alpha Dog is
accurate; for purposes of the recusal motion, we may assume, as the trial court did,
that the film hews closely to the prosecution’s view and is considerably at odds
with the defense’s view. Accordingly, and because the film was not part of the
trial court record at the time of the trial court’s decision, we have denied
Hollywood’s motion to augment the record with a copy of the film itself. (See
People v. Tuilaepa (1992) 4 Cal.4th 569, 585 [augmentation and like procedures
“are intended to ensure that the record transmitted to the reviewing court preserves
and conforms to the proceedings actually undertaken in the trial court”]; Cal.
Rules of Court, rule 8.155.)

trial court could order recusal based on the prosecution’s attempt to manipulate the
prospective jury pool by disseminating inflammatory portrayals of the defendant.
(See id., rule 5-120(A) [attorney may not make extrajudicial statements he or she
“reasonably should know . . . will have a substantial likelihood of materially
prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter”].)
However, the trial court found this was not that case, concluding that
(1) Zonen’s cooperation came before Hollywood had been captured and was
solely motivated by his desire to have Hollywood captured so he could be tried in
a court of law, and (2) Zonen sought throughout to have Hollywood portrayed in
as accurate a fashion as possible. Each of these conclusions is supported by
substantial evidence. Zonen declared under oath that Hollywood’s capture was his
sole motivation, and indeed Hollywood and the Court of Appeal both agreed that it
was at least his principal motivation. Zonen declared that he sought to have
Hollywood portrayed accurately; likewise, Hollywood himself submitted a
videotape in which Mehas, leaving a 2003 meeting with Zonen, reported Zonen
had told the filmmakers he wanted them to make the movie as accurate as
possible. The trial court expressly credited these uncontradicted statements.
Of course, as the trial court recognized, Zonen’s views on what constitutes
an “accurate” portrayal of Hollywood might vary widely from those of defense
counsel. In a criminal case where the defendant is charged with capital crimes,
this is wholly unsurprising. Equally important to remember is that at the time
Zonen made his remarks, he had no case. Hollywood had successfully vanished
into thin air; for years he had eluded extensive attempts by law enforcement to
locate him, and the trail had gone cold. The trial court concluded Zonen was only
conveying his honest assessments of a fugitive defendant to Cassavetes and others
in the hope their subsequent portrayal would lead to the fugitive’s capture, and his
doing so did not create a conflict. On this record, it was not an abuse of discretion
to so conclude.
We note as well that if in fact the jury pool in this case has been affected in
any way by the release of Alpha Dog, this is a matter that can be handled during
voir dire through the close questioning of individual prospective jurors. (See
Haraguchi v. Superior Court, supra, __ Cal.4th at p. ___ [at p. 16].) This case is
not the first in which pretrial publicity may create an issue with respect to ensuring
a fair trial for the defendant, nor is it the first in which one side or the other may be
inordinately responsible for that publicity.7 In many or most such cases, measures
short of recusal will suffice to address any such fairness issues and ensure the
defendant’s rights are protected. Motions to recuse are directed to the trial court’s
discretion in part because the trial court is in the best position to assess in the first
instance whether it can handle pretrial publicity issues with such lesser measures.
If a trial court believes it can, it should do so, as we trust the trial court will here
on remand.
C. Future Benefits to Zonen from the Release of Alpha Dog
The trial court found Zonen had no present financial interest in Alpha Dog;
while he was a consultant, he was not compensated in any way for his assistance.
Hollywood contends, however, that by contributing to Alpha Dog, Zonen intended
to create the prospect of tangible or intangible future benefits; he elevated the
profile of a case he purportedly considers his “legacy,” put himself in a position to
garner additional laurels and plaudits, and, perhaps, expanded the market for a

In truth, that either side is inordinately responsible here is not entirely clear.
Jack Hollywood, Jesse James Hollywood’s father, was also a paid consultant in
the making of Alpha Dog.

book of his own based on this case. Thus, according to Hollywood, “[f]uture
profit may be implied.”
As discussed, however, the trial court concluded Zonen’s sole interest in
cooperating with the Alpha Dog filmmakers was to enhance the likelihood of the
fugitive Hollywood’s capture. While Hollywood disputes that conclusion, it is
supported by substantial evidence. (See ante, p. 13.) Additionally, Mehas
testified that Zonen had decided to shelve, for now, any plans for a book because
of his belief that it might pose a conflict of interest problem. Hollywood
acknowledges as much on appeal.
Consequently, as the trial court found, Zonen is left with the same interest
in burnishing his legacy that every attorney has in a high-profile case — indeed,
that every attorney on both sides in this case has. Success in high-profile cases
brings acclaim; it is endemic to such matters. Moreover, if the high-profile nature
of a case presents incentives to handle the matter in any way contrary to the
evenhanded dispensation of justice, the problem is not one recusal can solve, as
the same issue would arise equally for any theoretical replacement prosecutor. In
such matters, we must rely on our prosecutors to carry out their fiduciary
obligation to exercise their discretionary duties fairly and justly — to afford every
defendant, whether suspected of crimes high or petty, equal treatment under the
law. (See People v. Hill (1998) 17 Cal.4th 800, 847 [“Our public prosecutors are
charged with an important and solemn duty to ensure that justice and fairness
remain the touchstone of our criminal justice system. In the vast majority of cases,
these men and women perform their difficult jobs with professionalism, adhering
to the highest ethical standards of their calling”]; Corrigan, On Prosecutorial
Ethics (1986) 13 Hastings Const. L.Q. 537, 537 [“The first, best, and most
effective shield against injustice for an individual accused, or society in general,
must be found not in the persons of defense counsel, trial judge, or appellate jurist,
but in the integrity of the prosecutor”].) The trial court recognized as much and
denied recusal on this basis.
D. The Totality of the Circumstances
In the end, we view Hollywood’s arguments for recusal as resting primarily
on the totality of the circumstances. The Court of Appeal shared this view; it
ultimately agreed that this case was sui generis, that Zonen’s conduct when
viewed in its entirety was wholly inappropriate, that he had created serious
problems for the prosecution of the case, and that the only sufficient remedy was
to order his recusal.8
The Court of Appeal assumed Zonen’s actions were the product solely of
zeal, but expressed the view that Zonen had gone too far in his efforts to
apprehend Hollywood. Perhaps so. But section 1424 does not exist as a free-form
vehicle through which to express judicial condemnation of distasteful, or even
improper, prosecutorial actions. As we have previously held, and as we reiterate
today in the companion case Haraguchi v. Superior Court, section 1424 offers no
relief for actions simply because they appear, or are, improper. (Haraguchi v.
Superior Court, supra, __ Cal.4th at p. __ [at pp. 16-17]; People v. Eubanks,
supra, 14 Cal.4th at pp. 591-592.) The Legislature has closely defined the limits

As an aside, we note legitimate reasons exist to question whether recusal
would solve the problems the Court of Appeal perceived. For example, the Court
of Appeal was concerned that Zonen’s disclosure of his case file might have
waived prosecutorial work product privileges that would otherwise attach. (See
Code Civ. Proc., § 2018.030; People v. Collie (1981) 30 Cal.3d 43, 59.) If so,
however, the bell has been rung; recusal does not solve this problem, which
persists whether Zonen is recused or not.

of judicial authority to recuse prosecutors, and we must observe them.9 We do so
here. A defendant must identify, and a court must find, some conflict of interest
that renders it unlikely defendant will receive a fair trial. The trial court found no
such conflict, and the Court of Appeal identified no specific conflict either, instead
offering its “considered judgment” that “justice would not be served” if Zonen
were permitted to remain. Section 1424 requires more.
This is not to say that Zonen can or should escape censure. We find his
acknowledged actions in turning over his case files without so much as an attempt
to screen them for confidential information highly inappropriate and disturbing.
The trial court made no findings as to whether this omission in fact resulted in the
illegal or unethical disclosure of confidential documents, and we certainly are not
situated to do so here. If it did result in such a disclosure, sanctions are available,
as are authorities whose function it is to pursue those sanctions. We hold only that
on the record here, it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to conclude
Zonen did not labor under any conflict and, accordingly, his recusal under section
1424 was not appropriate.10

Hollywood does not press, and we therefore need not address, any claim
that recusal is required here to preserve his constitutional due process rights. (Cf.
People v. Vasquez, supra, 39 Cal.4th at pp. 58-66.)
Because the record supports the trial court’s conclusion there was no
cognizable conflict, we need not address its further conclusion that any theoretical
conflict was not so grave as to render a fair proceeding unlikely. Moreover,
because the trial court permissibly could find there was no conflict, we need not
address in any detail Hollywood’s contention that the entire Santa Barbara County
District Attorney’s Office should have been recused. In the absence of a conflict,
it was not error to deny recusal of either Zonen or the entire office.

For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment and
remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion Hollywood v. Superior Court

Unpublished Opinion

Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 143 Cal.App.4th 858
Rehearing Granted


Opinion No.

Date Filed: May12, 2008


County: Santa Barbara
Judge: Brian Hill


Attorneys for Appellant:

Law Offices of James E. Blatt, James E. Blatt, Michael G. Raab; and Armand Arabian for Petitioner.


Attorneys for Respondent:

No appearance for Respondent.

Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorneys General, Donald E. de Nicola, Deputy State Solicitor
General, Robert R. Anderson, Mary Jo Graves and Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorneys General,
Pamela C. Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Steven D. Matthews, Robert M. Snider, Kristofer
Jorstad and David F. Glassman, Deputy Attorneys General; Thomas W. Sneddon, Jr., and Christie Stanley,
District Attorneys, and Gerald McC. Franklin, Deputy District Attorney, for Real Party in Interest.

Michael A. Ramos, District Attorney, (San Bernardino) and Grover D. Merritt, Lead Deputy District
Attorney, for California District Attorneys Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

James E. Blatt
Law Offices of James E. Blatt
16000 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1208
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 986-4180

David F. Glassman
Deputy Attorney General
300 South Spring Street, Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 897-2355

Gerald McC. Franklin
Deputy District Attorney
1112 Santa Barbara Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 568-2300

Petition for review after the Court of Appeal granted in part and denied in part a petition for peremptory writ of mandate. This case presents the following issues: (1) Was the trial court's ruling on a motion for recusal alleging conflict of interest, because the prosecutor had cooperated with filmmakers planning a motion picture based on this case, subject to independent review or reviewable only for an abuse of discretion? (2) Was recusal appropriate under either standard? (3) If recusal was required, was it error not to recuse the entire district attorney's office?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:Cross Referenced Cases:
Mon, 05/12/200843 Cal. 4th 721, 182 P.3d 590, 76 Cal. Rptr. 3d 264S147954Review - Criminal Original (non-H.C.)closed; remittitur issued

PRESSLEY v. S.C. (PEOPLE) (S097841)
PEOPLE v. RUGGE (S124074)
HOLLYWOOD v. S.C. (PEOPLE) (S141606)

1Hollywood, Jesse James (Petitioner)
Represented by James Edward Blatt
Law Office of James Blatt
16000 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1208
Encino, CA

2Hollywood, Jesse James (Petitioner)
Represented by Armand Arabian
Attorney at Law
16000 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1208
Encino, CA

3Hollywood, Jesse James (Petitioner)
Represented by Michael Gary Raab
Law Offices of James Blatt
16000 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1208
Encino, CA

4Superior Court Of Santa Barbara County (Respondent)
1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

5The People (Real Party in Interest)
Represented by David F. Glassman
Office of the Attorney General
300 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA

6The People (Real Party in Interest)
Represented by Gerald Mcc. Franklin
Office of the District Attorney
1114 Santa Barbara Street
Santa Barbara, CA

7California District Attorneys Association (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Grover D. Merritt
Office of the District Attorney
412 Hospitality Lane, First Floor
San Bernardino, CA

May 12 2008Opinion: Reversed

Nov 9 2006Petition for review filed
  Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood Attorneys Armand Arabian, James E. Blatt and Michael G. Raab
Nov 13 2006Record requested
Nov 13 20062nd petition for review filed
  counsel for RPI, (People) Co. of Santa Barbara Dist. Atty.
Nov 15 2006Received Court of Appeal record
  one doghouse
Nov 30 20062nd record request
  for remainder of record (request sent via email)
Dec 20 2006Petition for review granted (criminal case)
  Granted: George, C. J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, and Corrigan, JJ.
Jan 18 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
  Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood Attorneys James E. Blatt and Michael G. Raab
Jan 19 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
  The People (Attorney General), Real Party In Interest David F. Glassman, Deputy Attorney General
Jan 22 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
  The People, Real Party in Interest Gerald McC. Franklin, Senior Deputy District Attorney (CRC 8.25)
Feb 8 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
  The People, Real Party in Interest Gerald McC. Franklin, Senior Deputy District Attorney
Feb 13 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
  The People, real party in interest David F. Glassman, Deputy Attorney General
Feb 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
  by Jesse James Hollywood, petitioner James E. Blatt & Michael G. Raab, counsel
Feb 28 2007Reply brief filed (case not yet fully briefed)
  Jesse James Hollywood, petitioner James E. Blatt & Michael G. Rabb, counsel
Feb 28 2007Reply brief filed (case not yet fully briefed)
  People, Real Party in Interest Gerald McC. Franklin, Senior Deputy District Attorney
Mar 7 2007Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  The People, Real Party In Interest David F. Glassman, Deputy Attorney General
Mar 16 2007Received application to file Amicus Curiae Brief
  California District Attorneys Association in support of Real Party in Interest.
Mar 21 2007Amicus curiae brief filed
  The application of California District Attorneys Association for permission to file an amicus curiae brief in support of real party in interest is hereby granted. An answer thereto may be served and filed by any party within twenty (20) days of the filing of the brief.
Mar 23 2007Filed:
  Motion to augment Record Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood Attorneys James E. Blatt & Michael G. Raab
Apr 9 2007Response to amicus curiae brief filed
  to AC brief of California District Attorneys Association Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood Attorneys James E. Blatt & Michael G. Raab
May 16 2007Motion filed (non-AA)
  Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood to augment record. [w/ attached video cassette ]
May 23 2007Opposition filed
  to motion to augment record in this court. The People, Real Party in Interest Gerald McC. Franklin, Senior Deputy District Attorney
Nov 5 2007Filed:
  from Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood Motion to Augment Record
Nov 16 2007Opposition filed
  Real Party's oposition to petitioner's second motion to augment the record.
Mar 4 2008Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 1:30 p.m., in Los Angeles
Mar 5 2008Order filed
  For purposes of oral argument, the real party in interest will argue first and may reserve time for rebuttal; petitioner will argue second.
Mar 19 2008Filed letter from:
  David F. Glassman (Deputy Attorney General) and Gerald McC. Franklin (Senior Deputy District Attorney, requesting to divide oral argument for real party in interest The People. Asking 10 minutes for the Office of the District Attorney and 20 minutes for the Office of the Attorney General.
Mar 19 2008Order filed
  The request of counsel for the real party in interest in the above-referenced cause to allow two counsel to argue on behalf of real party at oral argument is hereby granted. The request of real party to allocate to the Office of the District Attorney 10 minutes and the Office of the Attorney General 20 minutes of real party's 30-minute allotted time for oral argument is granted.
Mar 27 2008Order filed
  Petitioner Jesse James Hollywood's motions to augment the record, filed March 23, 2007, May 16, 2007, and November 5, 2007, are each denied. On its own motion, the court takes judicial notice of the facts that a motion picture relating to the circumstances of petitioner's alleged crimes, Alpha Dog, has been released, and a novel relating to the circumstances of petitioner's alleged crimes, Stolen Boy, has been published. (Evid. Code, ?? 452, subd. (h), 459.)
Apr 1 2008Cause argued and submitted
May 9 2008Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
May 12 2008Opinion filed: Judgment reversed
  Opinion by Werdegar, J. -----joined by George, C. J. , Kennard, Baxter, Chin, Moreno & Corrigan, JJ.
Jun 12 2008Remittitur issued (criminal case)
Oct 22 2008Received:
  Order from the Supreme Court of the United States for a petition for writ of certiorari denied on October 20, 2008.

Jan 18 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
Jan 19 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
Jan 22 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
Feb 8 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
Feb 13 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
Feb 15 2007Answer brief on the merits filed
Feb 28 2007Reply brief filed (case not yet fully briefed)
Feb 28 2007Reply brief filed (case not yet fully briefed)
Mar 7 2007Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Mar 21 2007Amicus curiae brief filed
Apr 9 2007Response to amicus curiae brief filed
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