SOURCE: Law Office of James Blatt

October 06, 2006 01:00 ET

Appeals Court Removes Prosecutor From Jesse James Hollywood Murder Trial

LOS ANGELES, CA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- October 6, 2006 --The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office has been dealt a major setback in its prosecution of accused murderer Jesse James Hollywood with a ruling to remove the lead prosecutor from the case. The Court of Appeal found prosecutor Ronald Zonen has a conflict of interest stemming from his role in the preparation of a major motion picture about the case. Hollywood is charged in the 2000 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz.

Hollywood's attorney James Blatt sought to remove the entire DA's office after learning that prosecutor Zonen served as a consultant on the yet-to-be-released film "Alpha Dog" starring Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone. While the appeals court failed to recuse the entire Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office, it did find a conflict of interest "so egregious that the defendant's right to a fair trial is severely compromised." Blatt is "pleased the Court of Appeal agreed with the defense that prosecutors cannot be permitted to act as consultants and release their files to filmmakers."

Presiding Judge Arthur Gilbert states, "The prosecutor's alliance with a third party to whom he divulged his detailed work product and other documents in violation of the law, will so taint the trial that his recusal is mandated." Gilbert goes on to write, Zonen's actions "allowed show business to cast an unseemly shadow over this case." Blatt says, "The strength of the language in the opinion will send a clear message to prosecutors that they should try their cases in the courtroom and not in the media." And, Blatt says, "This ruling will help ensure Mr. Hollywood will receive a fair trial by an even-handed prosecutor."

The defense initially asked the trial court for a hearing on the matter. The lower court refused the request as did the Court of Appeal. But in April, the California Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to hear oral arguments. That hearing took place in July.

While today's ruling is a victory for defense attorneys, they are considering whether to seek a review by the State Supreme Court in an effort to yet have the entire DA's office removed.

Hollywood's trial was stayed pending the appellate court ruling. That stay has now been vacated clearing the way for a trial date to be set. The film is slated for release in January though the defense says based "upon the clear message in the ruling, we anticipate going to federal court seeking to delay the release of the film."

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