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Riverside DA and Judge clash over controversial prosecutor's promotion

by Mary Shelton Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2002 at 3:26 PM
chicalocaside@yahoo.com

When prosecutor Michael Rushton came under fire last summer for kicking off nine Black jurors in a capital murder case, his boss, Grover Trask was silent. Now, with his promotion of Rushton to supervise the drug enforcement division, his silence is broken.

Riverside County Superior Court James Warren, who works in Perris, took a personal stand against a decision made by District Attorney Grover Trask to promote prosecutor Michael Rushton to a supervisory position in the drug enforcement unit.



Now, he has been threatened with a possible investigation into his conduct by a state judicial watchdog group, by Trask. And a libel suit might also be in his future as well, simply for denouncing Trask’s decision to promote Rushton.



Last summer, Rushton allegedly kicked off nine Black jurors in a capital murder case. Two mistrials resulted, after presiding judge W. Charles Morgan challenged several of the expulsions, even placing one excluded Black juror back on the panel. Finally, the third attempt at jury selection was the charm, and two Black jurors were included on the panel.



Then, when Rushton appeared to put that controversy behind him, an earlier case returned to haunt him. In 1999, he had prosecuted four Black men, for conspiracy to commit a bank robbery and other charges. He had been assigned to the case, after the first prosecution ended in a mistrial, during the trial’s sixth week.



The second round occurred during one of Riverside’s most turbulent years, due to the shooting of Tyisha Miller, by four white police officers. Rushton kicked off numerous Black and Hispanic jurors, for a variety of very creative reasons, all attempts to sidestep the issue of race. Social Workers were no good, because they root for the underdog. Postal workers, no good because they are a stressed out group of workers, who could go...postal. The defense attorneys asked presiding judge Ronald Taylor to grant their Wheeler motions(which challenge any juror expulsion suspected to be based on race) but he denied them.


A decision he later regretted.


The four men were ultimately convicted.


By the time, the State Court of Appeals decided that four of the Wheeler motions should have been granted, three years had passed and everyone involved with the case claimed to have no memory of it. Except for Rushton, who delineated all his excuses for eliminating Black and Hispanic jurors. Taylor ultimately vacated the convictions and ordered a new trial, because due to collective memory loss, a thorough and just motion hearing could not be done. C.O.R.E. in Los Angeles sent a delegation up to Riverside to witness this controversy, firsthand, and they left determined to keep a closer eye on how the Riverside County Criminal Justice system does its business.


Throughout the controversy, silence emanated from Trask, which was not lost on anyone. In fact, his promotion of Rushton to a position that starts at $120,000 broke his silence on the issue. His defense of Rushton’s actions upon criticism by Warren spoke loudly as well. Is this his attempt at saying well done, or perhaps as some have said, is this his way of quietly keeping Rushton from using race-based jury selection in the future?

Most believe the former. But, many are amazed that Judge Warren did what is unheard of in Riverside and challenged a prosecutor on how he conducts his prosecutions.

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