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[whitespace] Judicial Abuse: Judge Joyce Allegro recently did battle with the public defender over her ability to hear domestic violence cases.

Public Eye

Beaten Down

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COURT is typically a place where spousal abusers are put on trial. But recently the public defender's office turned the tables and put Superior Court Judge Joyce Allegro on trial instead, questioning whether she could be impartial in wife-beater cases. The legal battle has left Allegro battered and bruised, figuratively speaking, and ultimately forced her transfer to another department. ... It all began at the start of the year when Allegro, a former prosecutor elected to the bench in 1998, was assigned to the Domestic Violence Court. Public Defender Jose Villareal immediately petitioned to disqualify Allegro from hearing any pending domestic-violence cases, arguing she had a clear bias. The public defender's proof: Allegro's six years as a board member of the Support Network for Battered Women, her service on the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council, and her role in forming the district attorney's domestic-violence team. Villareal also cited Allegro's own boasts during her 1998 campaign about her record of "aggressively prosecuting ... batterers." Allegro denied that she was biased and said she got involved in anti-domestic-violence groups to educate herself on the problem "to be able to do my job better." "One reasonable conclusion to draw from my election in 1998 is that voters valued my expertise in the area of domestic violence," Allegro said in a written response, "and hoped that I would have the opportunity to use it as a judge, not to treat defendants unfairly, but to handle the cases knowledgeably." Judge Conrad Rushing agreed with Allegro and denied the petition to disqualify her. But Villareal and his deputies didn't give up. They began using preemptory challenges--attorneys are allowed one per case--in almost every case, Allegro says, to disqualify the judge. After being dismissed from case after case, Allegro finally admitted defeat. Earlier this month, Allegro returned to handling misdemeanors. "It just became untenable," Allegro explains, "the cases had to go someplace" and they all couldn't be dumped on the Domestic Violence Court's one other judge.

East Went West

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales remained conspicuously neutral in the recent 23rd Assembly District contest between his council colleague Manny Diaz and Assistant Attorney General Tony West. But during the final week of the campaign, it looked as if the mayor might have been taking sides through a proxy. East, the upstart community weekly newspaper in east San Jose co-founded by Gonzo lieutenants Jude Barry and Tony Arreola, endorsed West during the final week of the campaign. This didn't please Diaz, who started to think there was a sharp object protruding from his back with the mayor's handprint on the handle. "He [Diaz] was very upset," acknowledges Arreola, who spent four years as Diaz's chief of staff before going to work for the mayor. Arreola and Barry insist they had nothing to do with East's endorsements (the paper also backed Reeps John McCain and Tom Campbell). They attribute the decision to East's wunderkind publisher Jason Rodriguez. Rodriguez referred questions to founding editor Pete Pepper, who replied, "Not only no, but hell no." ... A quick post-script to an item from last week regarding the fallout of the AD23 race: Councilwoman Cindy Chavez says she didn't hang up an article trumpeting Diaz's victory to taunt West-backers on the sixth floor of City Hall, though she concedes someone on her staff did. Chavez tells Eye that she tore down the article as soon as she saw it. "I think you have an obligation to be a good winner," she clarifies.

Air Apparent

Despite growing political opposition to its proposed $400 million power plant in Coyote Valley, Calpine Corp. is still pushing hard to win acceptance. Witness the emergence of a new Astroturf coalition of tree-huggers and business heavies called--take a deep breath--Community Leaders, Environmentalists and Neighbors Advocating Infrastructure Reliability, or CLEANAIR. The committee is being co-chaired by former councilmembers Jerry Estruth and Trixie Johnson. The duo signed a letter--paid for by Calpine, according to their lobbyist Jerry Strangis--sent citywide earlier this month trying to drum up support for the project. "What we have found," Estruth and Johnson opine in the missive, "is that despite the fear and miscommunication that has taken place, this plant is much needed, quite safe, and ultimately beneficial to our air quality." Project opponents dismiss CLEANAIR as a dirty Calpine trick. "To me it's fraud," fumes neighborhood activist Issa Ajlouny. "They're saying they are an organization representing community leaders and environmentalists, but really it's Calpine behind this group." Strangis concedes CLEANAIR "is basically a PR thing."

Popularity Context

For a guy who came in third place in the District 6 (Willow Glen) City Council primary, Jim Spence is a very popular guy these days. That's because the two top finishers, Ken Yeager and Kris Cunningham, hope to woo the 3,200 people who voted for Spence over to their side in the runoff. According Spence's consultant, Vic Ajlouny, the San Jose cop has received calls from both camps lobbying for his endorsement. City Councilwoman Pat Dando put in a call on Cunningham's behalf. Meanwhile, former Mayor Janet Gray Hayes also dialed Spence lobbying for the Yeagermeister. For now, Ajlouny says, Spence is on the fence, but will likely make a decision as soon as April Fools Day after he returns from a skiing trip in Tahoe next week. "I doubt he's thinking about [whom to endorse] too much on the ski slopes," Ajlouny says.

Coffin Up

Given that failed 1998 sheriff candidate Ruben Diaz's political future is dead, Eye finds it rather fitting that his career path has led him to a mortuary. Diaz, who was forced from his job as assistant sheriff last year by his campaign rival, Sheriff Laurie Smith, has apparently been punching in recently at Lima Family-Erickson Memorial Chapel on Willow Avenue. Law enforcement sources say that the mortuary is known as a police-friendly place that has hired cops in the past. When contacted by Eye, Diaz refused to describe what his duties at his new job are. "I prefer not to bring them up," said Diaz, who then hastily excused himself, claiming he had another phone call. "It's obviously a sympathy job," one unsympathetic wag deadpans, "and what better place than a mortuary to have a sympathy job." ... Diaz's financial fortunes suffered another slight setback earlier this month in his discrimination lawsuit against Smith and the county. On March 2, Judge Frank Cliff threw out Diaz's claims against Smith, whom he had accused of firing him because of his race and political activities. Cliff, however, left the door open for Diaz to amend his complaint, but County Counsel Ann Ravel tells Eye, "From what I hear, the judge was pretty clear that there wasn't a [legitimate] claim against the sheriff."

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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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