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Attorney General to decide on Tianna Arata case after SLO DA was disqualified

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After a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge disqualified the SLO County District Attorney's Office from prosecuting Tianna Arata and her co-defendants, the California Attorney General's Office is asking for 30 days to decide whether it will take over the cases.

NEXT STEPS SLO SLO County Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero disqaulifies SLO County District Attorney's office from prosecuting Tianna Arata's multiple co-defendent case because of emails for campaign donations released 48 hours after charging Arata. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • NEXT STEPS SLO SLO County Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero disqaulifies SLO County District Attorney's office from prosecuting Tianna Arata's multiple co-defendent case because of emails for campaign donations released 48 hours after charging Arata.

Deputy Attorney General William Frank told the courtroom on Dec. 15 that he was just assigned the multiple co-defendant case against protesters charged in relation to a July 21 march that blocked Highway 101 traffic and was slated to receive the county District Attorney's Office's files on the case. Frank asked the court for a continuance to review the documents and determine whether the agency would appeal the court's ruling or take over as prosecutors.

Defendants Arata, Amman Asfaw, Marcus Montgomery, and Joshua Powell have pleaded not guilty to respective misdemeanor charges.

On Dec. 11, SLO Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero ruled to disqualify the entire SLO County District Attorney's Office on the grounds of a "clear conflict of interest." Guerrero pointed to two emails that Dow and his wife, Wendy Dow, sent out less than 48 hours after the District Attorney's Office charged Arata with 13 misdeamnors.

"Mr. Dow sought political and professional benefit in campaign contributions in conjunction with the prosecution of the above attached cases. This creates bias towards charging and a particular outcome which makes it unlikely that the defendant will receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings," Guerrero said.

The campaign email read, "Dan needs to know now more than ever that you support him, and he really needs your financial support so that he can keep leading the fight in SLO County against the wacky defund the police movement and anarchist groups that are trying to undermine the rule of law and public safety in our community."

"These are extrejudicial statements made to potential jurors in an attempt to sway them and to get their financial contributions. This interferes with the defendant's right to a fair trial," Guerrero said.

Arata, attending the meeting via Zoom, exhaled and wiped away a few tears after hearing the judge's ruling.

Hours later, Dow took to social media to release a statement in which he said he strongly disagreed with the judge's findings, stating there isn't a conflict of interest: "To the contrary. While I have been personally attacked on many occasions since the arrests in these cases, I have continued to conduct my duty in a manner that is above reproach without bending to popular opinion and public pressure. I am proud of the professionalism that our office has maintained under months of immense public pressure."

"To recuse an elected district attorney who has been chosen by the voters of San Luis Obispo County to enforce the law in our community without any evidence of actual conflict undermines the role and independent nature of an elected prosecutor and sets a dangerous precedent," the statement continued. Δ

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