Superior Court Judge George Eskin (pictured left) was recused from presiding over the felony child endangerment trial of Sylvia Vasquez — a popular preschool teacher accused of locking her adopted children in cages — because of an alleged conflict of interest. According to Vasquez’s defense attorney Robert Sanger (pictured right), Eskin proofread portions of the prosecutor’s second self-published novel Intoxicating Agent, and was one of many listed in the Acknowledgements. Prosecuting attorney Joyce Dudley (pictured center) asked Eskin to proofread her manuscript after he showed her many grammatical errors he found in her first novel, also a courthouse melodrama. Eskin received no pay for his labor. Sanger further complained Intoxicating Agent was such a one-sided slam against defense attorneys that it called into question the judge’s impartiality. In Dudley’s book, Sanger charged, prosecutors were uniformly “brave, physically attractive, brilliant, and always right,” while defense attorneys were “unethical, corrupt, vile.”

Eskin countered that, as a former defense attorney, he clearly did not subscribe to what Sanger described as “apocalyptic dualism,” adding that he’d spent far more personal time socializing with Sanger and his wife than with Dudley. Eskin vehemently denied any conflict existed, and Ventura County Judge William Liebmann agreed. Sanger then took his case to the Court of Appeals, which put the case on ice pending resolution. Rather than wait, Judge Brian Hill reassigned the Vasquez case to Judge Frank Ochoa, who will hear it later this fall. Hill did not conclude that an actual conflict of interest existed, only that the case could be heard sooner if reassigned. Eskin and Sanger first locked horns last year when Eskin complained Sanger’s involvement with the Michael Jackson defense team was creating a logjam because it compromised his ability to try other cases. In one instance, Eskin threatened to reassign a defendant in a high-profile hit-and-run case to another attorney.

— Nick Welsh

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