Off the Case

Deputy DAs Removed Due to Book, Film Projects

by Martha Sadler

The California Second District Court of Appeal delivered a
one-two punch to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s
office this week, removing two top prosecutors from cases at the
request of criminal defendants. In each case, prosecutors were
engaged before or during trial in producing commercial works of
fiction — a novel in one case, a movie in the other — based on the
crimes they accused the defendants of having committed. The
justices found it was “unlikely” that the defendants would receive
fair trials at the hands of those prosecutors.

The first defendant was Massey Harushi Haraguchi, who faced
trial on charges of raping a woman too drunk to give legal consent.
At the same time that she was prosecuting Haraguchi, Senior Deputy
District Attorney Joyce Dudley was writing and promoting
Intoxicating Agent, a self-published novel about rape by
intoxication. Dudley’s novel stars a fictional protagonist — Santa
Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Jordon Danner — who Dudley
acknowledged was a “pumped-up version” of herself. She argued that
the novel was not based on the Haraguchi case, but the justices

The justices were chagrined at the fictional prosecutor’s
description of the fictional defendant as “a dirt bag,”
“despicable,” “felony ugly,” “a pig,” and “a heartless bastard.”
“These stereotypical generalizations have no place in a current
public prosecutor’s thinking,” the justices wrote, adding that
there is a “reasonable possibility that Dudley’s perspective of the
criminal justice system, like Danner’s, is so one-sided … that she
may not exercise her discretionary functions in an even-handed
manner.” The justices were also concerned that Dudley might not
accept a reasonable settlement offer because a negotiated
settlement would “garner no laurels” or publicity for her book.
They ruled that she had a disabling conflict of interest between
her prosecutorial duty on the one hand and her pursuit of “fame and
fortune” on the other. All that being said, the justices added in a
footnote that their “opinion should not be construed as an attack
on the character of the prosecutor. We view Dudley’s conduct as a
single lapse of judgment.”

The other defendant who won a recusal was Jesse James Hollywood,
charged with masterminding the 2000 kidnap-murder of 15-year-old
Nicholas Markowitz. Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen cooperated
with writer-director Nick Cassavetes to produce Alpha Dog, a movie
based on the killing. Zonen — a colleague of Dudley’s — was not
seeking fame and fortune when he acted as a consultant on Alpha
Dog, according to the appeal court. However, the justices ruled
that his participation in the movie constituted an overzealous
effort to capture Hollywood, who was still at large when Cassavetes
approached Zonen.

But Zonen’s efforts proved problematic. First, the movie — which
has yet to be released even though Hollywood was captured in
2005 — turned out not to include even a photograph of the real
Hollywood. Secondly, Zonen — by his own admission — handed over to
the filmmakers confidential documents including rap sheets, witness
phone numbers, and a psychiatric report. One of the filmmakers,
Michael Mehan, discussed the case with Zonen after interviewing the
witnesses, potentially violating the defense’s right to discovery
of the same evidence to which the prosecutor is privy. Mehan then
refused to give a declaration to Hollywood’s defense counsel for
fear of putting Zonen in an awkward circumstance, and he also
refused to turn over to the court the materials Zonen had given

The situation is rich with opportunities for appeal if Hollywood
is convicted, the justices opined — all the more so because it is a
death penalty case, with automatic appeals. “To say that Zonen went
too far in his attempt to apprehend the petitioner is an
understatement,” wrote the justices, who added that they did not
want to “embolden other prosecutors to assist the media in the
public vilification of a defendant in a case which is yet to be

The court did not issue any general rulings that would forbid
prosecuting attorneys from writing novels or consulting on movies,
though it did express concern that the jury pools would be tainted
in both cases, and opined that prosecutors should not try cases in
the media. The two cases were characterized as precedent-setting,
and the court’s rulings were published for future citation in
similar cases. Both criminal cases will now return to Superior
Court to be prosecuted by other members of the District Attorney’s


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