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A rare criminal grand jury indictment was handed down in Marin County Superior Court last week in a case already complicated by conflict-of-interest allegations. Defendants Ronald Freeman and his wife, Jacalyn, have sought to have District Attorney Paula Kamena, the entire Marin judiciary and the whole of the county’s criminal defense bar recused on conflict grounds. On Friday, Marin Superior Court Judge Verna Adams, who presided over the couple’s arraignments, refused a defense request to recuse herself. The Freemans, who live in Mill Valley, have been indicted on allegations of writing bad checks, grand theft, and residential and commercial burglary. They pleaded not guilty on all counts. If convicted on all counts, Ronald Freeman could face up to 175 years to life; Jacalyn faces the possibility of about 16 years in prison. Ronald Freeman, who has been in custody in Marin County jail for several months, says Kamena is prosecuting him because he was active in a failed bid to recall her from office in 2001. Jacalyn Freeman was taken into custody while visiting her husband in jail last week. In February, Marin Superior Court Judge James Ritchie effectively recused the whole Marin criminal defense bar after agreeing with the defense that conflicts existed. A complaining witness in the case is Marin defense attorney Michael Marowitz, who Freeman says is the director of business development for the Marin County Bar Association. Ritchie appointed San Francisco solo Christopher Martin to represent Ronald Freeman, who had already fired several former defense attorneys. Martin, in turn, filed a motion to disqualify Ritchie himself. He included a declaration from Freeman in which he describes himself as “a vocal supporter” of the recall campaigns against Kamena and five Marin County Superior Court judges. Freeman hosted a cable television program on the topic and disseminated literature related to corruption in the courts, according to the declaration. He even was interviewed by the FBI regarding corruption in the Marin courts, according to Martin’s motion. “If federal charges are filed, defendant will likely be called to testify. . . . There are members of the Marin County Superior Court bench who have great incentive to see defendant discredited and incarcerated,” Martin wrote. Martin acknowledged that Ritchie is not one of the judges accused of corruption or targeted for recall. Still, he wrote, “The facts speak for themselves. There is corruption in the Marin County court system and defendant, as a political activist and whistle-blower, is at grave risk at the hands of the government officials he opposes.” The attorney general’s office filed a response emphasizing that none of the conflict allegations applied directly to Judge Ritchie. It is unclear, Deputy Attorney General John Devine wrote, “how a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt about Judge Ritchie’s impartiality, especially in the absence of a single specific allegation about his lack of impartiality. Kamena’s office dropped the charges last week after deciding to proceed through the grand jury instead. The indictment came as a surprise to Martin, who said he had no idea a grand jury had even been assembled. Kamena said her office is not bound by law to reveal that information to the defense. The last time the DA used a criminal grand jury in Marin was Feb. 8, 2002, in a case against the leaders of a cult accused in the malnutrition death of a child. Over the past five years, the grand jury has initiated only four criminal cases. While she said she couldn’t discuss the Freeman case specifically, Kamena said the DA’s office does not use the grand jury often — only in rare scenarios. Kamena said a case may go to the grand jury if it involves an investigation that would be compromised if it became public. Or, she said, “when cases seem to be lingering for a lot of different reasons and we can’t get a trial date. It’s a more streamlined method.” Martin said the motion to recuse Kamena “has only been bolstered by this strange and vindictive measure. It’s clear they’re going to come after them with everything they’ve got.” Freeman has claimed that the charges against him are retaliation for his role in the recall campaign against Kamena. But the DA said many of the charges were filed prior to the recall effort. “The recall happened because we were prosecuting,” Kamena said. “We already had active cases against them.” Martin disagrees. “The cases I represent [Freeman] on this were [filed] after the recall,” he said. According to the indictment, the felony charges stem from incidents beginning in 1999 and proceeding through Jan. 15, 2001, a couple of months before the recall election. Freeman has been in legal hot water before. In 1993 he was convicted in Washington state for burglary and served prison time. Marin County Superior Court Judge Terrence Boren will preside over any upcoming hearings until he makes a decision on the conflict motions regarding Judge Ritchie.

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