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SAN JOSE — Indicted Judge William Danser’s failure to put in writing his reasons for transferring cases to himself and then dismissing them isn’t evidence of guilt, his lawyer plans to argue, but was rather the “habit and custom” of judges in Santa Clara County Superior Court. As Danser’s trial for felony conspiracy and misdemeanor obstruction of justice got under way Monday, more details of the planned defense emerged from pretrial motions filed by San Jose defense attorney Kenneth Robinson. Smiling at photographers, Danser strode into court Monday for the first time since his arraignment in October on felony and misdemeanor counts of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors say he improperly dismissed 20 traffic tickets and gave light sentences in two drunken driving cases. Retired Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge William Kelsay, sitting by assignment, started screening prospective jurors for hardship. Jurors selected to sit on the panel could hear from more than 100 witnesses during the eight-week trial. From the start, Robinson has said that Danser acted well within his judicial discretion when he dismissed tickets for professional athletes and acquaintances. “There will be evidence that will explain all of the defendant’s actions,” Robinson wrote in response to prosecution motions. Robinson argued that he should be allowed to compare Danser’s actions — dismissing and transferring cases while providing no reason other than the “interests of justice” — with the actions of other judges. “The People can argue consciousness of guilt is the explanation for the absence of reasons,” Robinson wrote. “Another argument is that the standard practice or habit and custom of the judges in our court shows that they do not state reasons on their dismissal orders. The evidence will show that Judge Danser and virtually all judges do not state reasons for dismissals. This is especially true in cases involving misdemeanors and infractions.” The same is true, Robinson wrote, of case transfers. “There will be substantial testimony in this case,” Robinson wrote, “about case transfers and defendant submits that the People cannot establish that there is a common and universally accepted practice” for transfers in Santa Clara’s system. After Danser was indicted in September, judges and clerks acknowledged that cases were transferred informally by judges with no questions asked. In one of the drunken driving cases included in the indictment, Danser had his clerk call Judge Douglas Southard’s clerk in Palo Alto, who put a sticky note in the file. When Southard found the note, he shipped the case to Danser’s San Jose courtroom. Southard testified to the grand jury that he believed at the time that Danser was appropriately consolidating a defendant’s criminal charges. Back then, Presiding Judge Thomas Hansen said the court had an informal transfer system to allow judges to consolidate matters. He refused to talk about Danser’s case Monday, other than to say he wasn’t subpoenaed as a witness. Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Pandori is prosecuting the case. He filed pretrial motions last week seeking, among other things, to prevent Danser from arguing the dismissals were within his judicial discretion and from arguing he was being singled out for political reasons. Kelsay said Monday that he’ll rule on the motions later this week.

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