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SAN JOSE � Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been bickering for years about how much witness information in gang cases should be turned over to the defense. The issue recently caught the attention of U.S. District Judge William Alsup who, last month, had some sharp words for federal prosecutors in San Francisco on their refusal to disclose witness information to defense attorneys in a federal gang case. Alsup called prosecutors tactics “slippery” and accused them of “thumbing their nose” at the court. Now, the Los Angeles public defender’s office has petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the discovery issues facing gang cases. Coincidentally, the office submitted its petition a few days after Alsup’s verbal tirade. John Hamilton Scott, a deputy public defender for L.A. County, said the chances of actually being heard by the Supreme Court are “pretty low.” However, Scott said he was encouraged to hear that the justices recently asked the L.A. district attorney’s office to respond to the public defender’s petition. In urging the justices to grant review in Gray v. Superior Court, S145249, Scott wrote that the court “has not had occasion to discuss the meaning and effect of the ‘good cause’ requirement” for withholding witness names.” Natasha Cooper, the L.A. prosecutor responsible for writing a response to Scott’s charges, didn’t return a call for comment. Several local public defender offices have submitted support letters, including Santa Clara County. Marc Buller, the chief assistant DA for Santa Clara County, said he’d welcome a Supreme Court review. “It would be helpful to us all,” he said Tuesday, adding that prosecutors would follow whatever guidelines the court establishes. In the meantime, David Tomkins, the assistant DA in charge of Santa Clara’s major crime unit, said prosecutors’ position against disclosing witness names “hasn’t changed one iota.” “Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to keep these witnesses safe,” Tomkins said. Nancy Brewer, an assistant public defender in Santa Clara, said safety is a key concern for her office, too, but her clients also deserve a fair trial. And deputies have a right to find out immediately if there are any potential conflicts and the case should be passed on to another office. The public defender is considering filing writs of mandate with the Sixth District Court of Appeal in regards to a couple of pending gang cases, Brewer said. But the public defender may be in for an uphill battle. On Monday, the Sixth District denied a writ in a non-gang-related case where defense attorneys complained prosecutors were withholding witness contact information. The DA “has become much more aggressive about not turning over discovery to us,” Brewer said. “People are staying in custody longer and that’s costly to the county.” In any event, it’s against the law for defense attorneys to give defendants witness contact information, Brewer noted Tuesday. Given this, Brewer said she doesn’t understand why prosecutors continue to hold up discovery. “What do they think is going to happen? The defense attorney is going to shoot the witness?” quipped Scott, the deputy public defender from L.A. Tomkins said sometimes witness contact information ends up in the wrong hands, which is why prosecutors are so careful about handing over unredacted police reports to defense attorneys. “We’ve agreed to disagree about gang cases,” Tomkins said.

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