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Chief Justice of California Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM) Chief Justice of California Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM

The California Supreme Court on Monday reversed a 20-year-old death sentence after finding that the trial court judge had committed prejudicial misconduct by “failing to maintain the high standards of fairness we demand.”

In a unanimous, 143-page opinion, the court upheld the murder conviction of Sandi Dawn Nieves, who was found guilty by a jury of setting a house fire in 1998 that killed her four young daughters. But the justices found that Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt of the Los Angeles County Superior Court displayed “inpatient, undignified and discourteous” behavior in contentious dealings with Nieves’ attorney during a monthslong trial.

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Cheryl Miller

Cheryl Miller, based in Sacramento, covers the state legislature and emerging industries, including autonomous vehicles and marijuana. She authors the weekly cannabis newsletter Higher Law. Contact her at [email protected]. On Twitter: @CapitalAccounts

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