Riverside County Judge Insulted and Disparaged Defendants During Murder Trial
Riverside – Last week, the Desert Sun reported a now retired Riverside County Superior Court Judge, David B. Downing, was secretly recorded insulting and making disparaging comments about two defendants during a high-profile murder trial in 2012. The paper had obtained copies of the reported recordings and subsequently confirmed the judge’s comments as alleged in court documents.
The comments were allegedly recorded on a defendant’s laptop during a break in the 2012 proceedings as the jury was being selected in the trial of Kaushal Niroula and Daniel Garcia.
Niroula, Garcia and four other defendants were either convicted or pled guilty for their roles in the death of 74-year-old Clifford Lambert, a retired art dealer in Palm Springs. Lambert disappeared in 2008 and his body was never recovered.
In the case presented by prosecutors, six defendants, all from the Bay Area, allegedly courted Lambert with promises of romance and money. They subsequently stabbed him to death in his kitchen, stole his identity, emptied his bank accounts and even tried to sell his home.
In the recording, Judge Downing is heard calling the two defendants “assholes and clowns.” The judge was also recorded bragging about how he intentionally strengthened the prosecutor’s case because it would be great if they were convicted. The judge was also heard saying he would reject a defense motion to sever the case into separate trials because he believed the two men might implicate each other if they were tried together.
“It’s every prosecutor’s dream,” new court documents show Downing said. “He’ll take the stand and say, ‘It wasn’t me. It was him.’ The other one will take the stand and say, ‘It wasn’t me, it was him.’ Then the jury convicts them both. That’s great. That’s why I won’t sever anything. Screw that.”
If the above comments by the presiding judge were not egregious enough, court documents also revealed other disparaging comments by Downing about Niroula, who had acted as his own attorney. Downing was recorded telling his clerk how he wouldn’t touch envelopes containing written motions filed by Niroula because the defendant purportedly licked them to seal them. “Oh gross, and he is HIV positive. God knows where his tongue has been,” Downing said.
According to reports, during the trial attorneys for Niroula and Garcia confronted the judge about his recorded comments but Downing claimed his right to free speech was protected under the First Amendment.
Although Downing could not be reached for comment for this article, last year he reportedly told the Desert Sun how Niroula and Garcia had received the, “fairest trial ever — and then some.”
However, the Court of Appeals appeared to disagree. It sent Niroula’s case back to Riverside County prosecutors and challenged them to “show cause” regarding why the defendant should not be granted a new trail. Although the District Attorney’s decision is still pending, in an email Assistant District Attorney Elaine Bentley admitted to the Desert Sun her department was “deeply troubled by and do not condone the improper comments made by the trial judge.”
The Voice also reached out to the Riverside Superior Court for its comments regarding Downing’s recorded statements. The court’s Chief Financial Officer/Public Information Officer Marita C. Ford responded and stated, “Judge Downing is retired and is not sitting on assignment for our court.” She added, “The case is on appeal and the court does not have any comment at this time.”
Downing served 11 years in the Marines and 25 years in the Riverside County District Attorney’s office before he was appointed to the bench in June 2006.
The full Desert Sun report, including segments of the of the actual recording, is available online at www.desertsun.com/story/news/crime_courts/2018/04/11/secret-recording-judge-bias/494440002/.