A no-nonsense former criminal defense attorney and civil lawyer-turned judge, with a reputation as a knowledgeable though occasionally prickly jurist, will preside over the domestic violence trial of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
Judge Garrett Wong, the former head of the court’s domestic violence department who now handles behavioral and mental health cases, was named Mirkarimi’s trial judge on Friday, and is expected to hear pretrial arguments this morning on crucial issues that could make or break the case.
“He reads the law — he’s smart, he’s really smart,” said veteran defense attorney Stuart Hanlon. “He’ll give a lot of attention to both arguments — the defense and the government. This is a motion case.”
Wong’s decisions about legal motions submitted prior to today’s hearing could play a huge role in the case’s outcome. Prosecutors are trying to admit statements by Mirkarimi’s wife, who has since recanted, about Mirkarimi bruising her during a New Year’s Eve argument. The defense is challenging that as hearsay.
Prosecutors described Wong as very “by-the-book,” well-reasoned and fair.
He also doesn’t stand the typical behind-the-scenes politicking that goes on at the Hall of Justice, said one attorney. Another described him as “compassionate” towards clients with mental health issues, but sometimes “inflexible” with lawyers.
In open court, Wong’s dealings with attorneys are often blunt, and curt. At a hearing in Mirkarimi’s case Friday afternoon, the judge told prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar Tarchi and defense attorney Lidia Stiglich that they would receive documents “that will lay out my expectations with respect to the handling of this case.”
“As I know that you’re both experienced lawyers ... following these rules should be relatively easy,” Wong said. Both attorneys quickly agreed.
The only light moment of the hearing came after Tarchi told Wong she would give him a CD to review over the weekend with crucial video evidence that the attorneys will debate today.
“Then I’ll try not to erase it,” Wong deadpanned. Tarchi responded that her office has “several copies.”
“Judge Wong is smart, thoughtful and fair,” Stiglich said after his naming on Friday. “We couldn’t have asked for a better assignment.” Wong was appointed after Stiglich challenged the initial appointment of Judge Susan Breall, arguing that she has bias against her client. Breall was the judge who signed a protective order barring Mirkarimi from seeing his wife and son.
Wong is “an experienced and well-respected jurist who will give both sides a fair trial,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Omid Talai said. “He will afford this case the consideration and thoughtfulness it requires.”
Source: News reports