Fresno County will ask a judge to move the Seth Ireland wrongful death civil trial out of the county, contending it has been bombarded by “adverse and inaccurate” media attention as well as misinformation from the boy’s father’s lawyer, Warren Paboojian.
In a motion filed this week, lawyers for Fresno County cite several articles published in The Bee and statements Paboojian made to reporters.
The motion will be heard May 11 in Fresno County Superior Court. It is the latest salvo between the county and Paboojian, who has accused county Child Protective Service officials of hiding a report that he said proves social workers were negligent in the death of 10-year-old Seth, who died in January 2009 after being beaten by his mother’s boyfriend.
Now they’re crying foul? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian, who represents Seth’s father
Even without the report, Paboojian was able to prove his case against CPS. In February 2013, a Fresno County Superior Court civil jury decided that CPS was partly responsible for Seth’s death because social workers did not properly investigate the boy’s situation.
In awarding $8.5 million in damages, the jury assigned the county 65 percent of the blame for Seth’s killing (or $5.525 million in damages). Lebaron Vaughn, who was convicted of killing Seth, was given 25 percent blame, and Seth’s mother, Rena Ireland, was assigned 10 percent.
The county appealed the judgment, and in September the 5th District Court threw out the $8.5 million verdict and ordered a new trial. But in its Sept. 30, 2015 decision, the appellate court also ordered the county to release the report. After several more court battles, the county released the report in February.
“The county of Fresno brought this publicity upon themselves by intentionally withholding a critical report from my client and the public,” Paboojian said Wednesday. “Now they’re crying foul? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The motion says “most of the latest news media reports contain inaccurate, inflammatory statements that are clearly designed to materially prejudice future potential jurors and possibly even the court.”
Executive Editor Jim Boren said The Bee stands by its reporting of the case, “and the county has never requested a correction of stories we’ve written about the case.”
The motion says much of the “misinformation” came from Paboojian.
The motion says “most of the latest news media reports contain inaccurate, inflammatory statements.”
Paboojian denied the allegations made in the motion and said county officials are equally culpable for generating pre-trial publicity by withholding the report and holding a news conference when the report was released.
“This motion is a waste of taxpayer’s money and another tactic by the county to prevent Seth’s father (Joe Hudson) from getting a fair trial,” Paboojian said.
The Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead to seek a change of venue before the re-trial begins in October.
Getting a Fresno County judge to grant a change of venue is rare and it usually happens in criminal cases.
The last change of venue happened in 2007 in the case of Fresno biochemist Larrisa Schuster, who was accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering her husband, Timothy. Her high-profile trial was held in the Southern California city of Van Nuys. Schuster was convicted and later sentenced to life in prison.
Before that, in 1993, Fresno gang members Athain David Russell, then 18, and Deandre Lamar Moore, then 17, were granted a change of venue. They were tried in Redwood City in connection with the killing of Robert Luecke III, who was gunned down in the Fashion Fair mall parking lot in December 1991. Convicted of murder during a robbery, Russell and Moore were sentenced to life in prison.
Paboojian, who has practiced in Fresno nearly 30 years, said in he has never heard of a civil trial in Fresno County getting a change of venue.
“This just shows we have more faith in our jury system here than the county” does, Paboojian said.