Did a Jewish judge conspire to keep Jews off jury

Lawyers for a death row prisoner are arguing that the respected Jewish judge who oversaw his case inappropriately colluded with the prosecutor to keep Jews off the jury.

In a statement made by former Alameda County prosecutor Jack Quatman on behalf of condemned prisoner Fred Freeman, the lawyer claims deceased Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde chided him for not aggressively keeping Jews out of the jury pool when Quatman was prosecuting the 1987 trial.

“Judge Golde was a plain-spoken man, who was not shy about expressing his opinion. He said I could not have a Jew on the jury … Judge Golde said no Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber. I thanked Judge Golde for this advice, and thereafter excused any prospective juror who was Jewish.”

Quatman adds that Golde’s advice was not entirely necessary as “it was standard practice to exclude Jewish jurors in death cases; as it was to exclude African American women from capital juries.”

Quatman, currently in private practice in Whitefish, Mont., did not return repeated phone calls. In addition to his allegations against Golde, he also claimed Freeman’s defense attorneys “handed me the case” through repeated acts of gross incompetence.

Officials in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office would not comment on Quatman’s possible motivation for making the accusation after so many years.

Freeman, who was convicted for a 1984 shooting murder in a Berkeley bar, is not Jewish, but the alleged wholesale exclusion of a “cognizable class” for membership in the jury would arguably have denied him the right to a jury of his peers according to his lawyers at the California Habeas Corpus Resource Center.

Freeman’s lawyers will appear in court Feb. 8 for a discovery hearing, when Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff expects to set hearing dates and “deal with some motions” — including one to recuse the district attorney’s office and kick the case to the state attorney general.

Quatman’s allegations against Golde, a former congregant at Oakland’s Temple Sinai who died in 1998, ignited a firestorm of angry denials from the judge’s friends and legal colleagues, who claim he would never have, in essence, rigged a trial.

“We definitely dispute [Quatman’s] allegations,” said Orloff.

Golde “was very proud of his background and his religion. He was active in our synagogues and respected in our Jewish community. His nickname among the other judges was ‘The Maven.'”

Added U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen, a lifelong friend of Golde’s, in a written response to Freeman’s habeas corpus petition: “It is simply inconceivable that Stanley Golde would throw over a lifetime of devotion to the law and to its ethical practice in an attempt to achieve the wrongful conviction and wrongful imposition of a death penalty for a defendant on trial in his courtroom.”

Quatman’s allegations regarding Golde have struck a chord with anti-death penalty activists.

While personally opposed to capital punishment on moral grounds, Golde sent 11 men to death row between 1980 and 1995; Stefanie Faucher, the program director of the San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus referred to him as “a hanging judge.”

If Quatman’s recollection is true, all of Golde’s capital cases — and, perhaps hundreds more, statewide — will be in doubt.

“You have a right to a jury of your peers. This does not mean just white people or black people but a sampling of the general public. This is absolutely wrong because it undermines our entire understanding of justice in California,” said Faucher.

“And this attorney said this was standard practice.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.