The defense attorney for Columbus Allen Jr. II, accused of killing a California Highway Patrol officer near Salida in 2006, said Monday he wants to remove the trial judge from the case.
Minutes later in court, Allen tried to fire his attorney. His request was denied after a closed-door hearing.
Allen's attorney, John R. Grele of San Francisco, said he would move to disqualify Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette, challenging his ability to preside over a fair trial.
Allen's trial was sent to Sacramento because of extensive publicity about the case in Modesto.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson, who presides over pretrial hearings, questioned Grele's timing. Marlette took the case in October, and the trial is set for July 26.
"Isn't it a little late for that?" Johnson asked Grele.
Grele did not give a reason for challenging Marlette, but he doesn't have to. State law gives defense attorneys and prosecutors the right to file one affidavit per case claiming prejudice by a judge.
Allen, 34, of Stockton is charged with killing CHP officer Earl Scott about 4:40 a.m. Feb. 17, 2006. The slain officer was found at the edge of northbound Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road near Salida, holding registration papers for a Nissan Maxima registered to Allen's wife, Bertera.
The district attorney's office has charged Allen with first-degree murder and three special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty. He is being held without bail.
Allen's case has been beset by delays, including five trial start dates and a change of venue because of "pervasive publicity" in Modesto.
Allen has made several attempts to replace his lawyers.
He first sought to have the public defender's office removed from his case. A judge turned Allen down, but the office eventually declared a conflict of interest and opted out. The scenario repeated itself with a firm that is retained to handle cases the public defender's office cannot.
Modesto defense attorney Ramon Magaña was the third attorney to take the case, but Allen persuaded a judge to release him. Grele, who had signed on to help Magaña with death penalty issues, then took over the case.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.