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Peterson case to get a new judge

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson

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The judge in Scott Peterson's murder trial orders a change of venue.
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(CNN) -- The murder trial of Scott Peterson will be delayed and get still another new judge after the district attorney in the case Thursday challenged the state chief justice's appointment of Judge Richard Arnason, announced only the day before.

"Under California law, each side is permitted one peremptory challenge, which effectively removes that judge from the case," said Lynn Holton, a spokeswoman for the California Judicial Council.

In a brief filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Modesto District Attorney James Brazelton said Arnason "is prejudiced against the interest of the party so that I believe that I cannot have a fair and impartial hearing" before him.

Peterson is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son in December 2002. Laci Peterson was last seen on Christmas Eve 2002, and the bodies washed up separately on the shore of San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

Peterson told police that he was fishing in the bay on the day his wife disappeared and had launched his boat from the Berkeley Marina. The bodies washed ashore just miles from the marina.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Chief Justice Ronald George assigned Arnason to hear the case when Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami stepped down after deciding to move the trial 90 miles away from Modesto to San Mateo County. (Full story)

Holton said George gave a great deal of consideration to the selection of Arnason and would give the same amount of consideration to his replacement.

"Therefore, he will not be making his selection until next week, but he is already starting to consider other judges," Holton said.

That means the trial, scheduled to start Monday, will be delayed.

Arnason, 82, retired as a judge in Contra Costa County in 1995 after 31 years and joined the state's Assigned Judges Program. He has been assigned to preside over a number of criminal jury trials, primarily in Contra Costa County.

He is perhaps best known for presiding at the murder trial of 1960s radical Angela Davis in the early 1970s.

A former member of the Communist Party, Davis was charged in 1971 with plotting a bloody courthouse shootout during the trial of three black prisoners accused of killing a prison guard. She was acquitted.

Last week, another judge refused to dismiss the charges against Peterson after defense attorneys filed a motion for a review of Girolami's decision that the prosecution had enough evidence to bind the case to trial. (Full story)

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira denied the dismissal motion filed by Peterson attorney Mark Geragos, who argued that witnesses and medical evidence contradicted the prosecution's theory of the case.

Geragos is expected appeal that decision.

CNN's Peter Ornstein and Bonnie Gannon contributed to this story.


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