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Bid To Learn Why Former US Attorney Duffy Was Recused From Azano Case Fails

Former U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy speaks at a news conference, Feb. 6, 2014.

Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Above: Former U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy speaks at a news conference, Feb. 6, 2014.

The reason behind former U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy’s recusal from a high-profile campaign finance corruption case in San Diego will remain secret.

Defense lawyers for Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura had sought the information in an appeal of his conviction, but a judge on Friday refused.

U.S. District Judge Michael Anello said the defense had not “provided anything other than speculation” that would justify releasing the information.

Azano’s lawyers based their request on text messages — before and during last summer’s trial — between Duffy and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis who was a defense witness in the case.

A federal judge has refused a defense request to release information on why former U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy recused herself from the illegal campaign-giving case against Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano Matsura.

Last June, Dumanis texted Duffy about the selection of one of the prosecutors in the case against Azano to fill an open magistrate judge position.

In the text, Dumanis asked Duffy, “Was magistrate position yours?" Duffy responded “Yep, ugh." Then Dumanis asked, “On the big case? Will he finish?” Duffy replied, “Call me right quick….can you?”

Related: New Documents Show San Diego DA And Former US Attorney Texted About Azano Case Despite Recusal

According to an email from the prosecution to the defense, in the subsequent phone conversation Dumanis and Duffy said she understood that the prosecutor would ask for permission to take the bench after the Azano trial was concluded.

Azano’s lawyer Knut Johnson said he was disappointed that Judge Anello would not even agree to learn the reason in private for Duffy’s recusal before deciding whether the information was relevant to the defense.

“Mr. Azano is entitled to a trial where prosecutors have no conflict of interest and we don’t know if that’s true or that’s not true,” Johnson said. “The court certainly doesn’t know because the government hasn’t released the basis for the conflict.”

Without that release from the government, Johnson says a question mark hangs over Azano’s conviction.

“They haven’t explained how the leader of the office could have a conflict but none of the people who are below the leader don’t also have a conflict,” Johnson said.

Government lawyers said in court that none of the prosecutors in the Azano trial had a conflict. They also said Duffy’s recusal had nothing to do with the Azano case but did not elaborate.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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