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Deadly car crash trial to begin in December

Judge denies motion to recuse himself from the case

Posted: September 23, 2012 - 12:10am

A murder trial slated to begin this week has been vacated and re-set for December.

Judge Louis Menendez re-scheduled a 10-day trial for Ryan W. West, 26, to begin Dec. 3 in Juneau Superior Court, upon the attorney’s request. It was previously scheduled to begin Monday.

West is facing one count of second-degree murder, an unclassified felony, after a fatal car crash on Glacier Highway last summer. The June 6, 2011, single-vehicle crash near Mile claimed 19-year-old Gabriel Carte.

Prosecutors say West was driving at the time, while the defense says he was not.

Ongoing litigation and discovery issues have held up the trial start date, which attorneys on both sides said was anticipated given the seriousness of the charge.

West’s attorney public defender David Seid filed two new motions this month, one of which is still pending.

Citing an appearance of impropriety, Seid argued Menendez should recuse himself from the case and asked for a new judge to preside over the trial.

Seid said in a motion dated Sept. 13 that West’s attorney in an earlier 2009 case had discussed the case with Menendez at the time. That was when Menendez was in private practice as an attorney before he was appointed to the bench. Seid said the discussion was about fees and how to collect them.

The underlying 2009 case — which involved felony charges from when a woman was seriously injured when she was dragged by West’s truck — is before the court now as a petition to revoke probation.

Seid argued the purported discussion or effect of it was in violation of the canons set forth in the Alaska Code of Judicial Conduct.

Menendez denied the motion on Monday. He said that while he and the attorney, whose name was not given, did share law office space and staff at a building at 227 Seventh Street as solo practitioners, and that the two did consult about cases, he has no recollection of consulting with the former counsel about any matter involving West.

The Alaska Court of Appeals then appointed another judge to review Menendez’s decision, which was upheld.

“This is not a case where actual bias has been shown or even alleged,” Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey wrote in his ruling Thursday. “Judge Menendez apparently has presided in another involving Mr. West for over a year and there is no indication at all that he has not been able to conduct himself impartially in that matter. Judge Menendez does not recall any discussion of Mr. West’s case with his prior attorney, and even if there was, it was a considerable time ago and the substance of that discussion is not clear. There is no reason put forth to suggest that any discussion may have somehow biased Judge Menendez against Mr. West.”

Seid previously made a motion to dismiss the indictment against West, citing insufficient evidence to support the charge and that inadmissible evidence was presented to the grand jury. That motion was denied in May.

The only motion still currently pending is Seid’s request to suppress West’s blood evidence taken at Bartlett Regional Hospital after the crash.

According to the motion, also submitted Sept. 13, West’s blood alcohol reading at the hospital was 71 mg/d which translates to .071 percent, less than the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

Another lab report from the state of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory Report lists West’s blood alcohol level as “None detected,” which Seid says should be the only lab report admissible at trial.

West remains in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on $500,000 bail. Another status hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 31.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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