By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Marin County’s District Attorney has appointed a veteran of the office to take over from Sonoma County the controversial investigation and prosecution of the teenager accused in a fatal Cloverdale hit-and-run last month.
Murat Ozgur, an attorney in Monterey and Contra Costa counties before arriving in Marin in 2004, will serve as special deputy attorney general for the case, said Barry Borden, Marin County Chief Deputy District Attorney.
“Mr. Ozgur is a very experienced attorney,” Borden said. “He’s done just about everything in the office. He’s handled homicide cases, misdemeanor cases, felony cases, juvenile cases.”
It was unclear, however, whether Ozgur would have the authority to seek to overturn the reported settlement at the core of the case. Borden said the request from Sonoma County was made Friday and Marin officials were waiting Monday for the case file to arrive.
“Then we’ll have a better understanding of what the status of the case is, what needs to be done if anything, and what legal remedies we may or may not have,” Borden said.
The case was referred to Marin at the request of Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch who took office Jan 3., a week after Miguel Sanchez, 83, was struck crossing a Cloverdale Street. Mitch Carlson, 17, of Cloverdale was arrested later that day at Cloverdale High School in connection with the hit-and-run.
By the time Sanchez died four days later, the case had reportedly already been settled despite no completed police report or notification of the victim’s family as required by Marsy’s Law. Carlson was soon back in school and, according to a prosecutor, likely faces probation and community service at his sentencing, now scheduled in juvenile court Feb. 2.
Juvenile proceedings are handled in virtual secrecy and there is no public record of the results or who participated.
The handling of the case and speed of the settlement fueled the Sanchez family’s outrage and raised questions about special treatment of the case.
The crash and court proceeding occurred during the final week of outgoing District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua’s eight-year tenure in office. He lost to Ravitch in June.
Passalacqua issued a written statement last week decrying the handling of the case and denying any involvement in it. His brother Joe Passalacqua, who is Carlson’s attorney, has denied any special treatment in the disposition of the case.
The timing of the events, however, contributed to Ravitch’s decision to ask her counterpart in Marin County to take over, Assistant Sonoma County District Attorney Christine Cook said Monday. Such requests to neighboring counties — done under the auspices of the state Attorney General’s office — are common for cases involving apparent conflicts, Cook said.
“The priority was really to maintain the integrity of the process and the appearance of it,” Cook said.
All prosecutorial and investigative aspects of the criminal case will be handled by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office.
Ravitch, who was at a statewide district attorney’s conference in Southern California on Monday, is performing an internal administrative review of the case and of office policies, Cook said. She was not available for comment.
Ravitch did not return repeated calls over three days last week seeking the identify of the deputy district attorney involved in the Carlson case. On Monday, Cook also declined to name the deputy district attorney in charge of the case, citing the pending administrative review.
“When the review is complete and any appropriate action is taken I am sure the district attorney will share any information at that point which is appropriate to share,” she said.