Monday morning opening statements are set to begin in the murder trial of Gregorio Aguilar and in the jury box will be Ventura County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bennett.
Judge Bennett answered his jury summons and neither Aguilar's lawyer Richard Hanawalt nor prosecutor Rebecca Day excluded him from serving on the jury.
"I think the other judges are pissed off," said Hanawalt in an interview Friday.
Yeah, there were rumblings among a few of the judicial brethren at the Hall of Justice because someone has to do Bennett's work and there is a shortage of judges.
Bennett is one of the three judicial workhorses on the first floor: The other two are judges Kevin McGee who is assigned to Courtroom 12 and Donald Coleman who is assigned to Courtroom 13.
These three judges are Clydesdales in robes.
It's not unusual to have the trio -- Judge Bennett, McGee and Coleman -- handle up to 200 criminal cases or more a day.
Hanawalt said he really didn't know how Judge Bennett who has a strong prosecutorial background ended up in the jury box.
"I am not sure how it happened," said Hanawalt.
But he said Judge Bennett has a reputation of being fair to both prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have filed judicial disqualification motions or 170.6 motions against Judge Bennett. This legal motion allows lawyers to disqualify a judge who the attorney genuinely believes biased, said Hanawalt.
Lawyers do not have to state a reason to disqualify a judge under 170.6 motions. All judges in the courtroom have been hit with 170.6 motions if they have been on the bench for more than a month.
Although an alternate juror doesn't go into the jury room to deliberate, Hanawalt concedes that this could change if one of the 12 jurors gets sick or for some reason is unable to fulfill his jury duties. Then, he said either Judge Bennett or the other alternate juror will step in to fill his or her shoes.
"And boom, he will be on the jury," said Hanawalt. "I think he is truly fair."
Hanawalt said he went to Judge Coleman's Courtroom on an unrelated criminal matter and believed JudgeColeman might have a comment to make to him about Judge Bennett being on the jury.
Hanawalt said it didn't happen.
"He was totally business-like," said Hanawalt.
How was Judge Bennett's demeanor while he was on the jury panel?
Hanawalt said the judge was patient, not irritable and "he answered all the questions."
All the judges at the Hall of Justice preach to jurors about the importance of jury duty and what it means to the criminal justice system to answer a jury summons and sometimes, be willing to serve on a jury, said Hanwalt.
Hanawalt said Judge Bennett simply practices what he preaches.
Opening statements in the murder trial of 22-year-old Aguilar begin Monday at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 45.
Judge Charles Campbell is presiding over the case, and Hanawalt said the trial will take about a week so.