A Butte County Superior Court judge has disqualified Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom from hearing the trial of Diane Anderson, a Sonora nurse charged as an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter.
Judge Barbara L. Roberts said in a decision dated May 28 that she had “some concern” about Segerstrom’s statements at Danny Anderson’s sentencing hearing, where Segerstrom said he drove through J-59 in La Grange where the accident occured and referred to Danny Anderson’s decision to pass vehicles over double yellow lines there as “flat-out crazy.”
“It appears to this court that Judge Segerstrom did more than just view the scene that had been described in that trial. It appears the judge virtually put himself in the driver’s seat of Dr. Anderson’s car,” Roberts wrote in the letter.
In the letter, Roberts related Diane Anderson’s supposed intention to call her husband as a witness in her trial.
Roberts said Segerstrom’s statements did not necessarily show bias or prejudice against Danny Anderson, but noted, “there is certainly grounds to determine that ‘a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial’ as to the subsequent trial of Diane Anderson.”
Roberts included a response to the original accusation from Segerstrom, which said Segerstrom denied being biased or prejudiced against either Danny or Diane Anderson.
Roberts said Segerstrom also claimed, “the facts he set forth in sentencing were proper for his consideration as he must state his reasons for sentencing choices on the record.”
Danny Anderson was sentenced by Segerstrom to five years and four months in state prison in January after being convicted by a jury in July 2018 of three counts of vehicular manslaughter for causing the triple-fatal La Grange collision.
Roberts also acknowledged other “legal and ethical issues” with Segerstrom’s statements after the trial raised by Diane Anderson — including his inspection of a photo of one of the minor victims and knowledge of the accident scene.
Roberts said those issues were not relevant to her decision on disqualification of Segerstrom because Diane Anderson was not charged with vehicular manslaughter and the cause of the collision was not an issue.
“However, this court is not aware of all the issues that could arise in a future trial of Diane Anderson, and will find that in the unlikely event the scene of the accident or the consideration of the photos does become an issue in a future trial, the issue can be mitigated with adequate disclosures,” Roberts said.
Segerstrom said he saw a photograph of Trista Hoffman, a 16-year-old driver who died in a head-on vehicle collision after Anderson passed, even though the photo was excluded from evidence.
The photo was excluded from evidence in Danny Anderson’ trial because Segerstrom said it would be prejudicial against the defendant.
Roberts also acknowledged she “cannot tell exactly what Judge Segerstrom did during his drive on J59 in October 2018 between the jury trial and the sentencing hearing.” She quoted a verified answer written by Segerstrom, noting he made a detour “to see the distance on J59 between Bonds Flat Road and Don Pedro Road which had been described in evidence.”
In a quote attributed to Segerstrom, he said he “happened to drive to L.A.” and when he came back he looked at the area where Danny Anderson pulled out to pass two vehicles driving in front of him.
The disqualification decision does not preclude the trial from occuring in the Tuolumne County Superior Court.
A change of venue motion to take the trial out of county submitted by Diane’s former attorney, Kirk McAllister of Modesto, was not decided on Tuesday.
Diane Anderson’s attorney, Roger Nuttall, said he planned to call an expert during the change of venue motion.
Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seribert set the hearing to hear the change of venue motion at 1:30 p.m. July 9 in his courtroom.
Diane Anderson is scheduled for trial on Aug. 14.
She is charged with one count of felony hit-and-run resulting in death or serious injury of six involved parties in the accident, an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
She has pleaded not guilty.
Diane Anderson was seated in the passenger seat of a white Acura MDX when her husband crossed over the double yellow lines on northbound J-59 in La Grange in October 2016 and caused a head on vehicle collision between a southbound 2002 Lexus RX300 and a northbound 2009 Toyota Camry.
The collision resulted in the death of Tina Hoffman, 51, and her daughter, Trista Hoffman, 16, in the Lexus, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, in the Camry. Lexus passengers Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Camry driver Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
A hearing was also held Monday regarding Danny Anderson, who was not present and remains in the custody of the California Institution for Men in Chino. Danny Anderson was transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy on Jan. 29.
Nuttall has submitted a motion to disqualify Segerstrom from deciding whether Danny Anderson will be granted bail pending the outcome of his appeal in the California Fifth Appellate District.
Seibert said the “same procedural mechanism” that occured with Diane Anderson’s disqualification motion would occur with Danny Anderson — the Judicial Council of California will appoint a judge to evaluate the claim.
Seibert did not set an upcoming date for Danny Anderson pending the outcome of the disqualification decision.
A motion to recall and resentence Danny Anderson was declared moot because Seibert said the court did not have the authority to make that decision beyond 120 days from Danny Anderson’s original sentencing date.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.