Orange County Informant Scandal Case Reassigned to Judge in San Diego

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Seal Beach murder case in which the defendant is alleging his constitutional rights were violated as part of a new round of allegations stemming from the Orange County jail informant scandal has been reassigned to a judge in San Diego County.

A 409-page motion filed Sept. 7 in the case against Paul Gentile Smith, 63, alleged that Orange County Superior Court Judge Ebrahim Baytieh, who prosecuted the murder case, used jailhouse snitches that could taint nearly 100 cases. The order from Orange County Superior Court presiding Judge Maria Hernandez was issued Wednesday.

Smith's retrial was reassigned to San Diego County Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Goldstein.

Smith's prior conviction was thrown out two years ago on the eve of an evidentiary hearing into alleged misconduct by a sheriff's investigator. In August 2022, prosecutors moved to dismiss charges Smith had previously pleaded guilty to for allegedly soliciting an attack on Orange County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Raymond Wert for his work on the murder case.

Baytieh, who prosecuted Smith, was fired by District Attorney Todd Spitzer in February 2022, months after allegations of misconduct in Smith's case led Spitzer's office to capitulate to a retrial for the defendant. Baytieh also came under fire last year in a Department of Justice report sparked by the informant scandal in the case of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in county history.

Baytieh was faulted for not disclosing information about an informant used in Smith's case to defense attorneys in his first trial. Sheriff's investigators subsequently said they would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if they were called to testify in an evidentiary hearing in the case -- further contributing to prosecutors' decision to capitulate to a retrial for Smith.

Smith's attorney, Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, is seeking an evidentiary hearing for a motion to dismiss  charges for outrageous governmental conduct.

Sanders alleges that prosecutors and sheriff's investigators illegally used jailhouse informants to pump Smith for incriminating information that was used to convict him.

Informants can be used in some cases to legally gather incriminating information, but not after defendants are represented by an attorney, as was the case with Smith. Sanders also alleges that investigators withheld evidence of the use of informants from Smith's defense team in his 2010 trial.

Smith is charged with killing 29-year-old Robert Haugen in Sunset Beach on Oct. 24, 1988.

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