Judge Oppliger Accused of Potential Juror Misconduct

April 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Fresno County judge is under fire for what he did in court, but as a juror, not as a judge. Judge Jim Oppliger served on the jury in a murder trial that wrapped up on Monday.

Throughout the trial, Oppliger sent e-mails to his fellow judges and in the eyes of some attorneys; he walked right up to the line of juror misconduct.

In a murder trial that included an extremely rare field trip for the jury, what's happening after the verdict may be even more surprising.

Fresno County Judge James Oppliger was picked for the jury. During the trial, he e-mailed more than 20 judges about his jury service.

In the first e-mail acquired by Action News, he writes about an admonishment judges always give jurors:

"As we tell all of 'them' the only thing that cannot be discussed is 'the case, or any of the people or any subject involved in the case,'" he wrote.

The very next day, another e-mail discusses the attorneys in the case:

"Here I am livin' the dream, jury duty with Mugridge and Jenkins!" he wrote.

"It goes without saying that you should stay away from that, from talking about the case, talking about the attorneys, talking about how you're feeling that day and what's going on," said legal analyst Ralph Torres.

Defense attorney David Mugridge is considering filing a motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct. But first, he wants to ask Judge Oppliger a few questions about his communications.

"If the answers are what I suspect they are, I probably won't be doing much of anything," Mugridge said.

The judge in the case brought the e-mails to the attention of attorneys in the case. But the notification came almost a month after the first e-mail, not soon enough for Mugridge to try and get the judge removed as a juror.

"At least 1, 2, 3 of these 4 emails were all apparently written prior to deliberation and at a time when I might've been able to do something about it," Mugridge said. "Now I can't."

One more interesting note from the verdict: when the jury came back into court with the verdict, an Action News reporter saw Judge Oppliger grab his phone and start texting or e-mailing. He had to put down his phone to hand the bailiff the verdict papers. Again, that's not necessarily a violation, but potentially problematic. By the rules of the court, the judge is not allowed to respond.