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Prosecutors Dump New Laci Judge

A decision by prosecutors to remove the judge in the Laci Peterson murder case guarantees a delay in the start of the trial that was scheduled to begin next week.

Under California law, the prosecution and defense each have one opportunity to remove a judge without having to give a reason. The prosecutors did not give a reason, reports Bob Melrose of KCBS Radio.

A new judge will be appointed by California's chief justice.

Peterson's husband, Scott Peterson, is accused of murdering his pregnant wife just before Christmas 2002 and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay. Her remains and those of the fetus she was carrying later washed ashore.

Prosecutors acted Thursday, one day after retired Judge Richard Arnason, 82, was named to oversee the Peterson case when it is moved from central California to the San Francisco Bay area.

"This is going to be a very labor-intensive case," Laurie Levenson, Loyola University School of Law, told KCBS-AM. "Even though the judge had been described as very active, he is in his 80s."

Assistant District Attorney Rick Distaso said Arnason "is prejudiced against the interest of the party, so that I believe I cannot have a fair and impartial hearing."

Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy says many people had labeled the Arnason as pro-defense.

"This is a judge who only a few months ago overturned a death penalty conviction in a very serious arson-murder case," Murphy told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. "I think the prosecutors here very much want the ultimate punishment for Scott Peterson."

"So it's OK to judge shop?" defense attorney Mickey Sherman asked Murphy. "This is the most outrageous thing I've ever seen."

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George said it would take until next week to find another judge qualified to handle the case, Holton said.

Meanwhile, a hearing was scheduled Friday in Modesto to discuss the transfer to a courthouse in Redwood City, and future court dates. The case was moved after a Modesto judge ruled Peterson could not easily get a fair trial in his dead wife's hometown.

Sherman feels the change in location is good for Peterson.

"Not that there was a lynch mob mentality but they hated his guts over there," he said. "I don't know that they love him any better in the new place, but it's a help. In the long run, it may be just getting a better seat on the Titanic."

"I actually thinks this takes Scott Peterson out of the frying pan into the fire," countered Murphy. "What the defense needs is a jury unsophisticated and not especially intelligent, because they need a jury to buy into these silly ideas about satanic cults and brown vans and the baby somehow died before it went into the water. That's a lot of nonsense and no smart jury will buy into that."

The jury pool is better educated in San Mateo County, said Murphy.

"Forty percent of the population in San Mateo County has a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, where only 14 percent has a bachelor's degree," she said.

Peterson, 31, faces the death penalty if convicted of two counts of murder for the deaths of his wife and unborn son.

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