REDWOOD CITY -- A condemned San Mateo County killer will have to wait his turn for execution with the rest of California's 725 death row inmates.
A judge on Monday refused San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe's bid to accelerate the execution timetable for Robert Green Fairbank, on death row for the 1985 murder of a San Francisco woman. Fairbank has exhausted all of his legal appeals, but executions remain on hold in California as a result of state and federal court orders in challenges to the state's lethal injection method.
Without any elaboration, Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach found she did not have the authority to interfere with those court orders.
As a result, Mallach rejected Wagstaffe's argument that Fairbanks could immediately be given an execution date with instructions to put him to death with a single lethal drug, bypassing the other courts. A Los Angeles judge this fall rejected the same argument in a case brought by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who was seeking execution dates for two death row inmates.
Wagstaffe said the decision did not come as a surprise, but he considered the legal maneuver an important step in getting executions back on track in California.
"It still serves as a symbol in my mind of our goal to try to keep these cases moving," he said.
Mark Drozdowski, Fairbank's lawyer, declined to comment after the brief hearing.
But defense lawyers maintain individual judges do not have the authority to defy the court orders in place in the ongoing legal battle over lethal injection procedures.
Fairbank is one of at least 13 inmates who would be eligible for execution dates if the lethal injection challenges are resolved, which is unlikely to happen until next year or later.
California has not executed anyone in nearly seven years. A state appeals court is now reviewing the attorney general's appeal of a Marin County judge's order blocking executions because prison officials did not follow proper procedures in adopting a new three-drug lethal injection method.
Once that case is resolved, the issue will return to the federal courts. Gov. Jerry Brown's administration also has said in court papers that prison officials are studying a single-drug execution method, which has been adopted in other states to end legal wrangling over lethal injection.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz