A former prosecutor's claim that he conspired with a judge to keep Jewish jurors off a death penalty case will be the focus of a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The California Supreme Court (search) ordered the hearing in San Jose to investigate the sworn statement of John "Jack" Quatman (search), who said he and other lawyers in the Alameda County district attorney's office routinely used peremptory challenges to keep Jews and black women off juries in capital cases.

Quatman's testimony was filed on behalf of Fred Freeman, who was sentenced to death in 1987 for killing a bar patron during a robbery in Berkeley. As the prosecutor assigned to Freeman's trial, Quatman said he colluded with the late Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde (search) to keep Jewish jurors from hearing the case.

"No Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber," Quatman alleges the judge, who was himself of Jewish descent, told him.

"Judge Golde was only telling me what I already should have known to do," Quatman stated. "It was standard practice to exclude Jewish jurors in death cases."

Excluding jurors based on religion, race or ethnicity violates state and federal law and are grounds for a new trial.

If Quatman's claims are proven to have merit, they could provide grounds for appeals of other death penalty cases in which he and Golde were involved.

Quatman, 58, who now practices law in Montana, may testify at the hearing before Judge Kevin Murphy. Attorneys also plan to review trial transcripts, case files and Quatman's confidential personnel records from his 26 years in the Alameda County district attorney's office.

Tom Orloff, the current district attorney for Alameda County, disputed Quatman's allegations.

Quatman's credibility is expected to be an issue in the hearing. He has had two previous murder convictions overturned because of misconduct. In one, the state Court of Appeal ruled Quatman used a "deliberate and unjustified ethnic slur" when he referred to an Afghan-American defendant as a member of a guerrilla group then fighting the Soviet army.