Death row inmate David Allen Raley on Monday asked a Santa Clara County judge to fire the court-appointed lawyers arguing that he should be spared execution because he is mentally retarded.

But it appears Raley's defense team will be allowed to press forward with the legal argument, whether the condemned killer likes it or not.

After clearing the courtroom to hear from Raley, Superior Court Judge Linda Clark, without commenting on the representation issue, moved forward with a special hearing to determine if Raley should be given a reprieve under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars the execution of the mentally retarded.

The 51-year-old Raley, brought to the South Bay from San Quentin shackled at the ankles and wearing prison garb, told the judge that he wanted to fire his lawyers if they were allowed to make arguments he is mentally retarded. Clark then decided she needed to hear from Raley privately, citing attorney-client privilege.

In open court, George Cumming, one of Raley's lawyers, argued the hearing should proceed, saying it is "not unusual" for death row inmates to try to dismiss lawyers during their lengthy appeals and that the state has an overriding interest in making sure it does not execute a mentally retarded inmate.

The California Supreme Court has ordered Clark to hold hearings and make recommendations on Raley's claims that he is autistic and therefore falls under the protections of the Supreme Court's bar on executing the mentally retarded.

Santa Clara County prosectors maintain that Raley is not mentally retarded and that his 25-year-old death sentence should be left intact. He was convicted in the 1985 murder of a Peninsula teenager and her high school friend at a deserted mansion in Hillsborough.

The hearing will be a duel of experts. Betty Jo Freeman, a psychologist who diagnosed Raley's autism, took the stand Monday as his first witness.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.