SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ An appeals court, blasting a prosecutor's trial conduct, overturned the conviction of a surgeon found guilty of hiring two men to beat up his ex-wife, the daughter of John Wayne.

Dr. Thomas Gionis was convicted in 1992 of orchestrating an assault on Aissa Wayne and her boyfriend, Roger Luby, during a custody dispute over Gionis' and Wayne's daughter.

Wayne was bound and thrown face-down onto a garage floor while attackers pistol-whipped Luby and cut his Achilles tendon.

The 4th District Court of Appeal overturned Gionis' conviction Thursday, chastising former Deputy District Attorney Jeoff Robinson for attacking the character of defense attorney Bruce Cutler during Robinson's closing arguments.

Robinson had quoted Charles Dickens, Jean Giraudoux and William Shakespeare to make the point that it is an attorney's ''duty to lie, conceal, distort, and slander everybody.''

''The defendant and the taxpayers deserve better from a public servant than mean-spirited retaliation against a disliked adversary who will have no opportunity to respond,'' Justice Thomas Crosby Jr. wrote.

Robinson defended his conduct.

''I felt Mr. Cutler misled the jurors on numerous occasions,'' he said. ''I not only had the right to set the record straight, I also had the obligation.''

The decision nullified Gionis' four felony convictions of assault and trespass. Gionis, 40, served 42 days of a five-year prison term before he was released on $2 million bail pending the appeal.

''This is just not fair,'' Wayne said of the ruling.

District Attorney Michael Capizzi hadn't decided whether to try the case a third time. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

Lawyer William Kopeny, who handled Gionis' appeal, said he was ''very grateful they found the case weak enough to say the prosecution's error was enough to be prejudicial.''