Cleaning up the District Attorney’s Office

Last June, Jeff Reisig was elected Yolo County District Attorney with strong support from the current employees of the district attorney’s office. As he is about to take office, he faces a number of very tough choices, for if he is to survive in office, he will need to deal with numerous problems among the very people who helped get him elected in the first place. It is in many ways an unenviable task, but one for which he may have no choice.

While it did not gain the attention of some of the more notorious cases, perhaps the most egregious case of overzealous prosecution stemmed from charges filed against a Clarksburg goat farmer, Khalid Berny, an immigrant from Morocco. He was charged with 170 misdemeanor counts that would have put him in prison for three years. His crime: he allowed his livestock to roam uncontained on a number of occasions. They prosecuted him despite his payment of restitution and impound fees to the animal services department and despite the fact that he no longer even owned goats and therefore was not a threat to repeat his crime.

Most amazingly is that on the eve of his trial, he obtained new attorneys, Matt Gonzalez and Whitney Leigh, who sought and received a continuance. On July 26, 2006, just two months after they were set to go to trial and put him in jail, the Yolo County District Attorney dismissed the charges.

Better known and in many ways equally disturbing is the handling of the Buzayan case by the Yolo County District attorney’s office. While Officer Ly has shouldered much blame within the community for pursuing this arrest—without the prosecution by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, this case likely never would have come to public light.

The question is why pursue a legal case against a juvenile for a minor bumper bender that resulted in $800 worth of damage and was settled civilly?

In Judge Thomas Warriner’s Court Deputy District Attorney Patricia Fong twice admitted that the DA was determined to pursue juvenile proceedings against Miss Buzayan based on their concern that the Buzayan family would sue the Davis Police Department and the City of Davis for the improper conduct of Officer Ly.

Following the dismissal of the misdemeanor charges, the Yolo County District attorneys office released the tapes of the incident to the Davis Enterprise resulting in an “improper online broadcast of the private and confidential information about the Buzayan family.” This despite going into court and asking the Judge to release such information and having Judge Warriner deny their request. Remember juvenile proceedings are confidential. The family and the defense attorney have the latitude to release information that may benefit the juvenile, however, the prosecution is not allowed to release information. This is to protect the juvenile from cases such as these.

Finally, in the ensuing spin, Deputy District Attorneys Tim Wallace and Clinton Parish would accuse the Buzayan family of “paying off” the victim in order to avoid prosecution. Parish writes on the “Yolosoap” website, “Simply put, there is no wrong doing on our part. The only wrong doing was that of paying of a victim so they would not testify.”

Tim Wallace put the blame squarely on the family of the juvenile stating that she “knew she screwed up and was unwilling to accept responsibility for it. Sadly, her parents only enabled their child’s deceipt. (sic)” Further he blames the uproar over this case as “the doing of very small and vocal portion of the community accepting a SF criminal defense lawyers (sic) spin of the facts rather than trust their own institutions.”

Of course, the small portion of the community was concerned about this case in the summer of 2005 long before the arrival of the San Francisco criminal defense lawyers in late January of 2006. Moreover, Wallace should not have been discussing this juvenile case. Finally, “rather than trust their own institutions”? This is precisely the problem—it is difficult to trust our institutions such as the District Attorney’s office when they appear to be waging a war of retribution rather than a furtherance of justice.

When these institutions appear to abuse prosecutorial discretion by the pursuit and the prosecution of individuals who do not pose a danger to either themselves or the community for reasons that appear, at least by the admission of Fong, to not fall into the realm of protection or guidance, then we naturally begin to question rather than trust our institutions. Trust in institutions is not a blind check. It must be earned and it must be maintained.

The Berny and Buzayan prosecutions demonstrate the danger involved if the District Attorney fails to serve the interest of justice and instead serves the interest of prosecutorial zeal. And it is this instinct that needs to be cleaned up in addition to many others.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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32 thoughts on “Cleaning up the District Attorney’s Office”

  1. davisite

    Reisig, whose support came from those who found no problem with the way that the DA’s office was handling these cases, lost in Davis. Another example of why I’m proud to be part of the Davis electorate.

  2. davisite

    Reisig, whose support came from those who found no problem with the way that the DA’s office was handling these cases, lost in Davis. Another example of why I’m proud to be part of the Davis electorate.

  3. davisite

    Reisig, whose support came from those who found no problem with the way that the DA’s office was handling these cases, lost in Davis. Another example of why I’m proud to be part of the Davis electorate.

  4. davisite

    Reisig, whose support came from those who found no problem with the way that the DA’s office was handling these cases, lost in Davis. Another example of why I’m proud to be part of the Davis electorate.

  5. Anonymous

    The prosecutorial zeal in both of these cases is frightening to Yolo County citizens. The release of the juvenile information is truely alarming to parents. DDA Fong committed child abuse in my mind with her behaviour in the court room and her decision to publically release juvenile information for an adjudicated case. She should be barred from juvenile and family law cases where kids are involved.

  6. Anonymous

    The prosecutorial zeal in both of these cases is frightening to Yolo County citizens. The release of the juvenile information is truely alarming to parents. DDA Fong committed child abuse in my mind with her behaviour in the court room and her decision to publically release juvenile information for an adjudicated case. She should be barred from juvenile and family law cases where kids are involved.

  7. Anonymous

    The prosecutorial zeal in both of these cases is frightening to Yolo County citizens. The release of the juvenile information is truely alarming to parents. DDA Fong committed child abuse in my mind with her behaviour in the court room and her decision to publically release juvenile information for an adjudicated case. She should be barred from juvenile and family law cases where kids are involved.

  8. Anonymous

    The prosecutorial zeal in both of these cases is frightening to Yolo County citizens. The release of the juvenile information is truely alarming to parents. DDA Fong committed child abuse in my mind with her behaviour in the court room and her decision to publically release juvenile information for an adjudicated case. She should be barred from juvenile and family law cases where kids are involved.

  9. Anonymous

    Most people have a misconception about the Justice System – thinking that justice is the desired goal. In reality The System is just a big game with advocates on two sides battling each other to score a victory. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t and to make it worse they don’t care.

    I used to dread the idea of wasting my time as a juror. Now I look forward to it because justice is important and I came to realization that DAs are not the noble group of people I once thought they were.

    A problem in Yolo County is how the DA’s staff acts outside of court. Asst DA’s Wallace and Parish had no business talking about a juvenile case. The information is supposed to confidential and they were not directly involved in the case so they were basing conclusions on hearsay. They should have been punished for their actions. More important, their actions indicate the DA has very little control over the actions ot his staff. Releasing unedited tapes by Fong was even worse – it was reckless and abusive. Frankly, she should be fired.SAH

  10. Anonymous

    Most people have a misconception about the Justice System – thinking that justice is the desired goal. In reality The System is just a big game with advocates on two sides battling each other to score a victory. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t and to make it worse they don’t care.

    I used to dread the idea of wasting my time as a juror. Now I look forward to it because justice is important and I came to realization that DAs are not the noble group of people I once thought they were.

    A problem in Yolo County is how the DA’s staff acts outside of court. Asst DA’s Wallace and Parish had no business talking about a juvenile case. The information is supposed to confidential and they were not directly involved in the case so they were basing conclusions on hearsay. They should have been punished for their actions. More important, their actions indicate the DA has very little control over the actions ot his staff. Releasing unedited tapes by Fong was even worse – it was reckless and abusive. Frankly, she should be fired.SAH

  11. Anonymous

    Most people have a misconception about the Justice System – thinking that justice is the desired goal. In reality The System is just a big game with advocates on two sides battling each other to score a victory. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t and to make it worse they don’t care.

    I used to dread the idea of wasting my time as a juror. Now I look forward to it because justice is important and I came to realization that DAs are not the noble group of people I once thought they were.

    A problem in Yolo County is how the DA’s staff acts outside of court. Asst DA’s Wallace and Parish had no business talking about a juvenile case. The information is supposed to confidential and they were not directly involved in the case so they were basing conclusions on hearsay. They should have been punished for their actions. More important, their actions indicate the DA has very little control over the actions ot his staff. Releasing unedited tapes by Fong was even worse – it was reckless and abusive. Frankly, she should be fired.SAH

  12. Anonymous

    Most people have a misconception about the Justice System – thinking that justice is the desired goal. In reality The System is just a big game with advocates on two sides battling each other to score a victory. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t and to make it worse they don’t care.

    I used to dread the idea of wasting my time as a juror. Now I look forward to it because justice is important and I came to realization that DAs are not the noble group of people I once thought they were.

    A problem in Yolo County is how the DA’s staff acts outside of court. Asst DA’s Wallace and Parish had no business talking about a juvenile case. The information is supposed to confidential and they were not directly involved in the case so they were basing conclusions on hearsay. They should have been punished for their actions. More important, their actions indicate the DA has very little control over the actions ot his staff. Releasing unedited tapes by Fong was even worse – it was reckless and abusive. Frankly, she should be fired.SAH

  13. davisite

    We will remember where Asmundson, Souza and especially Saylor(“fishing” for future votes from the law and order crowd) lined up on this issue when we next go to the polls.

  14. davisite

    We will remember where Asmundson, Souza and especially Saylor(“fishing” for future votes from the law and order crowd) lined up on this issue when we next go to the polls.

  15. davisite

    We will remember where Asmundson, Souza and especially Saylor(“fishing” for future votes from the law and order crowd) lined up on this issue when we next go to the polls.

  16. davisite

    We will remember where Asmundson, Souza and especially Saylor(“fishing” for future votes from the law and order crowd) lined up on this issue when we next go to the polls.

  17. Richard

    I find Tim Wallace’s comment about Bazayan especially troubling.

    If a white, upper middle class family had made a such a payment in similar circumstances, there would have been no charges, or, if charges had already been filed, it might have lead to the dismissal of them, and, at worst, if the case had proceeded, it would have been recognized as a mitigating circumstance, a well meaning effort to resolve the situation.

    But the Bazayans aren’t white, uppper middle class Davis residents are they? The implication of Wallace’s comment is that Muslims, even when they do good, have some devious scheme in mind. It brings to mind similar racist attitudes about blacks and Latinos. They are shifty and manipulative, and just can’t be trusted.

    As for Patti Fong, one hopes that the State Bar will act more aggressively than it has done in the past with DAs. If Wallace was present in the courtroom, and said nothing when Fong made these statements, then he may be subject to discipline as well, especially if he continued to participate in the prosecution of the case, a case that lead counsel openly acknowledged was being brought to prevent the Bazayan family from asserting their legal rights in civil court.

    It’s a quaint notion, but prosecutors, as attorneys, still have ethical responsibilities. And, of course, there’s the release of the information from the confidential juvenile record by the DAs office. Hopefully, both the State Bar and the federal district court in Sacramento will find such conduct more unacceptable than in New York City, where it has become an accepted NYPD practice whenever there is a fatal shooting of an African American.

    At the end of the day, you’d have to think that the lawsuit will be settled. After all, there’s just too much peril for Fong, Wallace and others through discovery (say, Ted Puntillo, for example, who publicly said in the Enterprise, after the charges were dismissed, that, based upon his access to information, he believed Bazayan was guilty), although they may just believe that they can just keep doing what they are doing, and leave the bill to Yolo County taxpayers.

    –Richard Estes

  18. Richard

    I find Tim Wallace’s comment about Bazayan especially troubling.

    If a white, upper middle class family had made a such a payment in similar circumstances, there would have been no charges, or, if charges had already been filed, it might have lead to the dismissal of them, and, at worst, if the case had proceeded, it would have been recognized as a mitigating circumstance, a well meaning effort to resolve the situation.

    But the Bazayans aren’t white, uppper middle class Davis residents are they? The implication of Wallace’s comment is that Muslims, even when they do good, have some devious scheme in mind. It brings to mind similar racist attitudes about blacks and Latinos. They are shifty and manipulative, and just can’t be trusted.

    As for Patti Fong, one hopes that the State Bar will act more aggressively than it has done in the past with DAs. If Wallace was present in the courtroom, and said nothing when Fong made these statements, then he may be subject to discipline as well, especially if he continued to participate in the prosecution of the case, a case that lead counsel openly acknowledged was being brought to prevent the Bazayan family from asserting their legal rights in civil court.

    It’s a quaint notion, but prosecutors, as attorneys, still have ethical responsibilities. And, of course, there’s the release of the information from the confidential juvenile record by the DAs office. Hopefully, both the State Bar and the federal district court in Sacramento will find such conduct more unacceptable than in New York City, where it has become an accepted NYPD practice whenever there is a fatal shooting of an African American.

    At the end of the day, you’d have to think that the lawsuit will be settled. After all, there’s just too much peril for Fong, Wallace and others through discovery (say, Ted Puntillo, for example, who publicly said in the Enterprise, after the charges were dismissed, that, based upon his access to information, he believed Bazayan was guilty), although they may just believe that they can just keep doing what they are doing, and leave the bill to Yolo County taxpayers.

    –Richard Estes

  19. Richard

    I find Tim Wallace’s comment about Bazayan especially troubling.

    If a white, upper middle class family had made a such a payment in similar circumstances, there would have been no charges, or, if charges had already been filed, it might have lead to the dismissal of them, and, at worst, if the case had proceeded, it would have been recognized as a mitigating circumstance, a well meaning effort to resolve the situation.

    But the Bazayans aren’t white, uppper middle class Davis residents are they? The implication of Wallace’s comment is that Muslims, even when they do good, have some devious scheme in mind. It brings to mind similar racist attitudes about blacks and Latinos. They are shifty and manipulative, and just can’t be trusted.

    As for Patti Fong, one hopes that the State Bar will act more aggressively than it has done in the past with DAs. If Wallace was present in the courtroom, and said nothing when Fong made these statements, then he may be subject to discipline as well, especially if he continued to participate in the prosecution of the case, a case that lead counsel openly acknowledged was being brought to prevent the Bazayan family from asserting their legal rights in civil court.

    It’s a quaint notion, but prosecutors, as attorneys, still have ethical responsibilities. And, of course, there’s the release of the information from the confidential juvenile record by the DAs office. Hopefully, both the State Bar and the federal district court in Sacramento will find such conduct more unacceptable than in New York City, where it has become an accepted NYPD practice whenever there is a fatal shooting of an African American.

    At the end of the day, you’d have to think that the lawsuit will be settled. After all, there’s just too much peril for Fong, Wallace and others through discovery (say, Ted Puntillo, for example, who publicly said in the Enterprise, after the charges were dismissed, that, based upon his access to information, he believed Bazayan was guilty), although they may just believe that they can just keep doing what they are doing, and leave the bill to Yolo County taxpayers.

    –Richard Estes

  20. Richard

    I find Tim Wallace’s comment about Bazayan especially troubling.

    If a white, upper middle class family had made a such a payment in similar circumstances, there would have been no charges, or, if charges had already been filed, it might have lead to the dismissal of them, and, at worst, if the case had proceeded, it would have been recognized as a mitigating circumstance, a well meaning effort to resolve the situation.

    But the Bazayans aren’t white, uppper middle class Davis residents are they? The implication of Wallace’s comment is that Muslims, even when they do good, have some devious scheme in mind. It brings to mind similar racist attitudes about blacks and Latinos. They are shifty and manipulative, and just can’t be trusted.

    As for Patti Fong, one hopes that the State Bar will act more aggressively than it has done in the past with DAs. If Wallace was present in the courtroom, and said nothing when Fong made these statements, then he may be subject to discipline as well, especially if he continued to participate in the prosecution of the case, a case that lead counsel openly acknowledged was being brought to prevent the Bazayan family from asserting their legal rights in civil court.

    It’s a quaint notion, but prosecutors, as attorneys, still have ethical responsibilities. And, of course, there’s the release of the information from the confidential juvenile record by the DAs office. Hopefully, both the State Bar and the federal district court in Sacramento will find such conduct more unacceptable than in New York City, where it has become an accepted NYPD practice whenever there is a fatal shooting of an African American.

    At the end of the day, you’d have to think that the lawsuit will be settled. After all, there’s just too much peril for Fong, Wallace and others through discovery (say, Ted Puntillo, for example, who publicly said in the Enterprise, after the charges were dismissed, that, based upon his access to information, he believed Bazayan was guilty), although they may just believe that they can just keep doing what they are doing, and leave the bill to Yolo County taxpayers.

    –Richard Estes

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