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