Deputy DA Displays Odd Courtroom Behavior

Share:

courtroom.jpg

Every so often it pays off just sitting in the courtroom.  In fact, that is part of the premise of Yolo Judicial Watch – the need to get people into the courtroom who can monitor and bear witness to the proceedings.  On Wednesday this paid off as I waited patiently for pre-trial motions to begin in the Gang Injunction Trial, set to begin next Wednesday.

I watched as Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish became increasingly unhinged in Judge Kathleen White’s courtroom as a series of ruling went again him to the point where he seemed to becoming threatening to both Judge White and the defense counsel he was up against.  Whether he was actually speaking for the DA and illuminating new policy is something that we will have to see.

It began seemingly innocently enough as Judge White was attempting to calculate with a defendant and probation how much of a sentence that defendant had already served and how much time in jail they would still get on a relatively minor drug charge.  Part of the process usually involves converting fines into jail time and getting credit for time served.  Usually it’s routine and fairly non-controversial.

On this particular occasion though, Deputy DA Parish began complaining about the policy of converting fines to jail time.  He argued that the county was hurting for revenue and needed to start collecting these fines rather than allowing the defendants to work them off with time served in jail.

Judge White quickly overruled him, arguing that the best thing for the county’s fiscal outlook was to get the individual rehabbed, and in a job where he could pay his taxes.

Checking with someone, they felt it was an odd argument for the DA’s office to make because the majority of fines go to the court, which is state funded, rather than the county.  In other words, even if they collected all of the fines, it is not clear how much it would help the county’s finances.

The story becomes more odd in a the second case that immediately followed.  Here we had a defendant who was convicted of a crime related to meth usage and possession a few years ago.  He was given apparently a suspended sentence and probably five years of probation.  Apparently he had done relatively well for a couple of years, but then in January, he relapsed and was arrested a couple of times for crimes again relating to his meth usage and possession.

DA Parish argued that the suspended sentence be imposed.  But as Judge White heard from the defense and the department of probation, it became clear that while the individual had relapsed in January, they had already taken steps to correct it.  Probation’s opinion was that relapses happen, but the family was looking toward residential treatment programs, willing to pay money to put him into a rehab program up in Chico that would require him to go four days a week for four hours a day and would last six months to a year.  Both the Judge and Department of Probation seemed to recommend this approach.

However when Judge White asked DDA Parish’s opinion he practically exploded.  “This has become a joke,” he said.  Suspended prison sentences are never imposed in this county and it has become a running joke.  He then mocked the probationer’s claim that relapses happen.  Judge’s bend over backwards not to impose them.  He then said the DA is no longer going to offer suspended sentences.  And then he said, “When we stop offering suspended sentences, remember this day.”

Judge White responded forcefully, admonishing the Deputy DA that there are reasons why there is Judicial discretion rather than the DA getting to impose whatever sentence they want.  She said it was not appropriate to send the defendant to prison in this case.  He is not a danger to the public.  The family is willing to pay for treatment.  She said that if it becomes necessary to impose the suspended sentence that time will come, but we are not there yet.

Finally, there was a case in which DDA Ryan Couzens was the prosecutor where the defendant was asking for a hearing on a Marsden Motion.  Now a Marsden Motion is a a request to the court by a criminal defendant to discharge their lawyer on the basis of being incompetently or inadequately represented by counsel.

According to a 1970 case of People v. Marsden, “A defendant seeking to discharge his appointed counsel and substitute another attorney must establish either 1) that appointed counsel is not providing adequate representation, or 2) that he and counsel have become embroiled in such an irreconcilable conflict that ineffective representation is likely to result.”

The procedure is generally that the defendant and his or her attorney of record meet in a private hearing with the Judge, the public and the prosecutor are excluded by rule.

So Judge White cleared the courtroom to hear the Marsden Motion.  But DDA Couzens objected to being excluded.  Judge White however ordered him out of the court.  But he stood outside and banged on the door to be let in.  Apparently after the hearing had concluded and he was allowed back into the court he threatened the defense attorney saying that he “would remember this.”

Judge White determined that the defendant was likely not competent to stand trial and therefore scheduled a competency hearing.

The behavior that I witnessed from Mr. Parish is rather disturbing particularly his veiled threat in terms of suspended sentences stemming from frustration for not getting his way and then his threat to defense counsel after being properly excluded from a Marsden hearing.  The DA’s office is unlikely to do anything about this conduct and apparently Judge White was not inclined to do anything more than admonish him.  However, the arrogance and almost sense of entitlement here are rather disturbing.

The first time we took note of Clinton Parish was back in 2006 when he posted a comment on the now defunct Yolosoap Box site under his own name implying that the Buzayan Family had paid off the victim.

On May 14, 2006 Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish wrote, “This was a case that should have been concluded after a court trial, but it was not because the parents were rich enough to pay off the victim.” He continued, “the vocal minority keep accusing the Davis Police and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office of some kind of wrong doing. 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.”

His reference is to the fact, apparently, that the Buzayan family had paid for the damage to the victim’s vehicle and therefore at that point the victim was not inclined to press charges.

We note this only because it shows this is far from the first time that Clinton Parish had shot off his mouth in an inappropriate way, this time in a public forum.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

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.

Related posts

8 thoughts on “Deputy DA Displays Odd Courtroom Behavior”

  1. Aaron

    This guy sounds like he envisions himself as some kind of one-man moral conscience that we should all aspire to be. Except hes not. He’s just sounds really arrogant and entitled. But I wasn’t there, I can’t say for certain. You’d think that if the DA’s office had any sense for PR at all, they’d at least find a way to get this guy to tone down his speech. Unless thats what they want -_-

  2. E Roberts Musser

    First of all, the judge did not see the behavior of Parish as anything that needed addressing other than an admonishing word from the bench. If Parish’s conduct was as over the top as you seem to indicate, the judge would have sanctioned him by fine or jail time.

    Secondly, the DA’s Office, like all other gov’t departments, is short staffed now. I’m sure Parish is working long, long hours under considerable strain. I think you will see this strain cause mental wear and tear on everyone working in gov’t/business when working short staffed.

    Thirdly, some of the defense tactics used can be beyond the pale, and frustrating to a young prosecutor who is not well seasoned by many, many years of experience. The frustrations of seeing criminals “get off” can be enormous, especially if the DA knows more than the public does about a defendant, which is often the case.

    That said, the first issue of fines is understandable. A DA has to make an argument on the spot under extreme pressure, and often makes minor mistakes – such as forgetting that fines go to the state rather than the county. It speaks to the frustration of the DA’s Office at the lack of basic funding for keeping law and order.

    As to the second issue, there was clear disagreement between the DA and the judge as to what this defendant deserved for his lapse. The DA may have information on the defendant not admissable in court, or knows the defendant far more intimately than the judge. The DA may be frustrated at the practice of the county not imposing suspended sentences when there are parole violations merely for the sake of saving money. However, Parish overstepped his bounds to some degree, and the judge admonished him for it, reminding him that sentencing was up to the judge. But this sort of give and take happens all the time between judges, the DA and defense counsel in the heat of the moment. If you watch enough trials, you will witness it again and again.

    The third issue of banging on the door and stating “I will remember this” to the defense attorney is a bit puzzling. If the banging on the door was as you stated, I believe the judge would have sanctioned Parish, so I have to wonder if you are exaggerating what happened. Otherwise, why didn’t the judge do anything? As for the comment to the defense counsel, if defense counsel felt threatened, he would have let the judge know. He knew the comment for what it was, bluster caused by anger in the heat of the moment. Defense counsel knows what the writer of this article does not understand – someday defense counsel may lose his temper and he doesn’t want the DA to report it to the judge. All attorneys in the courtroom know the unspoken rules of the courtroom – if you have a minor lapse and do something stupid in the heat of the moment, I won’t call you on it if you’ll do the same for me – as long as what you do does not rise to the level of hurting my client.

    Decorum in the courtroom is a nicety every lawyer tries to achieve, never does, is constantly strived for and talked about at almost every ethics course a lawyer attends for continuing education requirements. In short, the courtroom is a battlefield, where the contests are hard fought. Cases are not won by being “nice”. However, the seasoned attorney soon learns using a velvet glove is far more effective than a big stick!

  3. roger bockrath

    Elain’s comments ,based on what must be years of courtroom experience, are greatly appreciated. They add another perspective to the conversation. Certainly the rules of the game in courtrooms can add a great deal of frustration for both the defense and the prosecution. However, in my considerably less experienced opinion, the playing field seems to be way out of level. In many circumstances it seems like the judge and prosecutor are on one team and the defendant is going up against both.

    I have seen the DA take a cell call in the courtroom after the judge has admonished everyone to turn off their phones. The proceedings were disrupted and the judge did nothing. I have personally had a judge fail to rule on my motion for censure of the DA for contempt, when the DA ignored a court order to produce discovery, seriously prejudicing my defense. I think the DA expects to be treated with deference by the court. They expect to ignore due process and get away with it. And when they don’t get it their way, they tend to start throwing their weight around. A pro-per defendant in Yolo County hasn’t got a chance when it’s two against one.

    I’m glad to hear of a judge telling one of these guys where to get off! It needs to happen more often.

  4. Matthew Allen

    Elaine, unfortunately I have seen Clinton Parish in action. He’s not a young guy or particularly new. I know he goes back at least to the middle part of the decade because I worked for the county on one of the gang task force’s. He’s both incompetent and arrogant. You imply this behavior is somehow commonplace, I can assure you it’s not. You also throw around the sanction as though that were a likely occurrence, it takes a lot to get sanctioned, a lot more than that obviously. I wonder how many attorneys have been sanctioned in this county by a judge, I bet the number is extremely low. That doesn’t excuse him. I find the latter two incidents not shocking, but certainly out of place. I’m not surprised it’s Parish, he has a reputation for such behavior.

  5. Superfluous Man

    Elaine,

    “Secondly, the DA’s Office, like all other gov’t departments, is short staffed now. I’m sure Parish is working long, long hours under considerable strain”

    Are you sure the decrease in DDA staffing is such that it would result in a drastic increase of pressure and strain on any one prosecutor? I thought the DA’s Office came out of this budget mess pretty good (so far), especially when compared to other local agencies. I believe they achieved this by utilizing the various grants available to them.

    How certain are you that DDA Parish or any of the DDA’s at that office are consistently working long past 5pm any given day of the week? I’m not suggesting they aren’t hardworking folk, but I’m doubtful that the hours are as long as you assert.

    “Thirdly, some of the defense tactics used can be beyond the pale, and frustrating to a young prosecutor who is not well seasoned by many, many years of experience.”

    You believe he is wet behind the ears? He has been an attorney for nearly a decade.

    With regards to Parish not being sanctioned…lawyers working in the criminal justice system are, for the most part, a small and relatively tight group…in this small county. That said, I have no opinion as to whether he should be punished for his alleged conduct in court.

  6. Fight Against Injustice

    “So Judge White cleared the courtroom to hear the Marsden Motion. But DDA Couzens objected to being excluded. Judge White however ordered him out of the court. But he stood outside and banged on the door to be let in. Apparently after the hearing had concluded and he was allowed back into the court he threatened the defense attorney saying that he “would remember this.”

    Last summer during a hearing for Ajay Dev, the bailoff screamed at the top of his lungs at those of us in the audience that we couldn’t look or make eye contact with Ajay. That if we did, he would take us to jail. I was totally mortified because we were silently sitting in our seats being absolutely respectful. There was no cause for this treatment from the bailoff.

    Now I read that a DDA is allowed to pound on the doors! If any of us had done something like that, we would have been hauled off to jail. There is no excuse for having this double standard.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    It’s a misdemeanor to communicate with someone in custody. I’ve noticed that bailiff’s can be a bit over the top in enforcing that.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    rb: ” However, in my considerably less experienced opinion, the playing field seems to be way out of level. In many circumstances it seems like the judge and prosecutor are on one team and the defendant is going up against both…A pro-per defendant in Yolo County hasn’t got a chance when it’s two against one.”

    You are exactly correct, judges do not care for pro se litigants. Before I became an attorney, during my divorce case for a brief time I was a pro se plaintiff, and had the devil of a time. I was told by one judge he was going to lower my children’s support until I came back with an attorney – and reduced my children’s support by half in punishment for having no legal representation. The judge punished my children because I did not have a lawyer! Now you know why I chose to become a lawyer!

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for