Deputy DA Michelle Serafin filed a motion with the Court to reject the no contest plea entered by the defendant on October 14, 2010, arguing that the plea offer “was based on the belief that the defendant had only one prior arrest that resulted in a misdemeanor embezzlement conviction in Sacramento County.”
On Thursday, she made the same argument to Judge Fall. Ms. Serafin further claimed on Thursday that the DA’s Office now had information that defendant Ms. Claudean Medlock had forged a judge’s signature in an MOU between the Court and CASA.
This was a difficult case for the Vanguard because initially it appeared that Ms. Medlock had received favorable treatment by the DA’s Office. The plea agreement had shocked and outraged those involved with CASA, who complained that they were not consulted.
At the same time, we felt that overturning the plea agreement would validate the DA’s Office’s failure to perform due diligence in their background research of Ms. Medlock.
According to the CASA webpage after a meeting with CASA, “Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven did some additional investigation and learned that Ms. Medlock’s RAP [Record of Arrest and Prosecution] Sheet issued by the CA Department of Justice was incorrect. He discovered that Ms. Medlock is serving a felony probation charge in Sacramento (as opposed to misdemeanor probation, as indicated on the DOJ RAP Sheet). These charges were filed against Ms. Medlock after she was hired by Yolo CASA and therefore were not picked up by a security screening conducted by the organization prior to her hiring.”
Had the DA met with CASA before the plea agreement as required by victim’s rights law, this would be a non-issue.
The question is really whether the DA’s own error is sufficient to invalidate a plea agreement that was entered into by both sides and accepted by a judge.
CASA Board President Mila Spengler has repeatedly expressed her anger at the plea agreement, in particular the lack of consultation with CASA on the plea agreement. “We were very disappointed and upset by that,” Ms. Spengler told the Davis Enterprise.
CASA might not have known until her arrest that their former executive director was on probation, but they clearly knew that there was a felony probation when the Vanguard spoke to Ms. Spengler for the first time on October 22, 2010.
It seems likely that CASA learned of the felony conviction before the plea agreement on October 14, not in the eight days between the plea agreement on October 14 and the Vanguard’s conversation on October 22.
Therefore, it seems that the DA’s Office, as well, could have and should have known that Ms. Medlock was on felony probation prior to their meeting with CASA on November 17, and had they simply followed the law that they have advocated – the victim’s rights bill of rights – they, in fact, would have learned this information prior to the October 14 plea agreement.
Judge Fall, however, dodged the issue of the DA’s lack of scrutiny into this case. He told the court on Tuesday that he would not act on the prosecutor’s motion since it was not clear that it had legal foundation.
Nevertheless, he made the decision to throw out the plea agreement since he believed that the agreement was not in the interest of justice to grant probation in a case where the individual had two similar convictions.
In a statement from the President of the Board, Mila Spengler, CASA said, “The Yolo County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is pleased with Judge Timothy Fall’s ruling earlier today, which set aside a plea agreement with defendant Claudean Medlock in the “interest of justice.””
She added, “We appreciate the efforts of the District Attorney’s Office and will continue to work with them to ensure that the final outcome takes into account the detrimental impact of Ms. Medlock’s actions on foster youth of Yolo County, as well as the calculating nature of her alleged crimes and her record of past criminal activity. Yolo CASA will continue to be a strong voice in the courtroom in this matter, as we are in other matters, to protect the interests of the children that we serve.”
Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia was less pleased, stating in an email, “With her plea, Ms. Medlock had accepted responsibility for the crimes alleged. Now, unfortunately, due to the actions of the court, we are back to square one.”
While I believe Judge Fall is correct that probation in this case is not in the interest of justice, we are less than pleased that the DA has been given a free pass for their failure to perform due diligence here.
We believe, despite the Judge’s side-stepping the motion, this sets a bad precedent that could undermine the credibility of the DA’s Office in reaching plea agreements.
Ms. Medlock will now have to proceed to a preliminary hearing unless there is another plea agreement, this time undoubtedly involving prison time.
CASA should feel vindicated. In a county where people have gone to years in prison for minor crimes such as stealing cheese, to allow someone who stole $46,000 to get off scot-free did not sit well.
Hopefully the DA’ Office will learn a lesson from this, but that does not seem likely, after Judge Fall bailed them out.
—David M. Greenwald reporting