Eye on the Courts: Lack of Transparency in the DA’s Office Should Trouble Us All

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DA-blocks-me

Last week, I was researching something for my column on the District Attorney’s Victims of Crime award ceremony when I stumbled upon something – I have been blocked from following District Attorney Jeff Reisig’s Twitter account “at the request of the user.”

My first response was bemusement and even a little flattery.  Someone, possibly Jeff Reisig himself, took the time to see that I was following him on Twitter and decided to block me.  Unlike on Facebook, because Twitter accounts are normally public, blocking does not mean I cannot see his tweets, his followers, his photos and videos.  Nope.  It just means I cannot follow him.

There can be no more empty and petty gesture than blocking someone from following your Twitter stream.  So at first I thought it was hilarious, and I took a screen shot and texted and emailed it to a few friends, as though to say, hey look at this.

But, as I have thought about it longer, I realized that this is actually not so funny.  It is quite serious.  There is a movement all across the county to hold prosecutors accountable for the decisions made by their offices.  Right now, if a prosecutor is found to have violated the rights of the accused, violated Brady rights to disclose evidence that might acquit the defendant, or destroyed exculpatory evidence, there is little that can be visited upon them.

The Supreme Court has given prosecutors in Louisiana, for example, prosecutorial immunity for such acts as in the John Thompson case.  It is rare and egregious that a prosecutor such as Ken Anderson in Texas, in the Michael Morton case, might face criminal charges.

The Vanguard Court Watch emerged after a number of cases, such as the Ajay Dev case, came to light in Yolo County that were troubling in terms of how they were prosecuted.  The idea is, by the light of transparency, the public will become more familiar with cases that are problematic.

We get accused of a lot of things when we criticize law enforcement and prosecutors, but at the end of the day, we all need to remember that there are crimes that occur in our county, people commit those crimes, most of the time they catch the right person and those people most times should be held accountable for their actions.

But this is a human process.  Mistakes happen.  Mistakes happen more when the mainstream media only covers a dozen high profile cases a year.  Our job is to monitor court cases for problems.  Some of those problems can be quite serious.  We have seen convictions overturned in this county for a variety of reasons.

But we also know that the court process is slow and that even those exonerated after prosecutorial and police misconduct can lose decades from their lives – people like John Thompson, Michael Morton, Maurice Caldwell, Brian Banks, and Franky Carrillo collectively spent over 100 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit.

No one likes to be scrutinized and criticized, but the DA’s office, from the time we began, has been one of the worst agencies in Yolo County in attempting to prevent us from monitoring and scrutinizing their office.

The blocking of access to their Twitter feed is just the latest in a string of attempts to stop the Vanguard from doing its job.

How much is that a problem for us?  It makes it more difficult to get both sides of the story.  We have to rely on the in-court accounts.  There have been a few efforts to kick us out of the courtroom that were quickly dismissed by judges like Judge Fall, during one of the Galvan trials.

How important is our work?  It seems like most of the mainstream media, except in very high profile cases, reports on cases, press releases and press conferences in an uncritical manner.

For example, last week, the DA’s office honored victims of crime and their heroes.

Mostly, we have no problem with the idea of honoring victims, in hopes that such acknowledgement will make it a bit easier for them at times to overcome tremendous hurdles in their lives.

But on this occasion, at least two selections for honorees gave us pause.  We have to question some of the news coverage here, as well.

The Woodland Daily Democrat wrote, “Bob and Cathie Bullis, along with their granddaughter Sierra Watson, were honored as 2014′s Heroes of the Year. The family reported what turned out to be a rape at Davis’ Amtrak Station. While the perpetrator was eventually acquitted, they were honored for doing the right thing as witnesses and coming forward with what they saw.”

This was the trial that the Vanguard covered in January of 2013, the Thaddeus Sonne rape trial in which Mr. Sonne would be acquitted.

Those who recall the trial will remember that there were reports of two people having sex by the railroad tracks.  The evidence against Mr. Sonne was ambiguous, at best.  The victim claimed to have been so drunk that she did not remember what happened.  The police caught a glimpse of what happened but failed to see the context of it.  Were they watching a rape, as they assumed, or two drunk people struggling to have sex and suddenly realizing they had an audience?

Aside from the use of the word “perpetrator” to describe someone fully acquitted by a jury of 12, why honor Mr. and Mrs. Bullis along with their granddaughter as “Heroes of the Year?”

As the write-up stated, “They were honored for doing the right thing as witnesses and coming forward with what they saw. “

That sounds reasonable, except for one problem.  The thought was that Ms. Bullis perjured herself on the stand, and then pressured her granddaughter Sierra Watson to change her story, as well.  This was not just something that happened after the fact, it was actually a big to-do in the case.

The bottom line here is that, while it might be all right to honor someone as a hero for doing the right thing, even in a case which results in an acquittal, as in this case, the evidence was overwhelming that the people honored were actually culpable in what turned out to be not just an acquittal but a wrongful prosecution of an innocent man.

The fact that Ms. Bullis likely perjured herself on the stand and then pressured her granddaughter to corroborate that perjury should have led the DA’s office to select someone else to honor.

No one else in the media really pointed out these problems, despite the fact that the Sonne rape trial, at least in Davis, got widespread coverage.

Is it unreasonable that we question two of the honorees?  Is that something that maybe the public should be aware of?

Of all of our branches of government, the courtroom is probably by design the least transparent.  While the media covers a few cases a year in detail, most cases, most of the time, get little coverage, and what coverage they do get is in the form of police reports and DA press releases, that naturally and by design are part of the story.

I remain appalled that the DA’s office has been allowed to operate as it has with regard to transparency.  The fact that Mr. Reisig has had no challenger in his two reelections should, on the one hand, give him comfort to open his doors, but on the other hand give us reason to question what else we don’t know.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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23 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: Lack of Transparency in the DA’s Office Should Trouble Us All”

  1. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > There can be no more empty and petty gesture than blocking
    > someone from following your twitter stream.

    True, and writing a 1,000 word essay complaining about it is even more “empty and petty” (way worse than complaining that the head of the Chamber of Commerce does not want you to text him on Sunday nights)…

    P.S. Should we expect another 1,000 word essay when you don’t get invited to Bobby Weist’s retirement dinner?

  2. Barack Palin

    With the all the negative press that Jeff Reisig has received from the Vanguard I’ll bet that he felt he has nothing to lose in blocking you.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Are public officials supposed to act in that manner? Would you not be up in arms if Barrack Obama blocked access to Fox News at his press conference? Oh wait… (Not inviting a discussion of Barack Obama or Fox, just making the point that your defense here is situational at best).

      1. Barack Palin

        I’m sure if Jeff Reiseg felt that you gave him a fair shake you’d still be on his Twitter feed. In my opinion you have it in for him, I see it that way and I’m pretty sure he does too. You’re not being blocked from a press conference, just Twiitter.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You’re missing a lot of points here. First, he’s blocking me from the feed but not his Twitter updates, which he can’t do. Second, he holds his press conferences inside the DA’s office and limits access to them. So yes, he has. But that wasn’t point of this piece. Third, he’s a public official, he shouldn’t get to decide whether or not he gets a fairshake, he should be open and transparent to all. you’re defending the indefensible here. Do you want people you don’t like to be open and transparent even in the face of scrutiny and criticism, the same has to apply to the people you do like.

      2. Barack Palin

        David:
        “Would you not be up in arms if Barrack Obama blocked access to Fox News at his press conference?”

        That’s an interesting point you bring up David. I’m sure Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or Jeff Beck have asked and tried to get access to Obama for an interview. Has he ever sat down with them and been open and transparent to them? Does that mean that they’re unfairly denied open access to a public government official too? Now we know why Obama will never give them an interview, because he knows he will get asked the tough questions and in his mind he won’t get a fair shake. Do you think that Jeff Reisig feels the same way, with the way the Vanguard has treated him that giving you access to him is like Obama feels sitting down with Rush Limbaugh?

        1. Davis Progressive

          do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing? i believe obama has been on fox news, most recently with o’reilly, but let’s say he hadn’t, would you agree with that? i don’t.

  3. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    Do you really not make a distinction between a complaint about timing of a communication on a weekend ( essentially a private matter between two individuals), and attempts to block reporting of events within our judicial system ( a system critical to the rights of the entire community )?

    I believe ( feel free to correct me if I am in error)
    that you have posted on a number of occasions about the harms inflicted on individuals by the “government” and yet you do not seem to perceive the judicial system as part of this “government” and seem to feel that members of the police and DA’s office should be beyond reporting and over sight. I remain perplexed by the attitude that this particular part of our government should have our uncritical trust, while others should be under constant
    examination.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > South of Davis Do you really not make a distinction between a complaint
      > about timing of a communication on a weekend ( essentially a private
      > matter between two individuals), and attempts to block reporting of events
      > within our judicial system

      The DA is not stopping David and/or the Vanguard from “reporting of events within our judicial system” he just took David off his list of “followers”. I don’t know of Bob Dunning is on Twitter, but if he were to take David off his Twitter feed it would not stop David from buying the paper (or reading it for free on line) to “report” on what he is writing.

      I am a big fan of government transparency and believe that every government (including court) document should be available on line, but I don’t think that I should be complaining if Mayor Krovoza does not personally send me an e-mail or “tweet” every time a new document is put on line…

  4. Tia Will

    “With the all the negative press that Jeff Reisig has received from the Vanguard I’ll bet that he felt he has nothing to lose in blocking you.”

    That well may be the case. However, I consider it more than a little ironic that much of the criticism from the
    Vanguard has centered around precisely this issue, the lack of transparency.

  5. Fight Against Injustice

    The Vanguard is a watchdog in our area, and over the years many agencies have gotten some negative press on the Vanguard for some action or another. Yet, only the DA’s office has chosen not to speak with David. Transparency of government can sometimes be messy, but it is essential.

    The DA’s office also writes its own press releases and gets them printed word for word in most of the local papers. This makes the DA’s office the sole reporter to the community on what it does. That should not be allowed.

    1. Barack Palin

      “The Vanguard is a watchdog in our area, and over the years many agencies have gotten some negative press on the Vanguard for some action or another.”

      Jeff Reisig has received much more than what you might classify as “some” negative press from the Vanguard. From what I’ve read over the years it’s been mostly negative press. Like I said, I’m thinking Reisig feels he has nothing to lose.

      1. Davis Progressive

        why do you believe a public official has a right to ignore a media source simply because its been critical of them? isn’t that the antithesis of what this country was founded on?

        1. South of Davis

          Davis Progressive wrote:

          > why do you believe a public official has a right to ignore a media
          > source simply because its been critical of them?

          Public official’s “ignore” the media all the time (I’m betting David won’t get Obama to give an “on the record” response to the Davis minimum wage and will just “ignore” the request).

          1. Davis Progressive

            assuming that david could get through to white house press staff, my guess is that they would get him some sort of response, just as he has received from senators and assemblymembers.

          2. Davis Progressive

            kind of like this:

            District Attorney Jeff Reisig applauded the efforts of Hamilton and detectives from the Sacramento Police Department who conducted the investigation. “Hamilton and the Sacramento PD detectives put their heart and soul into this case,” said Reisig. “As a result of their dedication, justice was served and Alvarez will never be able to harm again.”

  6. Davis Progressive

    i do find it interesting that the topic has shifted to the author of this piece and no one has commented on the accusations that david makes here against the da’s office.

  7. Chase Tinsley

    +1 above.

    To add some recent personal experience with the DA’s office and social media, Jeff Resig has no problem viewing peoples LinkedIn pages with disclosure. While that is great and what this article is about, it’s interesting because I have 2 to 3 views from “Someone that works at the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.” The reason I Jeff Resig has no problem with showing who he is when viewing is right before my anonymous DA/DDA/ADA views, Jeff Resig asked my mother to connect, shortly after viewing her page.

    I don’t know if there is any correlation besides conicidence that my criminal case has been undergoing changes in the DAs office with the timing described above. I can see why my prosecutor would want to look at my page, but kind of silly to remain pseudonymous. I also don’t know if the DA added my mom because of our family’s very known name in Woodland (and i don’t mean that in a positive context mostly), or if he thought she was good looking in an attempt to possibly hit on her. When she accepted his invitiation to connect, she also received views from a number of people at the DAs office that return no name or picture, as well as a reuest to connect from Ed Prieto.

    Like I said, who knows what’s going on back there. Jeff Resig may have no idea her son has been actively fighting prosecution since charges were filed 8 months ago. It is strange that I would end up with views from their office shortly after the connection – and mind you, this all happened 4 months ago – so 4 months after charges were initially filed.

    Blocking David from Twitter is pretty much a slap in the face in regards to freedom of the press, not to mention it does get personal considering David could follow him under another twitter account; or if it were facebook, see his page logged into a friend’s account or a new one. In my opinion, I don’t think Mr. Resig knows how these features work, which is exactly while the twitter block is offensive – it portrays the possiblity of a more malicious intent rather than a simple “I don’t like you”

    I have more to write but no time as I have to get work done before the work/court day is over.

  8. D.D.

    Did the Woodland Daily Democrat ever print a retraction, or correction, to their statement, “…what turned out to be a rape…”? Did the paper ever print an apology to the Sonne family?

  9. D.D.

    If the Woodland Daily Democrat does not print a correction, or retraction, of their statement “…what turned out to be a rape..”, then they are guilty of sloppy, irresponsible journalism.

    Arrested? The Democrat ( and the Davis Enterprise) will feature your story prominently, to sell their papers.
    Not guilty?
    Not newsworthy.

  10. Antoinnette

    Interesting comments…..mixed feelings but in regards to what we do at the Vanguard..I only pray we can keep things professional and not hurtful. I know this world has both good and evil in it, and if we are in a public place/position, we are certainly bound to a higher accountability. However, without knowing the intents of anothers heart..I cannot judge. My hope is to be able to make a.difference for the betterment of our judicial system. But to do it in a manner more pleasing to God.

    Recently, I have experienced from a DDA and defense how positive the outcome can be if cases are handled in a rightful manner. I am grateful. I commend law officers who did their job that day, for my son, and graciously thank those who gave moral support during that time:Gary, Ryan,John Brennan and Jeff Raven. DDA Amanda Zambor and Julia, Laura of victims services.

    As for media…I have had a negative experience when my statements were twisted by news stations but..lesson learned….this is one of the biggest reasons why I have felt there is a need to have person in that courtroom. Too many things missed and/or incorrect. Albiet, I am guilty of making mistakes too. I welcome the corrections

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