Commentary: Deputy DA’s Antics Are Unique in Yolo County

Yolo County Deputy DA Ryan Couzens in a photo tweeted by the DA’s office

Last week, the Vanguard received pushback for criticizing Supervising Deputy DA Ryan Couzens.  The problem is that those doing the criticizing knew nothing about Mr. Couzens and certainly had not seen him in action.

To not put too fine a point on it, Mr. Couzens conducts himself – on a very consistent basis – in a manner unlike anyone else in the Yolo County courts, or really elsewhere.  After the discovery requests by the defense, Commissioner Kent O’Mara, who presides over Yolo County’s arraignment court, put it well – we don’t conduct trials by ambush in this country.

For the most part, while we have an adversarial system in this country, there are generally agreed-upon rules of conduct for the opposing counsel – including the need to provide them with adequate time for the preparation of what should be a complex case.

As Attorney Mark Reichel put it – there is video, there will likely be the need for defense experts and there will probably be a series of motions.  All of this takes time.

For Mr. Couzens to attempt to demand a preliminary hearing in ten court days was beyond absurd.  As Mark Reichel put it, and he was trying to be polite, “I’ve also not heard that request ever before and it was strange.”

It was beyond strange – it was an attempt at gamesmanship and an attempt to bully and ambush the defense.  I think the real question is – what is the rush by the prosecution to push this through quickly?

As another attorney, Jeff Raven, put it, the incident occurred on April 22, it took police and DA investigators six weeks to investigate and come to court, and “now he wants to ‘jam us’ in two weeks.”

In fact, it is worse than that.  The incident occurred on April 22.  The defendants first appeared in court in late May, but the prosecution was not ready to charge them at that time.  That is of course the prosecution’s prerogative, and they had the defendants come back in two weeks on June 6.

In the meantime, the DA and police investigated and made three more arrests, charging two more defendants with crimes.

The defendants would have been arraigned last week but for the request by Mr. Couzens to increase bail on one of the defendants Elijah Williams.  Mr. Couzens asserted that they had video evidence to show that Mr. Williams committed crimes on two separate officers, thereby requiring that bail be doubled.

Mr. Reichel, representing Mr. Williams, contested this claim and Commissioner O’Mara set the bail hearing for this week.  Mr. Couzens announced suddenly, after causing a one-week delay, that the People were no longer seeking an increase in bail.

Again, that is their right, but there is an inherent contradiction here.  Here Mr. Couzens is demanding what he sees as the prosecution’s right to a speedy trial within ten court days of the arraignment and, on the other hand, he is causing his own delays by asking for a bail increase only to withdraw the request.

There is an audacity that is simply mindboggling.

The most consistent complaint I hear about Mr. Couzens from his opposing counsel is that he thinks and acts as though he is the smartest person in the room.  In attempting to bolster his case on Tuesday, he had the temerity to read directly from Penal Code section 987.05.

The problem is that the section didn’t say what he thought it did.  Within the confines of the code is the provision that allows counsel “a reasonable time to become familiar with the case in order to determine whether he or she can be ready.”

Commissioner O’Mara noted that counsel needs discovery.

Mr. Couzens responded, “I just conceded that point.”  He then submitted that this is a large and involved case and that he thought a delay here would be reasonable.

Lest you think I am nitpicking this point, I will submit that no other deputy district attorney in this county would have conducted themself in this manner.  Anyone else would have immediately recognized that asking the judge to set a preliminary hearing date for late July was more reasonable, given the complexity of the case.

It is not like the DA’s office doesn’t often have to ask for continuances itself because witnesses are unavailable or evidence has not come in.

Mark Reichel told the Vanguard, in a phone interview following the meeting, that he has received no discovery in this case to date.  The attorneys said the same thing in court.  A reasonable deputy DA would have recognized this and not pushed for a hearing in ten days.

Within the adversarial system there is common professional courtesy that was breached here.  This isn’t the practice of the Yolo County DA’s office, it is the practice of this particular deputy district attorney.

As I pointed out last week, with Mr. Couzens it is always something.

In the Islamic Center of Davis mosque matter – as we pointed out – Mr. Couzens was not satisfied with the $1 million bail.  Mr. Couzens heavily contorted to get a no bail ruling from Judge Maguire, arguing that the vandalism “is an act of violence,” a notion that Judge Maguire dismissed as “metaphorical.”

He also spent ten minutes loudly complaining that the judge had ordered the bail hearing a day later.

“I had completely inadequate time,” he stated, saying that he was looking up case law until three in the morning, took a two-hour nap and continued.  That he put aside all other personal and professional obligations.

And yet, a few months after making that complaint, he attempted to impose the same thing on the defense.

Last week I asked an attorney whether it’s fair to say that Mr. Couzens thrives on escalating conflict in every case.

The answer was affirmative.

The unfortunate part, as we pointed out previously, is the DA’s office at least tacitly condones this conduct.  They promoted him to Supervising Deputy District Attorney and last year named him their prosecutor of the year.

This case resumes on July 27 in Judge Rosenberg’s court and, if history is an predictor, there will not be a dull moment.

—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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      1. Jim Hoch

        for the defense they are unless the defense wants to contest the allegations at the prelim. my understanding is that the defense generally is looking to see what kind of evidence the prosecution has. I believe the defense rarely presents their own evidence at a prelim to avoid giving away their case.


        maybe your experience is different?

        1. David Greenwald

          It is true – the defense rarely puts on their own evidence in a prelim. However, the amount of evidence in a prelim greatly varies – we’ve seen less than an hour prelims and we have seen multi-day and even multi-week prelims. Still, the defense wants to have a chance to see the discovery first so they can be properly prepared to cross-examine witnesses and I think in this case, at least one attorney probably believes they can get the charges dropped.

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