Zero Dollar Bail, COVID-19 Ignored by Yolo Judge

By Nikki Suzani

WOODLAND – Yolo County Superior Court Judge Peter Williams ignored the State Judicial Council’s order Wednesday. And, in a way, he ignored COVID-19, too.

The judge used his discretion to ignore the State Judicial Council’s ruling surrounding zero dollar bail—designed to help reduce COVID-19 cases—and instead, mandated $20,000 dollars in order for Fred Ayatch, who is facing three felonies, to go free.

Two of the three charges against Ayatch, one count of Penal Code section 245(a)(4), assault by force, and two counts of Penal Code section 148(a)(1), resisting/obstructing a police officer, were centered around a June 6 incident where Ayatch allegedly struck and attempted to choke an employee of Fourth and Hope, a homeless shelter where he was staying.

The third charge was a violation of probation pursuant to an earlier charge of grand theft.

Zero bail was mandated for most misdemeanor cases and some felonies in an effort to significantly reduce the population of jails. Small numbers of inmates could then socially distance, which is impossible now, according to the mandate by the State Judicial Council.

But the judge chose to ignore those COVID-19 concerns with an assist from the prosecution.

Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Martha Wais asked that the judge use his discretion to assign more than zero bail to this case.

“This is a 245(a)(4), it’s a non-strike and pursuant to the emergency bail schedule would be zero dollars,” she said, while Public Defender Karen Soell nodded.

“However, he is on felony probation and at the court’s discretion, he could add $20,000 to the zero bail. We would ask and encourage the court to do so as we do have concerns for the employee’s safety,” the prosecutor said.

But the judge did the DDA one better, attempting to issue a $50,000 bail, setting zero dollars for the 245(a)(4) but $50,000 for the violation pursuant to the underlying charge, which he said was assault and battery.

When Soell disagreed, arguing that it was grand theft, Williams mentioned that on his screen it said assault and battery. It took Wais intervening and also agreeing it was grand theft, for him to then understand and ask Wais what she hoped he’d do.

“Although these are both zero dollar bail cases, we hope that the court will use its discretion to protect the employee,” the DDA said.

Williams, before asking Soell if she had any objections, immediately granted $20,000 bail, what the prosecution had asked for originally.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations, I agree with the prosecution,” he said. He set bail at $20,000 for the violation of probation and 0 dollars for the assault under 245(a)(4). “Now that we’ve set bail and a court date, is there anything else?” he then asked.

Soell then tried to make her case for zero dollar bail. “The defendant has no prior violent criminal history, and his last criminal offense was over 10 years ago,” she said. “There is no pattern of criminal behavior here and thus the defense would object to twenty-thousand dollar bail.”

Judge Williams ignored her and said that since the bail was “set without prejudice,” she could argue her case after the preliminary hearing, but he was “concerned of the allegations” and would not budge on $20,000 bail. He then issued a protective order for the employee at Fourth and Hope.

The case will next be heard in Dept. 12 with a pre-hearing conference at 9 a.m. and pre-trial hearing at 1:30 p.m.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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