By Nikki Suzani
SACRAMENTO – Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Savage Friday granted Deputy District Attorney Chelsea Givens’ motion to continue a trial in order for a necessary witness to return to testify—even though the defense argued that this would cause significant hardships for their witnesses.
Defendant Antonio Gordon, who has been accused of illegally hitting his dog, already had his trial continued multiple times, first set for March 11, then vacated multiple times due to COVID-19. When it was finally set for a date when a jury could come to court, July 13, DDA Givens found one of her witnesses unavailable because of a trip to see his mother, and had requested another continuance.
Gordon’s attorney, Brennan McGee, argued that the continuance should be denied because moving the case back would possibly prevent crucial character witnesses from being able to come to court, or at least cause them significant financial hardship.
He also pointed out that the witness who was unable to attend the present court date was served much later than necessary, and had also provided no proof that the plane tickets he bought to see his mom came from before he was served.
Finally, McGee called into question the importance of that witness to the case at all, arguing that the hardships on his witnesses outweighed that prosecution witness.
McGee showed that Givens had served the witness with a subpoena on July 7, even though the trial date had been set back in June. Givens argued that she was new to the case, but McGee said that shouldn’t have stopped the previous DA from sending the subpoena earlier.
“Don’t excuse the late service,” he said. “The case was set and declared ready by previous attorneys. The DA should have served the witnesses with enough time to figure out if there was any conflict.”
However, when asked if he had any notes as to when the DA had announced readiness, he retracted his statement, saying he only had notes that the previous attorney for his side on the case had declared ready in June.
Givens then pointed out that a June settlement conference had made it unnecessary to serve the victims early, and that she had served him immediately after calling to double check dates.
At first, the judge didn’t seem convinced.
He asked why the witness hadn’t been served when the July 13 date was set, but Givens made it clear she had done her best, noting, “I sent out the subpoena on June 30. It took the processed server time to get to [the witness] on July 7.” She added that she didn’t believe there were “adequate issues that say [they couldn’t] put the case back a couple weeks.”
McGee attacked the importance of that witness at all, adding that the judge himself had previously believed the witness to be cumulative. Givens responded in turn, saying that McGee’s witnesses who would have conflicts were all character witnesses, and not necessarily relevant to the situation either.
“This is not a case about neglect or whether or not the defendant can care for the animal but about whether he inflicted this injury on the animal on the day in question,” she said. “It would be my idea that if he did care for the animal that doesn’t change whether or not he inflicted the injury.”
However, McGee argued the opposite—that showing he cared for the dog proved that he did not abuse it.
“The character witnesses show that what happened was reasonable and demonstrate how he acts with the animal beyond this day,” he said. “It shows that the witnesses’ description is inaccurate or a misrepresentation.”
The judge did not particularly care about whether the witnesses mattered, but cared about the potential hardships incurred.
“I don’t think that’s for me to decide how many character witnesses can be served and present,” he said. “I’m weighing the hardship for continuing it for [the defense’s witness] versus the People’s request for [the prosecution’s witness].”
At this point McGee argued, “My witnesses are people trying to find jobs,” he said. “Having to anticipate taking a few days off work to be on telephone standby is difficult.” He presented three statements that he and his investigator had gotten from each of the witnesses, showcasing the difficulty of continuing the trial.
For the first, he explained that they had to take care of two elders and by August, when the case was continued, could be assigned to someone full-time which would increase the hardship considerably.
For the second, he explained that because she had previously taken time off for a surgery, she was running out of paid time off from work and had continued to lose more and more after taking the court days off and having continuances granted.
For the final witness, McGee pointed out that the witness was in the middle of the job search and would have to pause it, since few jobs would allow him to take time off in his first month.
The judge took a look and at first seemed sympathetic, specifically to the witness that had gone through surgery and would lose paid work time in the COVID-19 pandemic. He also argued that the witness that Givens would no longer have was still cumulative, so the defense’s character witness would be more important.
However, when he asked Givens about her thoughts on the character witnesses as a whole, her answer helped to prove how her witness was necessary.
“Given the nature of the case, especially with the character witnesses showing the other side, it is increasingly important to have [the prosecution’s witness] at trial,” she said. “It makes his testimony even more relevant.”
This seemed to give the judge pause, as he asked a few more questions before finally coming to a decision.
“I find that there is a good cause for a continuance—that the prosecutor exercised due diligence to make sure [the witness] would be available, and that the character witnesses for the defense’s testimony can be accommodated at a later date,” he said. “The case appears to be highly in dispute, so I believe it would be unfair to deny prosecution [the witness’ statement]. Both sides can have their full slate of witnesses on a date that is mutually agreed upon and the case can be finally aired.”
The jury trial was set for August 10 at 8:45 a.m. in Department 9.
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