By Shellsea Lomeli
FRESNO – Defendants continue to fail to appear here in Fresno County Superior Court because of a series of emergency shutdowns.
The pressing health and safety dangers of COVID-19 prompted the first closure on March 23, 2020, joining many other courts in California and across the nation.
After reopening in late May, Fresno’s main courthouse underwent other emergency closures, postponing dozens, probably hundreds of cases.
None of these closures were pandemic-related.
On August 3, the Fresno Superior Court suspended operations at the main courthouse at noon after an underground water line rupture impacted the water supply to the facility. Water was shut down to make an emergency repair and all matters set for that afternoon were rescheduled.
In a media release, Fresno County Superior Court indicated that all parties would be notified of their new court dates.
However, that did not appear to be the case in the courthouse’s Department 12 Aug. 20.
For instance, when Judge Monica Diaz called the case of People v. Jose Villa Jr., the defendant was not present in court. Public defender, Marco Aguiar, admitted that the public defender’s office had failed to contact Villa about his court date.
The defendant’s original court date for two pre-trial hearings was set for August 3, but the emergency closure of Fresno’s Main Courthouse caused the matter to be rescheduled. Based on the conversation between the public defender and the judge, it appeared that Villa had not been informed of his new date.
“Based on the emergency closure on August 3, the court finds good cause to trail the matters to September 10,” stated Judge Diaz. “If failure to appear, bonds will be forfeited and a bench warrant will be issued,” she added.
Jose Villa’s case was not the only one affected by the water line rupture in the main courthouse.
Defendant Jonathan Issac Kelly wasn’t as lucky. He also did not appear in court on August 20 for his rescheduled court appearance. A pre-trial hearing for eight different counts was on calendar.
Unlike the first case mentioned, Kelly’s private attorney, Eric Castellon, stated that he had attempted to contact his client. Although he did not speak to Kelly directly, the attorney explained that he notified the defendant’s wife about the rescheduled court date.
Judge Diaz found the notification sufficient enough and issued bench warrants on each criminal charge Kelly was scheduled to appear for. The warrants issued totaled up to $186,000.
The main courthouse experienced two more days of closure since August 3 because of a power outage that resulted in the rescheduling of dozens, if not hundreds, of cases.
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