Pandemic Hurts Defendants’ Ability to Appear, Comply with Orders

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By Phoebe Glick

FRESNO – Probation hearings were plagued—so to speak—by COVID-19 related complications today in Fresno Superior Court Department 10, as many defendants either recounted to presiding Judge Francine Zepeda problems complying with court orders, or were not in attendance in the first place.

Some defendants, like Elizabeth Scribner and Manuel Tamayo, could not complete their assigned programs as expected.

Tamayo, appearing on probation for a domestic violence review, said he was unable to get back into his program due to financial instability. Employed with a tree service, he said that jobs were hard to come by during the pandemic, adding that “the first money I touch [goes to] the food and essentials of the house,” in order to support his two daughters.

Scribner was enrolled in a rehabilitation facility, but dropped out shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, citing a concern for her and her son’s safety. She said she could not enroll at a facility recommended to her, nor could she find outpatient treatment due to COVID. However, she had been sober since January and had been attending virtual Narcotics Anonymous meetings daily.

Other defendants could not appear in court because of pandemic-related complications. During the pandemic, appearance rates have dropped as defendants face unstable housing and increased difficulties contacting lawyers or finding transportation to court.

One such man, Andy Zavala, did not appear in court and had not been in contact with his public defender, Jared Pursell, and his notice to appear in court had been returned to sender with no forwarding address.

He was nearly finished with his court orders. He had completed 50 classes, with only two classes remaining. This was close enough to completion that Judge Zepeda considered simply dismissing the matter. In Pursell’s words, “I mean … come on.”

Several others could not appear because they were quarantined while in custody.

Brian Lara, currently in county custody, had been quarantined since July 13 and missed hearings on two outstanding cases against him on August 12. Mario Corona was similarly unable to appear for his probation hearing—he was quarantined in the Fresno County Jail at the time.

Jhavonte Kirsh, currently in custody at a state hospital, could not appear in court.

Fresno Superior Court had already issued a warrant in hopes of compelling the state hospital to release Kirsh, so that he could appear in court. However, the Fresno County Jail is currently refusing to accept anyone from state custody, and so Kirsh remained.

This is apparently a symptom of a larger issue, according to attorney Joshua Powers—state facilities are also reluctant to accept any persons from Fresno County custody. This means that all commitments to prisons and mental facilities governed by the state are currently put on hold, and have been for the past two months.

Powers said he’s had enough—he plans to file with Department 53 of the Fresno court to show cause on the sheriff and state hospital, in order to compel appearances of his clients.

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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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