Sacramento Public Defender Butts Heads with Judge to Protect Client

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By Gabriela Tsudik

SACRAMENTO – Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest Sawtelle, in a speedy pre-trial hearing, butted heads with an assistant public defender who disagreed with a plea offer her client accepted and who fought with the judge to delay sentencing for him.

Richard Philips, the defendant, had two prior strike convictions, both of which were attempted burglaries in 2014. He pleaded to Count 1 to strike one of the felonies and the remaining count, the current felony, battery against a person resulting in bodily injury.

These will both be dismissed in response to his admittance of the prior strike conviction. Further, Phillip’s third strike, assault, will be dismissed in its entirety.

Judge Sawtelle, heard the defendant Phillips’s plea, and requested that the sentencing be done as soon as possible.

However, the defendant’s counsel, Assistant Public Defender Noami Coady, did not join in the plea and expressed to the court that she advised her client against it, adding, “ I don’t think he should plead to what he is pleading to.”

And, after the plea was accepted by the court, Judge Sawtelle and the defense had an argument pertaining to the sentencing date, with the judge insisting on an early sentencing so he would not get “backlogged.”

But, APD Coady then explained that the defendant would be prejudiced if “we don’t delay sentencing…we don’t know how long he is going to be sitting in the Sacramento County Jail and the reality of it is, CDCR has not indicated at all when they are going to start picking people up.”

She also mentioned that there are currently 59 Covid-19 cases in the Sacramento County jail, and, for the safety of the defendant, delay is necessary. She added that “there is no prejudice to the court or the People because he will already have been convicted, just not sentenced.”

Following this, Judge Sawtelle then asked Deputy District Attorney Sterling Wilkins if he had a position on the sentencing issue, and he responded he did not.

Judge Sawtelle then gave in, noting that despite what he wants to do the defendant still has a right to be sentenced at a later time, not necessarily immediately, and agreed to bring him back in 60 days and mentioned that Coady can convince him to go further in the future.

Following the dispute, Judge Sawtelle asked for the factual basis of the crime, which was a committed felony violation, where the defendant used force and violence against the victim, which resulted in a fractured jaw.

Judge Sawtelle then addressed the defendant to make sure he knew his rights and the impact of the no-contest plea.

Philips responded, saying, “I’ve been in and out of jail my whole life, I have faith in myself.”

Judge Sawtelle said he respected his decision, and the offer on the plea agreement that is four years in total, two for each felony, could include a fine up to $10,000 dollars, although he said he has no intention of fining him.

The sentencing date is set for Oct. 23.

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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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