THE VANGUARD WEEK IN REVIEW: Court Watch (Oct. 13, 2020 – October 16, 2020)

The Vanguard- aggregated by Jose Medina

The Davis Vanguard is an online news group that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and the courts throughout California and the nation. The Davis Vanguard began in 2006 by covering Davis and Yolo County with groundbreaking news about local government and policy issues affecting city, schools and county. It then expanded a few years ago to Sacramento and the surrounding region.

Today, the team has grown, encompassing about 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the State Capitol in Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, to the Central Valley and Southern California.

This week, the interns covered courthouses in Sacramento, Yolo, Fresno and Marin County. Here we have 19 different reporters with a synopsis of what they saw this week.  On Monday, October 12, it was Indigenous People’s Day, so Court Watch closed.  So this is four days’ worth of court watch coverage.

This is what you missed if you didn’t read The Vanguard—just a sample of what we reported this week:

Yolo County Superior Court 

Reporter Emma Phillips: On Tuesday October 13, in Dept. 1, Judge Renard F. Shepard heard the preliminary hearing for Darius Brown vs. The People of the State of California. Brown was charged with inflicting corporal injury on a spouse and vandalism, both to the same victim. Officer Louis Esway was called to the stand to testify as a witness to the incident, which took place on September 26, 2020.

Officer Esway testified that the victim showed red marks, discoloration, and bruising on her chest area, and she claimed Brown had beaten her while driving her car erratically. The victim also claimed Brown destroyed her car radio and windshield. Due to Brown only having one other felony conviction and the lack of severity of injury to the victim, Judge Shepard did not think the domestic violence constituted “felony conduct.” He agreed to Attorney Descayanan’s request to release her client from custody so long as a no contact issue remains in place.

Reporter Lauren Smith: In Dept. 14, a preliminary hearing took place for defendant Victoria Vallerga. The defendant had four charges against her including felony,vandalism, and assault with a deadly weapon. Judge Dave Rosenberg acknowledged that the charges had “sparse evidence” to support them, however, he concluded that there was “sufficient evidence” presented at the prelim to keep holding the defendant in custody.

Reporter Eric Trochez: On Wednesday October 14, in Dept. 14, a complication arose in the issuance of a restraining order when defendant Burnam Lowell stated that he lived 50 yards away from the victim that he was ordered to stay 100 yards away from. Lowell was charged with child abuse/endangerment. The Court stated that Lowell is not required to move, but he must not make contact with the victim or be within the same distance.  Lowell was sentenced to 180 days in county jail, the protection order was dissolved, psychological evaluation is sealed, and he is required to take sex offender counseling, then child abuse counseling.

Reporter Kalani E. Gaines: In Dept. 1, a defendant was accused of being too emotional. Defendant Xenia Lyda was charged with a felony, and attempted to dissuade the witness. Lyda was emotional and explained that she did not commit such an act. Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira responded by telling Lyda “stop, crying, I get distracted by crying.” It turned out that Sequeira could not be appointed since she was already defending another defendant in the same case. A request for a bail evaluation motion was submitted and a short conflict between probation and the new public defender occurred. The public defender wanted an OR report; however, there were miscommunications of whether that was allowed or not.

In another case, defendant Christina Ramirez was charged with shoplifting. She had attempted to steal $255.95 worth of items from Walmart. Ramirez stated that the only reason she was stealing was because she was homeless. Ramirez accepted her first plea deal which included her paying restitution. Judge Renard Shepard, who oversaw the hearing, asked Ramirez if she’d be able to pay. Ramirez stated “For me to promise to make a payment—I wouldn’t be stealing if I had money like that.” The judge agreed to put her payments off for six months.

Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: In Dept. 12, Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez urged the court to delay the trial of one of his cases. The case revolved around an attempted murder where the defendant, Daniel P. Davis, shot someone a few times at a motel room. Davis happens to be a teenager, and Gonzalez argued that there may be some circumstances, such as his upbringing, that need to be considered to provide an accurate depiction of Davis’s case before the jury. Judge Paul K. Richardson reluctantly settled on a date for the jury trial on January 25 in the hopes that the attorneys will be prepared by then.

Judge Paul K. Richardson gave a good amount of leniency toward defendants requesting monthly payments and lower fees. In the case of defendant Roger Fralin, who recently obtained a new job at a golf course but whose wife had been recently furloughed, the court agreed to grant his request of monthly payments that would start on December 1.

On Friday, October 16, in Dept. 1, a defendant was feeling very chatty at her arraignment hearing. Defendant Dejuana Lenay Lott was charged with a DUI. She quickly exclaimed, “Your Honor, I am guilty.” She further told the judge that she wanted to share with the court what caused her to drive under the influence. However, Judge Williams was quick to recommend that she wait until the Public Defender arrives. He told her that “everything will be recorded,” and didn’t want anything that she said to be used against her. The Public Defender spoke with Lott and asked the court to settle on a plea deal, which would require the defendant to complete three years of informal probation and three months of drinking and driving classes.

A mix-up occurred in a separate case where the defendant, Anthony Ricardo Limon, somehow ended up with two different surrender dates for his probation. Along with resolving this issue, his defense attorney brought up his inability to afford his SCRAM device, an ankle bracelet that an individual convicted of DUI must wear as a part of their sentencing. The attorney told Judge Williams that he was only able to wear the SCRAM prior because of the support of his family. But they will now have to talk to SCRAM to revise Limon’s sentencing because his initial requirement of wearing the device for over a year would involve a substantial amount of money. The judge was gracious enough to comply with the request.

Reporter Julian Navarro: In Dept. 14, a victim pleaded to the court not to give the defendant a harsh sentence. The victim was the mother of the defendant’s child and was a dependent of the defendant. The defendant was charged with punching the victim in the face. The victim insisted that the defendant should not receive jail time because it would only make it worse. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the victim is struggling financially and needs the financial support of the defendant to provide financial help. The victim believes that counseling and probation would be the better options for the defendant because she believes he could receive better services there than he would in jail.

Reporter Layla Mustafa: In Dept. 1, there seemed to be a lot of idle chatter. Typically, the courts will either turn off the microphones during intermissions. The DAs however, did not turn off their microphones, and their conversations during these breaks were broadcast. The conversations included defendant names and birthdates in upcoming cases.

Reporter Cailin Garcia: In Dept. 12, after almost two weeks, defendant Taylor Gholar’s case is finally reaching a conclusion. Gholar was accused of initiating inappropriate sexual conversations with a minor through Instagram messages and trying to arrange a meet-up with the minor. The DA, Sara Abrate continuously brought up Gholar’s age and compared it to the age of the victim by stating “he is a 29-year-old man who, in his own words, wanted to ‘take the v-card’ of a 12-year-old. There is nothing normal about that.” After Abrate, Gholar’s public defender Jose Gonzalez urged the court to remember that Gholar was allegedly intoxicated while he was messaging the victim and claimed that Gholar would have never engaged in such inappropriate actions if he had been sober. The jury has yet to reach a decision in the case.

Reporter Nicole Gonzales: In Dept. 7, a hearing took place for a case that has been reported on by Vanguard Court Watch throughout its various stages in the legal process. The case revolves around defendant Eduardo Castro who is being charged with “26 counts of 288 violations.” This includes lewd acts with a minor.

Sacramento County Superior Court 

Reporter Kianna Anvari: On Tuesday October 13, in Dept. 61 defendant Sterling Roe, was in custody for allegedly assaulting a morning jogger with a screwdriver. Roe was found guilty for using force likely to produce a great bodily injury and will serve 180 days in county jail, five years formal probation, and six years informal probation. The court was unwilling to look into rehabilitation or mental health programs.

On Wednesday October 14, in Dept. 60, defendant Evans Lowery faced a felony charge for residential burglary and assaulting a police K9 unit. His bail was increased from $50,000 to $1 million for this charge.

Reporter Hannah Skepner: In Dept. 84, 30 DUI cases were called and were all pushed to another date. Defendants were not present in the majority of these cases and their attorneys appeared on their behalf. Three of these cases had a representative from an alcohol education program present to talk to defendants who had failed to sign up for their courses.

Reporter Alana Bleimann: On Wednesday October 14, in Dept. 62, defendant Brian Brown asked Judge Michael Savage to be able to leave jail for 48 hours in order to visit his sick father, who is dying. Defendant Brown was arrested on one count of robbery. DDA Alexandra Sanders is worried that he is a threat to public safety and that he should not leave. Judge Savage expressed his mistrust toward the defendant and claimed that he “will have an escape and no consequence.” Defendant Brown and his public defender will return to Dept. 62 when a new proposition is made.

Reporter Dylan Ferguson: In Dept. 60, a defendant has been having a hard time with technology ever since their AA meetings turned into online meetings. Assistant Public Defender Samantha Ting described her client who was not present as “not very internet savvy.” Ting’s client was having trouble with transitioning to online AA meetings, which was “very difficult for him.” Ultimately, Ting’s requests for more time to resolve her client’s technical issues and further “provide IT support” were granted.

In another case, Judge Stephen Acquisto showed his faith in a defendant’s efforts to rehabilitate. He ordered defendant Michael Sims to return to court in 30 days with proof that he has enrolled in a battery program and is in communication with his probation officer. Judge Acquisito passionately instructed the defendant to return back to court on his scheduled day and say, “Hey bailiff, I got my proof. Put me in the front of the line.” Judge Acquisito asserted that if Sims did this, he would be on a “good path.”

Reporter Carlin Ross: In Dept. 84, Judge Phillip Stanger showed his empathy toward others with the cases presented to him. When Judge Stanger spoke to attorney Noah Wise about an alcohol rehabilitation program for her defendant, he repeatedly stated “the program will work with you if you work with them.” His tone of voice and expression were ridden with empathy. When it comes to helping others to get help, Judge Stanger has a big heart. Additionally, in the case of Juan Luciano Torez, where the defendant required a Spanish interpreter, Judge Stanger made sure the courtroom participants were speaking slowly enough for the interpreter and Torez to understand. When the Court grew too chatty, Stanger interrupted to say, “Hold on folks, we have a Spanish interpreter, it doesn’t work this way.”

Reporter Mia Machado: On Thursday October 15, in Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette had to issue bench warrants on defendants who didn’t show, and one for a completely different reason. Defendant Pavel Seleznev, represented by Public Defender Danilowitz was issued a $1,500 bench warrant due to his failure to appear in court. Similarly, in a co-defendant case, with defendants Lisa Denman and Steven Olson, both were issued a similar $1,500 bench warrant due to their unexplained failure to appear.

Instead of issuing a bench warrant for defendant Majestic Boyd due to an absence, Judge Marlette used this issuance as an attempt to get the defendant transported to Sacramento County. Public Defender Mayorga informed the court that his client was currently in custody in Sutter County, and was unable to contact him. By issuing a “no bail bench warrant” for defendant Boyd, Judge Marlette hopes to get Sutter County to transport Boyd up to Sacramento, so his case can proceed.

Reporter Danae Monique: Dept. 84 was a courtroom full of continuances and good humor. Judge Kenneth Brody oversaw over 50 cases and a majority of them requested continuances. Each attorney that appeared in his courtroom, whether in person or virtual, was able to experience some of Judge Brody’s pleasant humor. For example, in between cases Judge Brody suggested that Deputy District Attorney Brown and Defense Attorney Zachery Moore should either open up their own firm or a paint company because of their last names. Dept. 84 serves as an example that criminal procedure is not the only topic of discussion inside courtrooms.

Fresno County Superior Court

Reporter Kelly Moran: On Wednesday October 14, in Dept. 12, Judge Monica Diaz ruled over several DUI misdemeanor cases which were resolved into wet and reckless cases with the defendants pleading no contest. One defendant, Jose Gomez, was represented by private counsel, Robert Troncsco, who asked for Gomez’s case to be dismissed on good faith. Troncsco argued that since the DUI was from 2018 and Gomez proceeded to go directly into treatment after the incident,  there is “nowhere else to go from here,” and he “think[s] it would be unfair to him to restart the case.” The proceedings were suspended due to a mental health diversion and Gomez will return to court to have the diversion further evaluated.

In another case, defendant Mauro Garcia, Jr., lucked out of jail time with the opportunity to complete 180 days of community service through the Adult Offender Program. The defendant was charged with driving under the influence of MDMA and marijuana. Garcia Jr. will also be subject to three years of probation and a fine if he enrolls in the program in 30 days.

Reporter Ariel Abdallah: In Dept. 10, Judge F. Zepeda presided over numerous domestic violence cases and one murder case. In People v. Arazate, the case would be dismissed once the defendant completed 12 weeks of anger management. In Augustine v. Espinoza, the defendant submitted a no contest plea. He was granted a pretrial release and could receive up to four years in prison for his domestic violence charge. Notably, in People v. Michelle Blanco, Blanco has been charged with attempted murder and was remanded as a danger to society and to the victim. The defendant ran over the victim two times in one encounter, for which he remained in the ICU for almost a month. Blanco reportedly tried to run over the victim a month before this trial.

Marin County Superior Court

Reporter Anika Khubchandani: On Friday October 16, Judge Geoffrey Howard discussed proceedings on the San Quentin prison habeas case in his weekly Zoom meeting. The meeting included about 15 attorneys working on behalf of the plaintiffs, but only one attorney, Denise A. Yates, from the Attorney General’s Office. As a result, the case has faced several delays despite the urgent nature of the COVID-19 conditions in the prison. There seems to be some hope with regard to moving the case forward since Judge Howard has put forth an expedited schedule, starting with evidentiary hearings beginning on October 26, 2020.

So far, 13000 custody appeals have been processed along with an additional 588 inmate grievances processed as healthcare appeals. Judge Howard suggested different ways for the petitioners to be involved with the proceedings process. He discussed the option of installing a speakerphone in the prison for the petitioners to listen to and decided to increase phone access hours so that the plaintiffs can communicate with their attorneys with a bit more ease.

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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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