THE VANGUARD WEEK IN REVIEW: Court Watch (Sep. 28, 2020 – Oct. 1, 2020)

The Vanguard – aggregated by Linhchi Nguyen

The 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 by covering Davis and Yolo County with groundbreaking news about local government and policy issues affecting city, schools, county in 2006. And 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 and Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.

Stories range from attorneys facing challenges over remote hearings via Zoom to someone being mistakenly called up to court for probation to a defendant being exposed about a drug deal through his Instagram account. In the last two weeks, four of our articles also became state and regional stories.

This week, the interns covered courthouses in Sacramento, Yolo, and Fresno County. They monitored more than 23 courtrooms with up to 19 cases within a shift.

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

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Kalani E. Gaines: Judge Patrick Marlette oversaw Sacramento Superior Court Department 63 which had a couple of interesting occurrences. The first case involved some confusion over the presence of evidence—it can’t be found. The defendant has been facing charges for nine months without any evidence for his crime. While the judge brought up the possibility for dismissal, he admitted to still being unsure. The second case seemed to bring up a slight tension between the defense attorney and district attorney as they argued whether to continue or settle the case.

Reporter Cailin Garcia: In Department 60, the attorneys were having much difficulty operating through Zoom. Their voices sounded very garbled due to their masks, and the audio sometimes cut in and out. Some attorneys were even unable to use their audio at all through Zoom. Therefore, the public defender in the courtroom had to stand in for them. Other than that, most of the cases involved people taking plea deals from the DA.

Reporter Tiffany Devlin: On Monday, September 28, there was a case where a defendant was being referred to a batterer’s treatment program. There seemed to be difficulties in obtaining classes. Another defendant that needed to be re-enrolled in a treatment program because, once the pandemic was at its peak, he was only able to complete two out of 52 of the required classes. In the middle of the shift, the public defender briefly went outside of the courtroom. Once she returned, she explained that she did not want her client to come to the courtroom because he tested positive for COVID-19. Despite her request, he still attended. Once the next case was called, she asked the bailiff if she could wash her hands, then continued litigating until her cases were finished.

Reporter Julian Navarro: Today’s court watch (September 29) consisted of around 15 cases, some from Sacramento Department 15. One particular case was People v. Craig Edmonds, where the defendant represented himself for his hearing. In many instances, people are told not to represent themselves due to the difficulty of the task. Indeed, the defendant seemed lost throughout the entire proceeding, which will probably come back to hurt him.

Reporter Phoebe Glick: Many of the defendants today (September 29) were not represented by lawyers, waiving their rights to representation when prompted by the judge. Almost all of them were first-time offenders and were offered reduced sentences in exchange for guilty or no contest pleas.  It all went pretty smoothly except in the first case, where the defendant clearly did not understand the deal options that the court offered him. Following this long day, the judge also  appeared to keep messing up whenever he mentioned a bail amount. He would claim that the bail was $10,000, only to correct himself later. This happened about three times consecutively.

Reporter Ozge Terzioglu: On Monday, the court mostly issued continuances and dealt with no shows. There were a lot of technical difficulties where the audio was extremely mumbled, garbled, or pixelated. The judge even sarcastically referred to the Zoom call as “the cutting edge of technology.” For a medical no show, the judge set the bail to $0. There was a welfare fraud case for co-defendants Danny and Heather Woodson, but they didn’t go into detail about it. There were also a lot of quick arraignments for controlled substances.

On Wednesday, a highlight of the court hearings involved a victim of a felony domestic abuse case, who begged for the defendant’s 32-month sentence to be lowered and to have him placed in an anger management program instead. The victim also didn’t want to be known as a victim. She blamed herself for being in a highly emotional state and felt bad for putting the defendant’s life on pause. Despite this statement, the judge sentenced the defendant to 32 months in jail.

Reporter Danae Monique: On September 30 in Department 60, a majority of the cases were postponed under continuances based on the need for further investigation.  The one case that stuck out was a sentencing case involving a felony violation of Penal Code § 646.9(b), stalking. Judge Scott Tedmon allowed defendant Matthew Schmidt to enter into a plea deal, allowing probation (suspended one year sentence) for a stalking and harassment charge. Before Judge Tedmon delivered his ruling, Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Maroun informed the court the details of the case. The defendant “would repeatedly follow her to work, harass her, make threats, leave her multiple messages, leave her uncomfortable to even stay in her home, and he continued to harass her, her family, and friends on a repeated basis.” Additionally, the DDA also read three victim impact statements on the behalf of the victim, the victim’s mother, and the victim’s close friend that was also stalked by the defendant. Despite having multiple incidents of harassment and restraining orders, the defendant surprisingly was left with probation but any violation would send him to jail to finish his 365 sentence.

Reporter Derrick Tat: In Department 62, about 20 people failed to appear—an unusually high number. Also, a handful of people were able to be released prior to their trial without bail. Some required GPS monitoring, and some did not. A couple of these defendants were upset that they weren’t able to speak out about what happened with their case. On the other hand, a few others were feeling sympathetic about trying their best to become a new and better person.

Reporter Bianca Estrada: On October 1, Department 62 had a great variety of cases. They included unlawful ammunition, sexual battery, etc. Commissioner Ken Brody was presiding. Everything was going smoothly. Quite a few bench warrants were issued to those who didn’t show. However, there were also a few defendants who couldn’t show up due to illness. Other than that, everyone seemed to be in good spirits in this courtroom, despite going 40 minutes overtime.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: Department 9 called four preliminary hearings that were all pushed to later dates. One bench warrant was issued, and a separate bench warrant was not pressed because the defendant was home with a sick newborn. The public defender was present in court while the judge and deputy district attorneys appeared via Zoom.

Reporter Emma Phillips: Department 60 saw a multitude of cases on Tuesday, all with charges for corporal injury of spouse or cohabitant, or a breach of parole. Judge Scott L. Tedmon heard these cases, as the majority of defendants appeared in court, with only a few failing to appear due to medical unavailability. Judge Tedmon was understanding toward multiple defendants who could not afford to continue with their proceedings. He waived the enrollment fee for a victim with a first fail to a treatment program and decided not to charge the defendant for violating parole. He also granted a phone call to a victim, who exclaimed upon hearing his bail, “But I don’t have a job!”

Reporter Victoria Lembesis: This week, defendant William Thompson faced one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and one count of battery assault. The preliminary hearing for these charges was held in Department 42 of Sacramento Superior Court with Judge Allen H. Summer. The D.A. brought forth evidence from Thompson’s personal Instagram account, which revealed evidence including photos of pills that were deemed similar to ecstasy. They also found 30 related messages about selling the controlled substance on his Instagram account. Defendant Thompson was also convicted on another case of gang-related crime. The gang fight occurred at Arden Fair Mall on March 17, 2020. He tagged two alleged gang members, showing one of these men being his co-defendant in the case, fighting with another man and kicking him in the head.

Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: On Wednesday in Sacramento Department 21, two interesting cases arose. One involved a defendant who allegedly “stabbed” a previous partner with a kitchen knife after the defendant attempted to escape with their mutual child in hand.

Another case involved a stolen vehicle driven by a DoorDash worker, who did not have access to the keys when he was stopped. Public Defender Damien L. Jovel agreed to represent both defendants in the coming weeks. Interestingly, another incident of a stolen vehicle occurred in Sacramento Department 61. The defendant allegedly stole a Chevrolet truck and took other property from Southside Grocery, resulting in 120 days in prison. The defendant will also be expected to stay away from Southside Grocery in the future.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Nicole Gonzales: During a preliminary hearing on September 29, defendant Robert Glenn Barron, Jr., was charged for violating a restraining order multiple times. On June 4, Sheriff Middleman was dispatched to a property off Highway 113. The father of Barron called the police on the grounds of a restraining order violation and stated that Barron was verbally abusive to him. Barron was found in a neighbor’s backyard, 20 feet away from his father’s residence. The restraining order was listed as 100 yards. On June 10, Barron was again on the prohibited property and insisted on staying there until his sister called the police. On June 21, Sheriff Doreo witnessed yet another incident of Barron violating the restraining order and leaving the house with “an arm full of food items.” The defendant’s sister denied that she granted him permission to take the items from the house. The DA and public defender argued about whether the defendant should be held to answer for all his charges.

Reporter Kelly Moran: One interesting case at the Yolo County Superior Court was that of defendant Eric Carvez Loyden, who was charged with two felonies for violating his probation. Loyden needed medical attention but was number 26 on the center’s waiting list, and his spot has not moved since his last hearing on August 18, 2020. Judge Rosenberg ordered Loyden to be released from custody in order to receive outpatient treatment. Loyden repeatedly thanked Judge Rosenberg, as his remaining time will be stayed, contingent upon his successful completion of residential medical treatment under probation. “Good luck sir, get it done,” said DA Preston Schaub. “We’re all rooting for you,” finished Judge Rosenberg.

Reporter Julian Verdon: Department 1 of Yolo County Superior Court dealt with several interesting cases but the information for them was sparse. One involved a fugitive complaint against New Mexico resident, Joseph Portillo. Deputy Public Defender James Bradford requested the misdemeanor to be dropped. However, the prosecution, headed by DDA Melinda Aiello, were concerned that Portillo would be released before the New Mexico police could pick him up. Eventually, they came to an agreement to drop the charges but reconvene later to make sure Portillo is transported to New Mexico.

In another case, Marcia Randle, representing Fermin Perez, got upset with the prosecutor for constantly pushing back the court dates. She said that Perez has lost his job and is not able to get a speedy trial, which is his right. Lastly, a mistake occurred where the wrong person was called to court to show that he had been attending probation. Apparently, the DA sent the wrong court invitation to the wrong man and had a mix up between the two.

Reporter Anais Cortes: Some of the cases that were presided over by Judge David Rosenberg in Yolo County Superior Court included various preliminary hearings, continuances, and prehearing conferences. Although there were a few technical difficulties with Zoom, the courtroom heard over 19 cases in one session.

Fresno County Superior Court

Reporter Carlin Ross: On September 28, a defendant pleaded no contest for a DUI for a reduced sentence. Although the defendant had a BAC of 0.16 at the DUI checkpoint, her plea led the resolution agreement dropping the BAC down to 0.14 to reduce her sentence. She’s now serving three years on informal probation with a $1,945 fine.

Reporter Ruby Chavez: On Tuesday, September 29, Judge Monica Diaz oversaw many DUI cases. In multiple instances, the court was unable to access a Spanish interpreter for their non-English reading or speaking defendants. Therefore, Judge Diaz had to recall those cases until they could find someone to translate for the defendant. Many of the defense attorneys also requested to push back their trials to January 2021. Overall, it was mainly a day of arraignments for this department.

Reporter Bianca Estrada: All of the cases in Department 10 were preliminary hearings run by Judge David Gottlieb. One defendant had outstanding warrants and was picked up by Fresno PD. She went through six months of rehabilitation for a domestic violence case. On September 29, she was charged for a drug and alcohol-related case. However, she requested to get out because she wanted to help her son, who was put into a mental health facility.

In another case, a defendant, Veronica Bautista, acted up in court and began yelling at the judge for keeping her in jail while she was concerned about catching COVID-19. The judge told the defendant that she would be a good candidate for probation, but the DA was concerned about the safety of her victim, who also appeared in court. The victim admitted that he was worried about his family and that he and the defendant might get caught in a crossfire.

Reporter Anais Cortes: In Judge Allen’s Fresno courtroom, a defendant tried to evade his sentencing hearing by claiming he had symptoms of COVID-19.

In another case, a defendant requested his batterer intervention program requirement to be cancelled as it interferes with his school and work schedule. However, Judge Allen denied his request due to the nature of his charges—hurting an individual with caustic chemicals.

Reporter Ruby Chavez: On October 1, Judge Monica Diaz, had cases involving violation of probation, DUI, and domestic violence. Defendant Carl Johnson was supposed to have a pretrial hearing, but since he had many other cases, PD Laura Davila needed more time to gather them all together in one courtroom. Defendant Cruz Vasquez was another defendant who had trouble getting into court and his program due to the complications of COVID-19. Judge Diaz granted him one more chance to get himself signed up for the program. If he fails to do so, he must turn himself in by December 4, 2020.

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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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