COVID-19 Quarantined Defendants Upset Balance of Cases in Fresno Court

By Emma Phillips

FRESNO – A shockingly large number of defendants failed to appear in court here on Election Day Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 10—apparently it was because of mandatory COVID-19 quarantines at the jail.

Dept. 10 was hectic and seemed slightly disorganized on the public defender’s side, with a sense of miscommunication in the court of Judge Francine Zepeda, who made it clear what would and would not be accepted in her court, ultimately straightening out her afternoon calendar.

Judge Zepeda started the afternoon calendar by claiming “we’ve got a lot of quarantines,” citing defendants currently quarantining while in custody in Fresno County.

She explained that in-custody defendants have had to quarantine for weeks after exposure or entering the jail to ensure the safety of court personnel and hinder a COVID-19 outbreak within the jail.

One defendant, John Tucker, who was not in custody, came to the courthouse and was turned away after he claimed he had COVID-19. Judge Zepeda hinted that she thought the court may have turned him away without enough evidence, and Tucker may have made this claim solely for the purpose of avoiding his appearance in court.

Judge Zepeda issued but held a warrant for $25,000 because she wants Tucker to be quarantined for the recommended amount of time, in the case that he truly has come in contact with the virus.

Another issue that arose on Tuesday was a failure by lawyers or probation to get in contact with the defendant at all. This occurred multiple times in the afternoon calendar, causing the judge to set increasingly high bench warrants.

In one case, both the probation officer and the defense attorney could not reach the defendant, and upon attempting to do so discovered the defendant’s phone number had been disconnected. The defendant’s doctor had the same issue when trying to reach the defendant, and Judge Zepeda said she knows the defendant has “a few mental health issues.”

Defendant Jose Calderon has failed to appear in court three times, and each time the bond has been renewed. Judge Zepeda expressed her exasperation with this situation and claimed that Calderon seems to be making a habit of [not appearing].

The judge said he has one week to figure it out and get to court, and she will set the date for a preliminary hearing next week whether he appears or not.

The last hurdle that appeared in Department 10 related to defendant Joe Lopez and his posting of bail, exoneration of bail, and then reposting the incorrect amount. Lopez initially posted $45,000 in bail, but after failing to appear in court his bail was exonerated.

The confusion occurred when no one in court could figure out how much bail Lopez had posted on Oct. 20, after his bail was reinstated following his failure to appear in court earlier in the month. Judge Zepeda said Lopez needs to figure out with his bondsman what has happened, and she will give him no more than a week to do so, even after the bail has been “bounced around a couple of times.”

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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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