Assembled by Alana Bleimann
The Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, The Vanguard was known as the Davis Vanguard and began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. In the past few years, the online news source has been able to expand to Sacramento and the surrounding regions.
Today, the team has grown to 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 of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.
This last week of 2020, Dec. 28 through Dec. 31, The Vanguard interns covered stories from Sacramento, Yolo and Fresno courthouses.
SACRAMENTO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Nickolas Kwok – In Sacramento County Superior Court, one case that was particularly interesting was the hearing for Harold Jordan, who had 14 cases against him from 1996 to 2016. Judge Patrick Marlette had however given Jordan leniency and allowed the motions that were filed because of all the work that Jordan had done. Jordan had completed his degree and also received a BA with the plan to become a social worker and help others. Judge Marlette noted that Jordan was a shining example of someone who could turn their life around.
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Another hearing dealt with Joseph Nasca, who had four cases against him that included attempted murder. He was able to avoid prison as he opted for a program called The Jericho Project which would last 12 months and help him rehabilitate and learn vocational skills.
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On Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court, the defendant Daquan Rogers was charged with assault to his former girlfriend. Rogers had gotten into an altercation with his girlfriend which prompted the victim to break off the relationship. That same night Rogers came to the victim’s residence and attacked her. He had allegedly kicked her in the stomach, while she was five weeks pregnant with his child, and also left her with many scars and bruises. This may have also led to pregnancy complications later on.
However, Public Defender Sameera Ali argued that Rogers should be released from custody as he has no history of criminal activity and can make it to his next court date. Judge Scott Tedmon disagreed and decided to keep Rogers in custody citing that somebody who would kick a pregnant woman in the stomach is a danger to everyone.
Reporter Sally Kim – The vast majority of Dept. 62 of Sacramento Superior Court was resetting TRC and trial dates for defendants due to the court not allowing any jury trials at the moment. One notable case was defendant Perris Lee, who acted as his own attorney in court. He was in court for a plea hearing where DA A.J Pongratz offered him four years in prison. The focus shifted as Lee filed a motion for dismissal under the Brady (prosecutorial misconduct) violation. He alleged that the sheriffs were depriving him of his legal rights to phone calls and visits and as a result, wasn’t able to communicate with his investigator and garner enough information to prepare for court. He had all his paperwork ready for the motion and Judge Brody set the date for the motion to two weeks from now, Jan. 12, 2021.
Reporter Tanya Decendario – In Sacramento Dept. 60, defendant Kamonie Barner failed to complete his 12 anger management classes but claims it was a clerical error because the paperwork advised him to be put in an ankle monitor rather than an anger management program. The Deputy District Attorney Jenna Saavedra argued that these are verbally stated. However, the Public Defender Alicia Hartley explained that the court verbally told him to sign up in 12 anger management classes but the paperwork said otherwise. For this reason, he was unsure and clarified with the court. Then, the court advised him to follow with what is written on the paper.
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In another case, the bail for defendant Ivell Cash was set to $100,000 due to a domestic violence case. Public Defender Dave Grow asked the court if possible, to lower the bail amount because the victim will most likely drop the charge. However, Deputy District Attorney Jenna Saavedra objected to this request because Cash has a history of resisting arrest and continues to violate the law. Despite this, Judge Scott L. Tedmon agreed to lower his bail to $50,000.
Reporter Roxanna Jarvis – On Dec. 29 in Sacramento Dept. 37, one preliminary hearing was conducted in the morning by Judge Kristina B. Lindquist regarding the case of Charles Harper. Harper’s attorney was PD Jennifer Cerri and the prosecution was DDA Nick Karp. Harper was charged with robbery following an incident at his local Smart and Final grocery store. According to the statement by witness Officer Maryna Stanionis, Harper had entered the store wearing “dress up clothing” while carrying a large black handbag. He then grabbed a large kitchen knife and placed it in his bag. When an employee approached him to give him a greeting, Harper brandished the still-packaged-in-plastic knife at time and said, “What are you gonna do?” Harper proceeded to then grab three cartons of Minute-Maid orange juice and leave the store.
Upon finding Harper, Stanionis and her colleague conducted a search on his body and in his bag, finding the knife, now out of its package, and three cartons of orange juice. Stanionis mentioned how she was very familiar with Harper due to previous interactions, but was unable to get a statement from him that day due to him being unintelligible.
Judge Lindquist used the witness testimony and a recommendation from a report by mental health specialists at Harper Medical Group to make the decision to place Harper with the Dept. of State Hospitals, with his stay possibly being a maximum of two and a half years (his time currently served included).
Reporter Koda Slingluff – In the afternoon in Sacramento Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette presided over a brief afternoon shift, mentioning happily that this is his last day before a long vacation with his wife. Of the cases reviewed was an application to withdraw a not-guilty plea due to mental incompetence, a second strike felony charge for soliciting oral sex from a minor, and a motion to change a felony charge to a misdemeanor so that the defendant could pursue a career as a CHP officer (a job that is not available to felons). Judge Marlette seemed excited about his vacation. He said goodbye and happy new year to everyone in court, including the attorneys, the court transcriber, the bailiff, and the defendants. The transcriber laughed as he said “Well, it should be a week of me feeling like what it’s gonna be like to be retired” wished everyone well, and ended the stream.
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On Thursday, in Dept. 60, Judge Bernard Shepard presided on the last day of the year, seeing only a handful of cases before concluding the day. Interestingly, half of the cases heard had to do with child custody of parents with domestic violence charges. Of these, two involved threats with a deadly weapon in front of their own children. There was also an unusually large amount of out-of-custody defendants, possibly because of the time of year.
DDA Anissa Galata pushed for high bail for the two cases with deadly weapon threats, citing concern for public safety. Galata read a statement from a victim who had since decided not to press charges, using the information from the statement while making it clear that the victim did not wish to be involved.
Reporter Macy Lu – On Tuesday, Dec. 29 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 15, defendant Jaime Torres appeared before Judge McCormick under a petition for resentencing to a 2008 homicide case, in which he had played an active role. On Memorial Day of that year, he and several members of his gang the Nortenos, approached the victim at his home on the conspiratorial basis that he was a rival gang member living in their territory. After the victim tried calling the police, he was forced into a physical struggle with the defendant. At one point, he knocked the gun out of the defendant’s hands in the direction of the other gang members standing by. One member picked it up and shot the victim in the head, killing him. The matter disputed on Tuesday revolved around whether there was evidence that Torres harbored implied malice while aiding with the murder. It proved to be a controversial topic between PD John Stoller and DDA Greg Porter. Given the fact that Torres started the fight but was not the perpetrator of the homicide, the evidence thus presented suggested that Torres did intend to endanger another person and that, if not for his bringing the gun, the homicide might never have occurred. It did not, as Stoller highlighted, prove that the murder was premeditated. Porter reminded the court that an aider who does not expressly intend to kill can still be convicted of second degree murder if he knew his conduct can endanger others and if he disregards the value of life. Therefore, Torres was liable for implied malice murder. Stoller disagreed, claiming that the intervening act–the other gang member shooting the victim–was not a premeditated product of the confrontation between the defendant and the victim. As a result, it cannot indicate this was an implied malice murder as to Torres’ role. Judge McCormick will issue a written ruling on the petition.
Reporter Evie Sun – In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 25, Judge Donald J. Currier, with Defense Attorney Ryan Jay and Prosecutor Anthony Pongratz held a preliminary hearing for defendant Richard Collins. During the hearing, the first witness, a psychiatric technician, indicated that he came into contact with the defendant when he was struck in the face with liquid after providing the defendant with his medication through his Folsom Prison cell food port. The second witness, Michael Pusole, stated that he was conducting a Guard 1 check when he heard a popping noise and came into contact with an unknown liquid, which he claimed had come from the defendant’s prison cell. They also set a trial readiness conference in Feb. of next year in Dept. 4 and the jury trial date is set for March of next year in Dept. 9.
Reporter Mia Machado – On Dec. 30 in Sacramento County Dept 60, Judge Scott L. Tedmon warned a defendant in his domestic violence case of the looming consequences if he doesn’t correct his behavior going forward. Represented by Public Defender Joseph Cress, defendant Steven Sanchez appeared in court for the judgement and sentencing of his violation of a restraining order previously issued by the victim. After listening to the victim’s impact statement, Judge Tedmon decided to use his sentencing as an opportunity for Sanchez to correct his behavior.
Issuing a word of caution, Judge Tedmon ensured the defendant that any future violation or offense would result in “significant time” and much more serious charges. If the defendant does not “respect other people, their circumstances and their well-being,” he’s going to be “back in court and in and out of jail for years, if not decades.” He warned the defendant that although he is only currently facing misdemeanor charges, he assures “these will not be misdemeanors later.” In addition to a stern warning, the defendant was sentenced to 120 days on the Sheriff’s Work Project, three years of informal probation, and a written no-contact order.
Reporter Linhchi Nguyen – Dept. 61 in Sacramento was met with many trial dates being postponed and vacated last Wednesday. Judge Renard Shepard ordered for these trials to be rescheduled in the new year – including those for defendants Zachariah Spence, Lorin Robinson, Dajon Keola, Emily Torres, Sean Huang, and more. Judge Shepard warned that the court will be packed on Jan. 13 and 19, so there’s a small chance that future cases will be able to squeeze into that date. While some of the cases had to be pushed due to attorneys needing more time for discovery or because they were simply unavailable, there was one case where the witness was being uncooperative. The defense attorney that is leading the case, Olaf Hedberg, requested the court to put in a new trial date as a “placeholder” until he can talk to the witness.
YOLO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Sally Kim – On Dec. 20th, 2020 in Dept. 11 of Yolo County Superior Court, Victoria Roemhild’s case was supposed to take place but had to be moved to Wednesday due to witness scheduling conflicts. The rest of the court day focused on the case of Chris Schlinder, who was charged with four felony accounts of domestic violence. The defense wanted to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanors but it was denied by Judge Fall. The ex-girlfriend came to drop off their three-month old child and she saw there was another woman at Schindler’s residence and got upset. The argument escalated and when she tried to leave Schindler choked and punched her from behind. There were three witnesses called upon, all officers of the West Sacramento Police Dept.. The victim and the aggressor were not called upon and thus Judge Fall found it difficult to assess the credibility of both stories. In the end, he denied the motion because of evidence in the record of EMT urging the victim to go to the hospital as choking can be life-threatening.
Reporter Tanya Decendario – On Wednesday Dec. 30, 2020, in Yolo Dept. 1, defendant Efrain Mendoza was denied release with OR supervision due to his repeated charges of driving under the influence. The probation officer, Stan Tupou found Mendoza to be a risk in public safety. DDA Carolyn Palumbo suggested to set his bail to $150,000. However, PD Allison Zuvela argued that the amount is too high. Judge David Rosenberg finally set it to $75,000.
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Another defendant, Fermin Perez, was represented by PD Marcia Randle, who argued Perez’ life was in “limbo” due to $150,000 bail and his inability to find a job. In addition, two potential witnesses in his case passed away due to Covid-19.
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Finally, defendant Vincent Perez faces charges for burglary, shoplifting, disorderly conduct, and possession of controlled substances. Judge is inclined to release Perez with supervised OR and GPS.
Reporter Kianna Anvari – Judge Stephen L. Mock called Victoria Roemhild’s case on Dec. 30 in Yolo Dept. 11. Roemhild, represented by PD James Bradford, appeared in court for her pre-conference hearing, while DDA Caryn Warren appeared via Zoom. Roemhild allegedly drove her vehicle into her boyfriend’s vehicle in her driveway during the early hours of Sept. 17. Roemhild is facing two felony counts, assault likely to produce great bodily injury and vandalism, along with one misdemeanor count for driving under the influence. According to the alleged victim, Roemhild got into her vehicle and struck his truck three times. Deputy Robert Middleman said that he smelled the odor of alcohol on Roemhild and that her eyes were bloodshot red. Judge Mock reduced the felony counts to misdemeanors because no one was seriously hurt, but did believe there was sufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer at trial. He added that he believes she was under the influence of alcohol. Roemhild’s trial setting conference date is set for later in January.
FRESNO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Hannah Skepner – On Tuesday Dec. 29, in Fresno County Dept. 1, the most noteworthy case was that of defendant Richard Coronado. DPD Brianna Hussey requested that the defendant be released on OR for a multitude of reasons pointing to him turning his life around. However, in response to this, DDA BreAnne Ruelas objected to the release due to the number of open cases regarding this defendant. She noted that there were three cases on the calendar, and two that were set for both February and March of next year. She stated that all of these involved acts of violence against another person and for this reason, the people objected based on both public safety, and victim safety.
Following this, the defendant, who was present in custody, entered pleas of not guilty on all three matters. Judge William Terrence proceeded to set bail in cases 1, 2, and 3, for $500, $15,000, and $5,000 respectively. The DPD requested to set these matters for jury trial on Jan. 21, with a pretrial hearing on Jan. 12. The court then requested that the parties obtain the information regarding the other two matters that were set for February and March so that everything could be heard on the trial date. Other than this matter, most cases heard in Dept. 1 were failures to appear followed by setting arrest warrants. Judge Terrence finished out Dept. 1’s calendar, and proceeded to Dept. 12’s calendar in which all cases that were called also involved failures to appear and arrest warrants.
Reporter Evie Sun – On Tuesday, Dec. 29 in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 20, Deputy Public Defender Jason Westerfield requested that the court consider the release of defendant Gaylord Brent Ransom on his previously posted bond or to change his custody status to pretrial release so that Ransom can have supervision. Ransom was charged with a robbery felony and failed to appear in court on Dec. 16. A no-bail warrant was issued and a bond forfeiture is pending. Westerfield stated that the defendant represented to him that he has been homeless for some time and did not have a phone to contact the court. However, Judge Adolfo Corona and Deputy District Attorney Alison Wilson objected to the defendant’s release due to prior failures to appear in court and the nature of the felony charges and public safety. Westerfield also asked the court for a re-assessment letter for the defendant but the request was denied. The judge instead set bail at $25,000 and it was exonerated. The defendant will return to Dept. 20 for his pre-preliminary hearing on Jan. 26 at 8:30 am and on Feb. 9 at 8:30 am for his preliminary hearing.
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Additionally, on Dec. 31, in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 1, Judge William Terrence released Defendant Eugene Hand on his own recognizance due to no prior criminal history. The defendant was arrested in violation of an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) a few days prior. The defendant faced some confusion regarding the terms of the release because, while a previous judge had ordered that he not have any contact with the victim for 30 days beginning in early Dec., Judge Terrence issued a peaceful contact order that would begin in early Jan., which caused an overlap between the two orders. The judge reiterated that the defendant must comply with the other judge’s orders and must stay away from the victim on the evening of his release.
Reporter Alana Bleimann – On Thursday Dec. 31, 2020, in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 20, defendant Jaime Rodriguez received a prison sentence of 32 months for attempted robbery and criminal threat. Rodriguez’s victim was a young pregnant woman who was shopping outdoors in later June of this year. She was approached by the defendant who asked for money, and when he was declined, he proceeded to make harmful threats. The woman became anxious and fearful, and later was sent to the hospital. Public defender Wade Freitas requested that the sentence be lowered to the minimum term for his client. When Judge Adolfo Corona denied this request, the defendant spoke out claiming that he made a terrible mistake and is not a bad person. He asked the judge to “have a heart” and not to be “so mean.” Additionally, Rodriguez called out Freitas for “not answering any calls” and “not looking out for [my] best interest.”
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