Vanguard Week in Review: Courtwatch – Feb. 1-5, 2021

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Compiled by Avalon Amaral 

The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation.

In 2006, the Davis Vanguard 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 week, Feb. 1 to 5, Vanguard interns and news reporters covered stories from Sacramento, Yolo, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced and Alameda courthouses. These are just some of the stories produced.

Monday Feb. 1, 2021

UCAFT Rally

Lisbeth Martinez: On Feb. 1, I attended a UCAFT rally via Zoom and Facebook live with many CFT, UCAFT, and AFT members from across the state and country demanding hiring rights, job stability, and a

living wage from the University of California. Many faculty members shared the insecurities and anxiety they have had to endure due to the fear of losing their jobs. They feel like they step up for the UC every day, and they demand that the UC steps up for them. UCAFT says multi-year contracts are needed for faculty. They believe the work exists, so there is no need to cut back on teaching in the UC. UCAFT believes multi-year contracts are needed for faculty. They believe the work exists, so there is no need to cut back on teaching in the UC.

Yolo County Superior Court

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 1:  I started my afternoon shift by checking into Yolo 1 under Judge Dyer. This consisted of rescheduling, the scheduling of preliminaries and pre hearings, and the scheduling of arraignments. Only notable cases were involving three different defendants. The first being Rebecca Griffith, where things got pretty heated between her and her public attorney. This was over the second rescheduling of bail, I believe. The others involved James Hughes and another defendant last name Thomas. Both had a fairly large amount of counts against them.

After about an hour, this Department closed and I moved onto Sac 60 under Judge Tedmon. Again, preliminaries, arraignments, and rescheduling. The only real notable case was involving a woman named Elizabeth Washington where a similar situation as the article that gained traction last week occurred. Washington started crying and was silenced while the next court date was decided. When she finally managed to say something, it was, “The victim is still emailing me while in custody.” I don’t know what she is referring to and after Feb. 9 at 8:30 a.m. was decided she was quickly escorted out of the room, so there wasn’t a lot of info to write about. May want to check in on this case. No articles for either Dept..

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 9, 15, 62:  Dorrin observed various preliminary hearings and arraignments across three Sacramento Superior Court Depts.. In Sacramento Dept. 9, Judge Helena Gweon oversaw various witness recognitions and requests for continuances. Judge Kevin J. McCormick ruled on several misdemeanor charges in Sacramento Dept. 15, including a negotiated no contest plea by defendant Joseph Fostenson for resisting arrest and a no contest plea by defendant Isiah Schmit to one count of vandalism and one count of trespassing. McCormick stayed his order for Schmit to serve 175 days in county jail pending his completion of probation, citing that this was Schmit’s first offense and noting that he’s giving Schmit the opportunity to decide if he is going to learn from his mistakes or “go down this path [of violating the law].” In Sacramento Dept. 62, Judge Michael Savage gave two years of probation to defendant Frank Taylor after he was found to be carrying an eight-inch knife with a fixed blade concealed upon his person at a Home Depot.

Will McCurry –  Dept. 3: In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 3 I was able to see a probable cause hearing and a couple of preliminary hearings. During the probable cause hearing defendant, Tina Jenkins was found guilty of assaulting her husband and is eligible for a preliminary hearing. In one of the preliminary hearings I saw, the defendant Natasha Ogle was involved in a high-speed chase through Howe Avenue and collided with another vehicle at 80 miles per hour. Judge Michael Sweet found her guilty for preliminary purposes but her counsel is going to file a motion to drop the charges.

Tuesday Feb. 2, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Aishwarya Rajan – Dept. 3: On April 26, 2020 at approximately 3:30 a.m., a woman was raped by her client during their contractual interaction for the night. As agreed upon, both parties agreed to terms of an overnight stay for $400, as they had done on previous occasions. The aggressor, Bemil Tangonan, had slowly become obsessive and controlling with the victim. All of these signs led to an assault leaving the victim naked, in a bed with sheets containing a single bullet casing, having had unprotected, non-consensual intercourse with the Defendant. Tangonan was represented by attorney JoAnn Virata, and was brought to court under three charges plus an enhancement as outlined by opposing counsel TeriAnn Grimes. A jury trial date was set for March, after Judge Stephen Acquisto declared there was sufficient cause for the Defendant’s guilt.

Lizet Palma – Dept. 4:  Lizet heard two court preliminary hearings in Sacramento Dept. 4. The first hearing ended as quickly as it started. It was conducted by Hon. Steve White, the defendant was accused of threatening “doe” — the name given by the DA for privacy purposes. The defendant was the ex-boyfriend of Doe. According to the officer’s conversation with Doe, she told the officer that she received a phone call from the defendant on April 3rd while she was at work. The defendant was asking her whereabouts, and she believed that he had gone to her house when he called. She also believed he had gone near her house in different instances. Her belief was based on seeing a vehicle passing by the front security gates of her house when she was showering. Officer only spoke to Doe on the phone. According to the officer she mentioned that the defendant sent her threatening texts messages and phone calls, and the Officer didn’t see the text messages or listen to those phone calls. Officer didn’t do a record check on the defendant’s phone number. Officer states that she never alleged that the defendant has ever been violent with her. Outside the incidents, the officer testified for her, and she has not mentioned that he has had prior violence or threats against her.

Judge Steve White held that “based on controverted; it would be hearsay via 115 testimony by the alleged victim that these threats were made to her and that she represents that she knows Mr. Cox was in a relationship with him. The court has satisfied that the identification is established and the fact that there were no prior threats goes to the weight of the evidence ultimately in trial; that goes to trial. It appears to me that the offense within complaint has been committed and that there is sufficient cause to believe that the defendant Cecil Cox is guilty thereof and I order him held to answer at trial.” The case goes forward to trial March 29.

Alameda County Superior Court

Max Kennedy – Dept. 702: Max heard multiple arraignments and preliminary hearings and arraignments in Alameda Superior Court, Dept. 702. Judge Barbara Dickinson denied several motions for release, and in all morning cases set bail at the amount recommended by the prosecution. In one case, Judge Dickinson denied lowering bail or releasing Emanuel Gonzalez, who has been in jail for 196 days facing two felony assault charges. The defense noted that Gonzalez only has one prior misdemeanor conviction and one failure to appear in arguing for release. The prosecution noted that Gonzalez has had several past incidents with police and called him “dangerous” and “unstable.” Dickinson denied the motion for release and set March 4 as the date for the preliminary hearing.

Wednesday Feb. 3, 2021

Contra Costa County Superior Court

Dalia Rodriguez – Dept. 6: This courtroom had setting dates for continuance, extension, or preliminary hearings. Most of the defendants were out of custody and were set to appear for the months of March or April. Defendants on continuance and extension matters were set to appear either by later this month or the beginning of March. The set dates are to take place during the morning session in Dept. 6 of Contra Costa.

Kathryn Wood: Defendant Juan Fajardo appeared in the Contra Costa Superior Court Wednesday morning to reach a guilty plea agreement for charges involving a violent felony conviction for residential burglary. Out of these charges, one included a strike, which can be used to increase the possible sentence that the defendant receives in an instance where there are future charges.

Among the other counts, the defendant committed a battery on an individual with whom he was cohabiting with, held a current of or previous dating relationship, or with whom he has a child with. Fajardo pleaded guilty on all accounts. Prosecutor David Bernard declared that “violation or not…he will go into custody and he will serve time in order to satisfy the probation requirement,” which will account for 179 days. Fajardo’s sentencing will continue in the Contra Costa Superior Court on May 6 at 8:30 a.m.

Alameda County Superior Court

Alexander Rameriez – Dept. 4:  During my afternoon shift. I immediately noticed that this was a continuation of a preliminary that first started Monday, so I took notes knowing I was missing some stuff. The case was about a drive-by shooting, but it mostly consisted of back-and-forth between different court cases and whether certain evidence should be considered. Also to note, this was completely audio so I was unable to add to the judge database other people are making. No counts were held by the end, and the arraignment was scheduled to be Feb 19.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Roxanna Jarvis – Dept. 3: Judge Geoffrey Goodman disagreed with the sentencing recommendation of DDA Nicholas Karp, who suggested giving Defendant Nicholas Strickland a 180 day sentence for possessing two firearms as a felon. Given that Strickland’s last felony was in 2005, Judge Goodman found the charge to be rather harsh. Ultimately, Strickland pleaded no contest to the three counts, two felonies for possession of a firearm and one misdemeanor for possession of ammunition. Strickland will be on probation for the following two years and, if violated, he can face up to four years and eight months in prison

Will McCurry – Dept 4: Lizet Gonzalez and I were able to watch a couple of preliminary hearings. One of the hearings involving the defendant William Stanley, Stanley stole documents from someone who was in custody at the time. After he stole the registration and vehicle card from the victim’s car he transferred the vehicle into his name and then reported it stolen. Judge Steve White found him guilty for preliminary purposes and held him for questioning.

 

Thursday Feb. 4, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Avalon Amaral – Dept 60: Defendant Younes Khan pleaded guilted. He accepted a felony conviction that will constrict him to probation for the next four years. This conviction resulted from a traumatic injury Khan inflicted on his former romantic partner resulting in bruising on her back and arms. The victim left an impact statement with the DDA stating that she feels as though Khan is a continued threat to public safety.

Kelly Moran and Derrick Pal – Dept. 36: Judge Steven Acquisto reviewed a Motion to Suppress Hearing for evidence obtained during a traffic stop. Defendant Benjamin McGlothin was charged with possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance while armed. McGlothin was riding in a car with codefendant Price, who is a known gang member to Sacramento PD. DDA Jacobson revealed that the officers approached Price’s vehicle when they saw it parked near a red curb. Upon speaking to the defendants, the police observed burning marijuana, and from there, removed both men from the vehicle to search it.

They found a gun under the driver’s seat which then led them to conduct a pat-down search of both men, leading to the discovery of a gun in McGlothin’s pocket. Jones urged the judge to consider that his client had been searched unlawfully, since he was simply a passenger in the car. Judge Acquisto plans to further review the related cases and briefs and will issue a ruling on the matter, although he did not specify when.

Yolo County Superior Court

Esha Kher-Yolo Dept 1: Koda and Esha heard multiple arraignments, bail reviews, and pre-preliminary hearings in Dept. 1 of the Yolo superior court. Judge Dyer saw a handful of arraignments, finishing the day at 2 p.m. There were several defendants calling in via zoom from Monroe prison. Several defendants were facing domestic abuse, theft, and public safety violations. A few defendants had a 1275 hold on bail that were subjected to an increase after the Judge decided that theft of catalytic converters posed a threat to public safety.

Friday Feb. 5 2021

Contra Costa County Superior Court

William McCurry – Dept. 40: In Contra Costa, all I was able to see was a few changes of pleas. Defendant Devin Blackmon was sentenced to 40 hours of community service while he is finishing his electronic monitoring and has a further status meeting scheduled for Apr. 23, 2021.

In Fresno, I saw a couple of failures to appear where Judge William Terrance issued bench warrants for their arrests. Defendant Jacob Hagans has a jury trial scheduled for Feb. 25, 2021.

Roxanna Jarvis and Hongyi Wen – Dept. 22: One preliminary hearing is about a case in which a defendant had allegedly stabbed the victim during a car ride after thanksgiving dinner, and attempted to drive off. The defendant claimed that during the car ride she was being laughed at by the victim and their mother, and the defendant felt misunderstood and angry which led to her stabbing the victim multiple times. While everyone got out of the car to check the victim’s wounds, the defendant got into the driver seat and tried to drive off. The defense attorney argued that the defendant should be released due to her mental health issues. The court had made the finding that the offenses of the defendant have been proven and committed, and the defendant will remain in custody. The upcoming hearing will be on Wednesday Feb. 10 in Contra Costa Dept. 31.

Yolo County Superior Court

Danae Snell & Sophia Barberini – Dept. 8: There were numerous cases involving continuances, change of pleas, and failure to appears; however, one case shed some light on an issue many individuals face when they encounter the legal system. Defendant Michael Glynn pleaded before Judge Peter M. Williams to release him on his own recognizance after being served a bench warrant for missing multiple court dates — citing lack of transportation and internet connection due to his current circumstances. Defendant Glynn — “chronically homeless” — appeared in court from inside jail via telephone begged Judge Williams for another chance after stating, “I am sorry. I mean I know I am not special.” Unlike many others, the defendant was met with sympathy and understanding.

Kathryn Wood: I witnessed a number of plea agreements and probation hearings. Among one of the notable hearings, Defense Attorney Allison Zuvela filed a request of compassionate release for her client who was on a ventilator for over a month due to COVID-19. Following this, he was moved to an assisted living facility and then was transferred back to the hospital. Zuvela stated that he was “severely ill” and was placed out of state in a hospital for months on end. For the prosecution, Garrett Hamilton argued that the motion did not apply to civil commitments because the individual had already recovered from COVID-19. Judge Dave Rosenburg sided with the prosecution, ruling that the claim for compassionate release was denied.

Fresno County Superior Court

Reporter Hongyi Wen – Dept. 10: Many arraignments here that involved the scheduling of the pre-preliminary and probation hearing. One of the probation hearings of Gustavo Eric Ledesma involves an allegation of failing to appear from Nov. 20, 2020 for his first review, the public defender is asking the court to dismiss the violation because Ledesma argues that he showed up to the court but the court was closed that day. The district attorney said that she would not withdraw the violation of probation because the court was in fact open on Nov. 20, 2020. Defendant Kyrah England’s pre-preliminary was moved to March 12. Defendant Chansanith Jimmy Dung is in quarantine and his next pre-preliminary is set on Feb. 26. Defendant Sergio Macias Sanchez is also in quarantine and his next arraignment would be on Feb. 19 for all three of his cases.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dorin Akbari and Sally Kim – Dept. 62 and 63: Dorrin viewed a number of arraignments, trial readiness conferences, and proceedings in Sacramento Superior Court Depts 62 and 63. In Sacramento Dept. 62, Commissioner Ken Brody presided over various arraignments. There was a notable outburst when pro per defendant Jesse Rayburn demanded his case be dismissed after Brody had already set his next trial date. Defendant declared the court was “committing a crime right now against [his] person.”

Meanwhile, in Sacramento Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette observed multiple trial readiness conferences in which the defendants were unable to appear because they were hospitalized. Judge Marlette found good cause for continuances in each instance “due to court congestion due to COVID-19.” There were many moments of confusion in Dept. 63, as the court dealt with technical issues, absent defendants, and surprise appearances.

 

Ramneet Singh – Dept. 4: Ramneet Singh attended court proceedings to Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 4, the presiding judge was Steven White. In the course of the proceedings, he witnessed a continuation of a preliminary hearing and another preliminary hearing. For the former, one of the defendants was present, but the other had to be quarantined concerning the current pandemic. Both defendants had different case numbers and different attorneys.

For the latter, the preliminary hearing was about a robbery. He did not observe other matters on the morning calendar. He also briefly attended Dept. 63, the presiding judge was Patrick Marlette. Of note was a case of a vehicular collision that resulted in a death.

Avalon Amaral originally from Livermore CA, is a junior at UC Davis. She is pursuing a degree in Sociology Emphisizing in Law and Society, and minoring in Psychology.


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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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