Judge Doesn’t Get ‘Off the Record’ Wish, and His Feared ‘Chaos’ Ensues

By Hongyi Wen

FRESNO, CA – A couple of things happened here in Dept. 20 last week—a judge said he wanted to go “off the record” and that he didn’t like “chaos.” The livestream kept running, and there was indeed chaos.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Adolpho Corona requested to go off livestream after the defendant and the defense attorney got into a back-and-forth conversation about a new document that was presented on the sentencing day.

“Let’s go off the record, it is off the record. I don’t like chaos,” said the judge. But it didn’t happen.

Defendant Val Jean Smith was asked by the court to provide medical records and documents to prove her medical issues prior to her sentencing hearing Friday.

Yet the court, district attorney, and Smith’s defense attorney were all unaware of the new document that Smith acquired until Smith came into the courtroom with the document.

Smith is currently on pre-trial release, and she appeared in Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 20 in front of Judge Corona. Both the DDA Douglas DiCiccoand and defense attorney Laura Boyd appeared remotely.

Judge Corona began the hearing by laying out the factual basis. Smith had previously pleaded no contest to two felony counts and a misdemeanor charge, and had been denied probation.

“The court indicated probation of a 180 day lid, probation notes, because Penal Code 1203.045(a), that you are not eligible for probation,” the judge explained.

Penal Code section 1203.045(a) states that probation shall not be granted to any person convicted of a crime of theft of an amount exceeding $100,000.

Defense counsel Boyd said, “Your Honor, this matter was set out for sentencing so my clients can make arrangements, this court did indicate 180 days in custody in the Fresno County Jail.

“I have not received any additional information from my client regarding any doctor notes or medical reasons why she should not serve the 180 days.

“As the court previously was made aware, my client does have numerous medical issues that require her to be on multiple medications. There is concern that she will not get appropriate medical treatment in jail. I would ask that if the court is intending to remand her today, [and] that the court make order that she be seen immediately by Joint Medical Staff,” Boyd added.

Right after Boyd finished, Smith was seen in court holding up a stack of papers and saying, “Excuse me, I have the medical documentation here. I did call you yesterday, I left a message. I have everything right here.”

Judge Corona calmly said, “Ms. Smith, as busy as the attorneys are, as busy as you are, the day before is a little tight for counsel Boyd.”

Judge Corona acknowledged that he is aware of the health issues of Smith as they were referenced in the report, but argued that these documents should be submitted in a timely fashion, noting “those health issues and the paperwork, that stuff you want to get early on. Now we are looking at the day of the sentencing, I would have prepared it long ahead of the time…”

Before Corona even finished, Smith added, “I understand that, but I was able to get the most important letter that was finally ready by the doctor yesterday. We went and picked it up at the office along with everything else.”

Judge Corona asked the DDA and defense attorney, “Ok, do you wanna put it on the second call, counsel board?”

Boyd drew attention to the fact that both DiCiccoand and herself are not present in the courtroom, so they would not be able to review the new documents provided by Smith.

“Neither Mr. DiCiccoand or I appear to be at the courthouse. I don’t know how Mr. DiCiccoand feels about Judge Corona being able to just take those documents back in chambers and look at them without either of us seeing them, so that he can determine for himself whether he thinks they are sufficient to change anything…”

Judge Corona revealed, “I feel a little uncomfortable with counsel not seeing the same documents that I am seeing.”

DiCiccoand pointed out that similar issues happened in the last hearing which led to the continuation (now), and claimed Smith was confused about when to submit these medical documents.

“…Especially since the last time, your Honor was very explicit with Ms. Smith about her need to prepare to go into custody today and her need to go forward with sentencing today. Providing new documents this morning, I don’t think it has been done in a timely manner. I think we should proceed with sentencing and I think your Honor should follow his indicated 180 days,” said the prosecutor.

Judge Corona said, “That is how I feel right now, but..”

Again, Smith defended herself: “I understand that your Honor, but at the last court hearing I did acknowledge that I had a doctor’s appointment on March 17, which I did have. This is what that letter reflects from, and it is signed yesterday’s date.”

She continued, “I picked it up just after 3 o’clock yesterday, which is when this was ready. I did call and leave a message for Laura Boyd, letting her know that I had it. And I did not receive a call back.”

While Boyd is seen shaking her head in disapproval on the Zoom screen, Judge Corona said: “Let me grab that, I am not going to continue sentencing. Maybe we can email it to counsel.”

Boyd said to Smith, “And Ms. Smith, I am not sure what time you called yesterday but I was in the office since almost four o’clock yesterday and I hadn’t received that.”

Smith tried to answer but Judge Corona seemed frustrated and said, “Let’s go off the record, it is off the record. I don’t like chaos.”

Despite the judge requesting the YouTube livestream to go off, the stream continued.

Corona said to Smith, “I don’t know why it has been years and you had the opportunity. I am going to handle sentencing today. I am gonna get that letter, and maybe we will do the extra work and put it on the second call.”

Smith replied, “Laura, it was at 4:01 p.m. yesterday I called and I was told that you are unavailable and it put me through to your voicemail.”

Judge Corona at the same time was seen handed a stack of extra documents that Smith provided and he said to Boyd, “Counsel, this is a mess. I have a like 20-something pages of medical information.”

Boyd explained, “I would just like the court to look at that one letter dated yesterday, everything else I have seen. And discuss with the court and Mr. DiCiccoand.”

Judge Corona picked up that particular letter and started looking through the documents.

Boyd continued, “The only reason I am even asking the court to do this is because this is a medical issue. If it says…something horrible would happen, I think the court needs to have that information. I am not asking for continuance, I am asking to go forward.”

DiCicco added that if Judge Corona wants to make changes, he should be able to review the document, too. The judge agreed and said both counsel should be able to review the letter, and the document was emailed to both parties.

Judge Corona said he had reviewed the letter that is from a neurologist and an attached SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, and plan) note from Stanford Hospital Nutrition Service. In addition, there is also a FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet that was provided.

Corona said that his position on the custody status remains unchanged. He clarifies that this decision is made after careful consideration of both Smith’s health condition and the safety of the community.

Judge Corona ruled Smith will be placed on formal probation for three years, and she will serve 180 days in custody. Corona said he acknowledged Smith’s health issues, and the jail medical will assist Smith with her health condition.

Hongyi Wen is a junior at UC Santa Cruz majoring in Sociology. He is from Guangzhou, China.



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