Compiled by Stacie Guevara
The Vanguard is an online news group that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the country. In 2006, what was then the Davis Vanguard began covering the local Davis and Yolo County areas, revealing groundbreaking news concerning government and policy issues affecting the surrounding cities, schools and counties. The Vanguard team has grown to dozens of interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings throughout California, including the State Capitol of Sacramento, the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California. Here is a review of what happened this week:
Sacramento County Superior Court
Reporter Ganga Nair: On Tuesday, Ganga heard a number of continuances from Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 84 and Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 13. Among the continuances heard was defendant Phong Van Nguy, who was assisted by an interpreter. Despite the internet connection issues, the defendant was able to accept a plea deal for his pending charges of driving with a suspended license, along with other charges. The offer was to plead guilty or no contest to the misdemeanor charge of driving without a license, upon which the other charges would be dropped and the defendant would be subjected to one year formal probation paired with 12 days in county jail.
Reporter Natalia Claburn: On the morning of July 6, Natalia Claburn attended the Superior County Courts in Sacramento and Fresno. In Sacramento Court Dept. 61, there were a large number of continuances that Judge Fiorini went through. There was one interesting continuance where the defendant, whose charges were not specified, was quite stroppy with the judge. The defendant is currently in custody and has been for a number of weeks, resulting in his daughter hiring a private attorney. However, when asked about where and who his attorney was (as they were not present in court), the defendant said “What? I’m supposed to remember all these things while I’m in jail?” The defendant continued to frustratedly complain about serving time until the judge finally decided that since the defendant’s alleged private counsel was not present, a public defender should be assigned to him. Natalia was only in Fresno 10 for a short amount of time in which she solely witnessed quick and not very detailed continuances.
Reporters Michelle Luu and Evelyn Peralta: On Tuesday, Michelle and Evelyn observed multiple continuances and some sentences in Sacramento Court Dept. 61 and Yolo Court Dept. 1. In Sac 61, a man with the last name Alexander was about to have his trial date waved by his public defender, but as the man was speaking, Alexander interrupted and said that he didn’t understand what the defender was doing. Judge Goodman explained that he had a right to a speedy trial within 30 court days and 60 overall days, but he was turning in that right by the suggestion of his defender. This showed a miscommunication between him and the attorney, and since Alexander appeared to be out of the loop, it is possible that the choice to do so was not fully agreed to or accepted by Alexander. In Yolo 1, there were several sentencings due to DUIs.
Reporter Natasha Pawar: On Wednesday, Natasha Pawar heard two preliminary hearings as well as a probation hearing. The probation hearing marked the end of a five-year probation period for a defendant who had completed and complied with all the terms stated previously by the Judge and the People and had paid the entirety of the required restitution. Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan granted her best wishes to the defendant. The first preliminary hearing the court saw called two witnesses to the stand to provide evidence for an alleged assault on a 67-year-old woman in her home, by her roommate. The defendant pleaded not guilty and trial dates are to be set next week. The third and last hearing presented worked through a felony case wherein the defendant was being accused of stabbing his neighbors – a father and son – and verbally and physically abusing them, continuing to remain aggressive towards the family. The hearing continued into the next day and was decided then.
Reporters Maia Surendra and Zoey Hou: Maia and Zoey were assigned to cover Yolo Dept. 1; however, it was not in session. Maia and Zoey then moved to Sacramento Dept. 38. Sac 38 seemed to have a hearing going on regarding a DUI, however, they joined too late to get the full story. Since Sac 38 ended relatively quickly, Zoey and Maia moved to Sac 16. Sac 16 had a case where a man, Nehemiah Watson, was charged with 12 criminal counts. There were multiple victims, and the preliminary trial was related to child sexual abuse. Sac 16 also ended somewhat quickly, and the reporters were also informed that someone else was already writing an article about that case, so they ultimately moved to Sac 33. In Sac 33, there was the preliminary trial of David Gallegos, who was accused of sexually assaulting multiple minors. Both the DDA and the defense examined a witness, who was a detective who interviewed some of the victims and investigated Gallegos. The hearing ended in the arraignment being set for July 20.
Reporter Fiona Davis: On Wednesday, Fiona observed hearings in Sacramento County Superior Court, in Dept. 62 and 63. In Dept. 62, Commissioner Ken Brody insisted that defendants wore masks throughout their hearing. In Dept. 63, a bail hearing was held for Gary Allen, who had been charged with murder. Judge Patrick Marlette denied bail after the prosecution read a statement written by the victim’s family. In another bail hearing, Judge Marlette granted the release of Timothy Roberts, who was charged with sexually offending a minor.
Reporter Genesis Guzman: On Wednesday, Genesis started off at Yolo Superior Court Dept. 9, where she watched a short Ex parte order hearing regarding a Decedent’s Estate. The trial was moved over to a different date, so Genesis moved to Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 16 where a preliminary hearing for a child molestation case was just starting. The defendant was being accused of 12 counts of child molestation and a detective was being called as a witness to be questioned. The detective had taken in all the reports for the three victims who gave in great detail their experiences with the defendant. Two of the victims were cousins and the third victim was a family friend, and the defendant was a boyfriend to one of the victim’s mothers. The defendant had been close to the family for years – enough that he would pick the children up from school. The defendant pleaded not guilty and denied all the allegations, but that was interesting considering that before the detective said she had talked to the defendant, he had admitted to touching one the victims inappropriately and said he felt sorry for doing so. The judge did see that with the witness’ testimony, the defendant would go to trial in September.
Reporter Natalia Claburn: On Thursday, Natalia Claburn saw hearings in the Sacramento Superior County Court Dept. 26 and 63. Dept. 63 had very few detailed cases, with most of the hearings being continuances and short preliminary hearings. Dept. 26, however, spent the entire time discussing a case in which two minors were molested by the then-boyfriend of their mother. This molestation began for the younger victim at age 7 or 8 and continued up until she was 13. The second victim was the older sister of the first victim, who was molested during her time in high school by the same perpetrator. The younger child bravely came forward with these allegations at the age of 13 to her mother. After contacting the authorities, it became apparent through the “safe interviews” that police officers conducted with the younger victim’s siblings, that one of the older sisters had also been molested. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges and will go to jury trial in October.
Reporter Stacie Guevara: On Thursday, July 1st, Stacie Guevara saw several court cases including one criminal court case in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 14 and two domestic violence hearings in Merced Superior Court Dept. 4. In Sacramento, after serving juvenile detention, the defendant was originally supposed to be sentenced to two years in state prison for allegedly inflicting great bodily injury, but the trial was rescheduled to later that day after the defendant continually interrupted the judge and had a poor internet/Zoom connection.
In Merced, a woman was accused of beating up her husband in one case, while in another, an older man was given a restraining order against his daughter-in-law and her children, who all live in the same house. The older man had struck his grandchildren, but said the case wasn’t about child abuse, but about possession of a house that his son has no name on. His daughter-in-law wanted the court to order him to move out, but the commissioner was unable to do that as the older man was listed as the sole owner of the house. Because of this, his daughter-in-law agreed to a no-contact restraining order outside of the house, but since they all chose to live in the house together, there was no violation of the older man being in the house.
Reporter Ganga Nair: On July 8, Ganga heard motions to continue in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 9, Dept. 41 and Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 10. In Sacramento Dept. 9, defendant Christopher McGowan’s newly appointed defense attorney David Garland urged to continue the matter as he was unable to keep in contact with the defendant. Deputy District Attorney Rainey Jacobson and Garland agreed on a date when McGowan refused to push the matter again, saying he just “wants it dropped.” Despite the defendant’s request, Judge Helena R. Gweon decided to push the matter to July 29.
Reporter Stacie Guevara: On Thursday morning, Stacie Guevara sat in on multiple arraignments in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61, most of which were requests for continuances and short case dismissals.
In one of the cases, a defendant accused on five counts was found competent after a doctor’s evaluation, and Judge Geoffrey Goodman said criminal proceedings would be reinstated. The defendant’s defense attorney was hoping that the defendant could be released early on his own recognizance, as there was an offer extended and the defendant’s time served was included in that offer. Prosecutor Kitty Tetrault, representing the people, said, “He is well over time served.” The defendant was released on his own recognizance, and will be returning for a resolution on Sept. 9.
In another case, the defendant’s defense attorney requested that he come back for a plea or set. Judge Goodman replied, “This was for plea or set.” The defense attorney explained that he has been unable to meet with his client to move it forward, so Judge Goodman allowed it, saying “All right. Last time.” Prosecutor Tetrault said this was the third time, to which the defense attorney responded that he would be there and he would be ready. Judge Goodman found his exact statement funny, saying, “Let’s note that in the books. ‘I’ll be back and I’ll be ready.’”
Reporter Anna Zheng: This Thursday afternoon, Judge Ken Brody handled several arraignments as well as a case that involved a defendant accused of child abuse. The defendant, Adam Martinez, was alleged to have endangered the life and health of a child and caused corporal punishment or injury to a child between March 1 and March 5. Martinez’s attorney made a special appearance to request for a pretrial release for the defendant. This case stems around an eight-month-old girl, where her mother woke up in the middle of the night to find the child’s body covered in sufficient bruising. Opposing counsel stated that officers described the injuries as “major bruising to the neck, arms and legs.” The child was then taken to the hospital, where the doctors informed the mother that “there was no way these bruises could have come from another child or from a fall.”
The doctors had found five oblong bite marks and bruises on the child’s back. They observed numerous bruises of different sizes and ages, which indicated that this violence to the 8-month-old had been occurring over a long period of time. On a phone call, the defendant admitted that he pinched the child and tried to dissuade the mother from seeking treatment for the child. The defendant further asked her to not cooperate with Child Protective Services, or at least try to minimize his involvement.
Based upon the seriousness of the offense and potential danger to this or any child and the defendant’s alleged conduct, the pretrial release request was denied by Judge Brody. Although the request was denied, Judge Brody explained another request may be made at a later date if necessary. “There also needs to be a further exploration of the facts, probably from the defense side as well, to see if any additional release motion should be heard. But at this time, I am going to deny it,” explained Judge Brody. The defendant’s next trial date is set for July 13 at 8:30 a.m. for bail motion and idea of counsel.
Reporters Annette Wong-Toi and Natasha Pawar: On Thursday, Annette Wong-Toi and Natasha Pawar watched two preliminary hearings in Dept. 11 of the Sacramento Superior Court. The first hearing Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan heard was a case of alleged rape, wherein the defendant non-consensually assaulted the victim and threatened her with a handgun. The court saw a lot of back and forth between the council and the witnesses who were called. The defendant was found guilty by the court and the arraignment hearing is set for July 22. The second case presented pertained to an issue of a vehicle collision wherein a victim was injured and the defendant, who was the driver, was allegedly under the influence. The case is to be continued on July 29. Dept. 11 also saw multiple Zoom glitches throughout the morning, which led to a slower than usual pace of proceedings.
Reporter Natalia Claburn: On July 9, Natalia Claburn attended Sacramento Superior County Court Depts. 28, 61, and 63. In Dept.s 61 and 63, most of the court proceedings were continuances or short preliminary hearings. However, Dept. 28 had an interesting attempted assault case. In April, defendant Guillermo Orozco was in his house where his parents lived when his brother Ernesto entered the gates of the residence. The brothers got into a fight about their parents in their front yard and Guillermo then threatened to harm Ernesto in a number of ways, including fighting him with a knife and a firearm (both of which he was in possession of at the time, the firearms being inside the house and the knife being in his pants pocket). When Guillermo ran towards the house to allegedly grab a firearm, Ernesto tackled him on the porch where Guillermo pulled out his pocket knife. Their mother came outside and stopped Guillermo with Ernesto’s help. Ernesto proceeded to leave the residence with their mother and they called the police who came and arrested Guillermo.
Reporter Maia Surendra: On Friday, Maia Surendra went to a few different courtrooms before finding Sacramento Superior County Court Dept. 62, which was in session. The first hearing that she witnessed was about a defendant named Jeremy Young. Young had approached police officers investigating another scene, speaking incoherently. He gave them his name and when they ran it, they found he had an outstanding warrant, so they decided to arrest him. When they went to arrest him and grab his arm, he pulled back and reached for his waistband. While they were getting other officers to assist with the arrest, they fell to the ground and one of the officers suffered a few abrasions. The defense asked that he be released pre-trial because he has been trying to get treatment for his drug addiction. Additionally, he has a support system of his girlfriend and another person. The judge, however, denied this due to Young’s resisting arrest in the past. Young has been charged with resisting arrest before, as well as being convicted of it.
Yolo County Superior Court
Reporter Annette Wong-Toi: On July 6, Annette watched Yolo Superior Court Dept.s 11 and 8. Dept. 11 started promptly at 8:30 a.m., but what was scheduled as a trial hearing was unable to go forward and was rescheduled for next week. In Yolo 8, she heard multiple continuances. The public defender for Thomas Jones, a defendant in custody, immediately clarified that her pronouns are she/her/hers. These pronouns were respected by the court and all parties that referenced her for the rest of her hearing.
Reporters Casey Rawlings and Anna Zheng: On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Peter M. Williams handled a case that involved a defendant who had been on parole after serving time for second degree robbery, elder abuse, and unlawfully using teargas. While on parole, the defendant, Thomas Jones, was accused of accessing pornographic content off of a borrowed cell phone, violating a condition of her parole. This included sexually explicit pictures of herself as well as children, however the latter was up to debate as to whether they were pre-existing on the phone.
Jones’ defense argued that the pornographic content she was being prosecuted for was not related to the nature of her crime, and that this possession does not facilitate future crimes. As the defense explained, “the reality is that in our digital age, having and sending sexually oriented material of oneself is part of normal healthy relationships.” Additionally, her defense stated that porn of oneself is a form of self-expression, and thus prosecuting it is a violation of one’s first amendment right.
Jones’ attorney asked whether Jones is being discriminated against for her “particular sexuality.” It is unclear whether this was in referral to Jones’ sexual preferences, or her identity as trans, as throughout the trial she was persistently misgendered which could suggest transphobic interference with her hearing. Ultimately, Judge Williams found that there was sufficient cause and evidence to find the defendant guilty for violating parole per paragraph 31, which specifies not to view sexual objects such as pornography while on parole. Judge Williams then added an additional 20 days to the defendant’s initial 84-day jail time as sentencing.
Reporter Alexander Ramirez: In Yolo Dept. 1, he mainly saw arraignments and the rescheduling of cases, but there were still some interesting cases. One case involved a defendant who was in court for counts of trespassing after returning to the same establishment over and over again and brandishing a knife. The court didn’t go into details as to why the defendant was doing this, but bail was set for them not too long after the details of the case. There was also a case where another defendant was brandishing an ax in public and swinging it at passing cars, as well as a case involving someone brandishing nunchakus in public. Neither of these cases lasted long and bail was set not too long after the cases were brought to the court’s attention. The livestream was taken down from YouTube before Alex was able to catch up entirely, and the same thing happened to Yolo Dept. 7.
Reporter Anika Khubchandani: On July 6 in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 14, defendant James Patrick Vorhees was finally released on supervised OR after 20 months in custody in jail and state hospital facilities. The matter of release had been postponed for a couple of weeks because the probation office failed to confirm information regarding Vorhees’ residence and medications despite the immense efforts undertaken by Public Defender Joseph Gocke. A lot of effort and consideration were “put into this residence by his family and by our office, and for nobody from probation to follow-up is unacceptable,” expressed Gocke.
Reporter Anika Khubchandani: On July 8 in Yolo County’s Superior Court in Dept. 14, Judge David Rosenburg oversaw many attorneys asking for continuances. There were a couple of matters involving the discussion of settlements and Judge Rosenberg heard these matters in chambers. Most interestingly, Deputy District Attorney Preston Schaub strongly opposed Deputy Public Defender Teal Dixon’s motion to release defendant Derick Jenkins on supervised OR. Schaub argued that the defendant’s prior record of failing to show up to hearings shows that he should not be released. Ultimately, Judge Rosenberg granted the motion to release, but warned Jenkins that if he fails to show up to court or meet with his probation officer in the future, that the defendant will be sent to prison.
Fresno County Superior Court
Reporter Zoey Hou: In a sentencing hearing for defendant Lue Yang, the court found his remorseful and apologetic behavior for battery helpful in considering his sentencing outcome.
On June 29, Yang put himself on the court calendar for a future date of July 19 in hopes of getting his matters settled. Cooperation and initiative from the defendant and victim allowed for quick decision-making for Judge Glenda Allen-Hill.
A letter presented by the victim asked for a reconsideration of the modifications of the protective order in place for a peaceful contact order. Prosecution and the Judge discussed the defendant’s potential denial of battery, to which the judge disagreed with. Based on these two letters and cooperation from the agreeable parties, the judge affirmed that the court will follow the prior agreement to this matter, placing Yang on a three-year formal felony probation. Additionally, the judge ordered that the defendant will enroll in a 52-week batterer intervention program as directed by probation.
Reporters Peter Eibert and Marcia Barajas: On Tuesday, Marcia and Peter observed multiple arraignment hearings in Fresno County Superior Court. In Fresno Dept. 12, Judge Monica Diaz took mercy on Jesus Vasquez despite two outstanding DUI charges – both of which involved car crashes – one of which was a hit and run property damage. Judge Diaz said, “I will give you a chance to prove to me that you are not consuming alcohol and driving.” She subsequently released Vasquez on his own recognizance under the conditions that he enroll in the SCRAM program, attend four Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week, and abstain from consuming alcohol.
Reporter Carson Eschen: On Wednesday, Carson Eschen attended Fresno Superior Court Depts. 1 and 10. In Dept. 10, Judge Cabrera heard a number of standard probation hearings in which each probationer was found to be in compliance. He also heard a number of no-contest pleas. Afterwards, in Dept. 1, Judge Terrence was hearing a case involving police officers who forced entry into a woman’s apartment following a domestic disturbance call, reporting thrown objects. One police officer, Corporal Finley, was offering testimony for the duration of court, describing how he found a two-year child outside at 11 p.m. in 40-degree weather. The officers then questioned the neighbors and asked the defendant to open the door, or at least open the blinds on the windows so that they could look in and confirm she was not in danger.
Finley stated that although the defendant verbally agreed to open the door, she seemed to be stalling or was prevented from opening the door. The officers then attempted to kick it down, eventually gaining entry with the help of tools. Finley cited both the call and the child as their justification for believing that someone in the apartment might be in immediate danger. He also stated that their preliminary information indicated that there was another child who might be inside, and that the officers were concerned for them as well. After forcing entry, Corporal Finley recounted how they put the defendant in handcuffs because she was “upset,” so that they could conduct their search for a suspect and the younger child. The details were sparse due to Carson only witnessing a portion of the case and testimony.
San Francisco County Superior Court
Reporter Elena Rawlinson: On Tuesday, Judge Linda Colfax was called out of Dept. 20 to serve on a jury. An alternate judge took her place to rule on several scheduling matters and a pretrial hearing. A defendant by the name William Kwon was supposed to appear for a pretrial hearing that day. However, his attorney explained Kwon was undergoing some type of treatment and asked to move the date of the pretrial hearing back. Defendant Maxwell was unable to appear for his pretrial hearing because he is a long-distance trucker currently in Texas. His matter was also rescheduled. Around 10:30 a.m., the judge presided over the pretrial hearing for Jorge Espinal Casares and Ernie Figueroa. The people called their first witness, SFPD officer Rick Omran. Omran responded to a call about a robbery on June 19 and was dispatched to 1099 Dolores Street.
Upon arriving at the scene of a robbery, Omran took statements from two men. The two victims – Mr. V and Mr. A – explained to Omran that they were in their work truck parked on the street when a Toyota pulled up behind them. There were three people in the Toyota – one man came out and began stealing a toolbox filled with $1,000 from the back of Mr. V and Mr. A’s car. When Mr. V and Mr. A exited their car, they were held at gunpoint and the man wielding the gun stole Mr. V’s cell phone. After discussing the incidents that took place on June 19, Omran began explaining the cold show – the means by which the two defendants were identified as the perpetrators.
Reporter Ella Wade: On Tuesday, Ella visited Dept. 21 and saw a rape trial. The Dept. is considered one of the high security rooms; everything was separated from the viewing chairs by plexiglass and metal fencing along the top. The defense attorney got in a long argument with the judge about whether or not she had to wear a mask. She made the case that since masks made her uncomfortable, it was hindering her ability to represent her client, and therefore infringing on her client’s constitutional right to representation. The first witness was seated close by and discussed his time as a police officer and his thoughts on how he had personally seen the high recidivism rate. He was there testifying on a prior conviction that occurred 20 years ago and seemed slightly annoyed that he had to leave his retirement to testify. There was a second witness who testified in the afternoon.
Reporters Ned Meiners & Esme Lipton: On Wednesday, Esme and Ned witnessed multiple court proceedings throughout the day. They started in San Francisco Dept. 25, where a jury selection was being held for a murder trial. The case heavily and repeatedly addressed topics related to mental health. The defense was interested in the jury’s stance on whether it’s right to charge a person for crimes they committed while unconscious. She asked, “Can unconscious people make rational decisions?” It seemed as though the defense planned on making the argument that the perpetrator was sleepwalking when they murdered their mother. The prosecution informed the jury that they’re tasked with “getting in the head of another person” because they must determine whether the perpetrator’s mental health disorder played a role in the crime. After leaving Dept. 25, Ned and Esme moved on to Dept. 9, where they watched a public defender argue with a judge over his no-bail policy; she accused his procedure of being outdated.
Reporter Esme Lipton: On Thursday, Esme Lipton started her day in San Francisco Superior Court Dept. 16, where she sat in on a jury selection hearing. Afterwards, she went to Dept. 11 where she watched a few preliminary hearings. During the proceeding in Dept. 11, a man was being charged for striking an 18-year-old with a heavy flashlight, causing the victim head injuries. The public defender and judge got into a heated debate over the validity of the charges. Before it was resolved, another case was brought into the courtroom. The attorney representing the defendant argued that there isn’t enough evidence for his client to be charged. The judge informed the public defender that he also doesn’t have any evidence to argue for the defendant’s innocence. “It’s all hearsay,” the judge proclaimed. The judge ultimately set a motion to detain for Wednesday, July 14 with no bail.
Reporter Alex Tuchman: On July 8, Alex T. attended multiple criminal Depts. at the San Francisco Superior Court. Following sentencing, defense counsel for Christian Miller argued that the fines and fees applied to his sentence were like adding “salt to a wound.” Ultimately, presiding Judge Dorfman did not drop the fees because they did not “sound onerous.” Alex T. caught the tail end of a preliminary hearing where defense counsel argued that all charges against defendant Abraham Gonzalez should be dismissed due to insufficient evidence and lack of probable cause. While Judge Ferrall did find sufficient probable cause to hold the defendant to some of the charges, he dropped two of the charges, stating that the evidence was “extremely thin.” Finally, Alex T. saw several arraignments with Judge Ferrall. Defendant Beth Marie Ingram was released because of minimal violent criminal history and lack of injury to the victim. Ingram’s words of apology echoed through the courtroom: “I’m not lying. I’m sorry to the court. I’m doing my best.”
Reporter Elena Rawlinson: Friday was a slow day in Dept. 21 of the San Francisco Superior Court. Judge Harry Dorfman stood in for Judge Christopher Hite, who usually presides over Dept. 21. Several cases were called before Judge Dorfman. The first of these was that of Antonino Hubbes. Defense attorney George Lazarus, probation officer Stephanie Speech, DA Michal Heartman and Judge Dorfman had an extensive talk off the record with respect to Hubbes’s case. Speech reported she had instructed Hubbes to check into HealthRight 360 rehabilitation on Tuesday and as of Friday, he had yet to check in. She further explained he had left several other programs and didn’t seem to take the opportunity presented by probation seriously. She concluded by suggesting that Hobbes be sentenced. After Judge Dorfman consulted with both lawyers, he went on record to issue a bench warrant.
The second case was that of Don Rose. Again, Judge Dorfman initiated an off-the-record conversation with Public Defender Nikita Saini and DA Michael Heartman. Saini explained Rose needed some type of programming and Rose was supposed to go to Jericho Rehabilitation, but didn’t because of a transportation issue, but Saini argued that he genuinely wanted to make rehabilitation work. After a little more back and forth, Judge Dorfman went on record and ruled that there would be an ACMICK evaluation so that the next judge can use that information to determine whether or not Rose should be released from custody.
Alameda County Superior Court
Reporters Paulina Buelna, Ascari Bryant, and Sophia Barberini: In Dept. 712, Judge Stuart Hing presided over multiple arraignments and continuances. Most notably, Judge Hing granted defendant Christopher Reilly a 1 cent bail after he missed 16 court dates due to extraneous circumstances. The defendant missed his initial court date as a result of a COVID-19 diagnosis and continued to miss court dates after he got into a car accident that left him with serious injuries and his fiancé in a coma. Deputy Public Defender Michael Wasserman attempted to prove the defendant’s claims by providing medical records that verified his issues. PD Wasserman also claimed that if the defendant were to remain in custody, he would not receive adequate medical care. DDA Brooke Perkins was unsympathetic to the defendant’s recent troubles, arguing that he was a flight risk and that he should remain in custody. Despite Perkins’ argument, Judge Hing showed the defendant compassion, granting him a 1 cent bail. The defendant, however, remains in custody due to a $5,000 out-of-county hold. Reilly’s next court date is July 29.
Reporter Tatiana Gasca: On Tuesday, Tatiana Gasca appeared at the Alameda County Superior Court. In Dept. 110, Judge Djemal set multiple DUI cases for future hearing dates. The majority of the defendants pleaded no contest and were ordered to attend DUI rehabilitation classes. In addition, each defendant had to pay a fine between $330-$430.
Reporters Alexander Pleitez and Esme Lipton: This Thursday afternoon, Alexander Pleitez and Esme Lipton witnessed a load of arraignments in many different courtrooms. Throughout the day, they shifted around various courtrooms since many ended after only a few minutes, or never began. To start off, Dept. 704, which they were assigned to, did not open to 2 p.m., leading them to Dept. 516, where they both witnessed the tail end of a case with a single witness testimony. On December 2, John Beaulieu used an alternate account alias to message Sarah, a minor, on Instagram and ask for her OnlyFans account information. Sarah used the website to charge users in exchange for obscene photos and videos of herself performing sexual acts. Beaulieu has a personal relationship with Sarah’s family and was called to the stand as a witness.
According to his testimony, he has known Sarah since she was a “little girl,” and speaks on the phone with her mother, Susan, on a daily basis. Although Sarah was unaware that she was providing a family friend with access to her OnlyFans account, Beaulieu proceeded to purchase sexual content from her. However, Beaulieu claimed that he did so with the sole intent of alerting Susan of Sarah’s presence on the site. Beaulieu stated that on Dec. 8, he shared Sarah’s content with Susan because she “needed proof with the ‘explicit explicit’ stuff.” Although no detailed conversation or exchange was described, the witness briefly noted that a confrontation between Susan and Sarah had occurred after learning about the account. The court was set to meet again later in the week and reach a final decision.
Reporter Lois Yoo: On July 6, Lois Yoo observed Alameda Dept. 12. The judge was Allan Hymer, who heard David G. Arias’ felony jury trial case. Arias had been charged with sexual assault on a minor. The audio was quite difficult to hear, but the majority of the case consisted of testimonies from people who have known Arias for a long time and how they believe him to be around children. Arias is a stepfather to Jocelyn and Carlos, who were also interviewed during school hours by a social worker. The social worker was also questioned during the hearing. Jocelyn and Carlos’ mother apparently was very difficult to reach due to her work schedule.
Reporter Dario McCarty: On July 7, Dario McCarty observed Courtroom 12 in Alameda’s Superior Court. In this courtroom, there was the continuation of a jury trial for defendant David G. Arias who stood accused of minor molestation. At this point of the trial, Arias was on the stand and was asked multiple questions by the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge about the nature of these alleged lewd acts. Arias denied that any of the alleged acts had occurred, save for one incident in the shower when he had “cleaned” her private areas.
Reporter Sydney Kaplan: Sydney Kaplan went to Alameda Dept. 114 on Tuesday. It was the retrial of a murder case that took place in 2018. The livestreamed portions featured a conversation between the defense led by Defense Attorney Tammy Yuen and the judge. Yuen was worried that some of the jurors found out that the defendant, Anthony Paige, was having a retrial. She wanted the judge to make an announcement to the jurors informing them of this and telling them to avoid making any speculations based on that matter. The judge declined to inform the jury but did add a clause telling the jury not to speculate about why certain witnesses refrained from testifying. The jury went into deliberation shortly after this conversation occurred. The jury deadlocked and a mistrial was called.
Reporter Ankita Joshi: On Wednesday, Ankita heard a motion hearing for Defendant Kevian Byrd who was presented on multiple charges for an attempted murder. Judge Thomas Reardon went through many different motions that covered evidentiary issues, conduct with witnesses and the jury and the mental state of the defendant during the time of the alleged crime. Defense Attorney Alexia Mayorga and DDA Matthew Gaidos spent some time deliberating over whether the fact that Byrd was on felony probation would be appropriate to include during the trial. Mayorga contended that the inclusion of this information would actively work against Byrd. On the other hand, DDA Gaidos contended that if the mental state evaluated by a medical professional would be included to determine the mindset of Byrd, then the fact that he was on felony probation would also be an appropriate inclusion. Judge Reardon moved to side with the prosecution on that motion, and agreed that the fact Byrd was on felony probation would have contributed to his mindset in the aftermath of the alleged crime.
Reporter Tatiana Gasca: Tatiana Gasca appeared at the Alameda County Superior Court, Dept. 704. She witnessed two disposition hearings where both defendants were charged for DUI misdemeanors and found guilty. Defendant Valencia was required to serve 18 months of drunk driver’s program. In addition, she was charged a $530 fine and put on court probation. Defendant Manning must also complete nine months of DUI classes and pay a $130 fine. He is set to three years of court probation.
Reporter Eric Grammatico: On Thursday, Eric Grammatico heard a single preliminary hearing in the Alameda County Superior Court. The defendant, Desean Henry, broke into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment and shot her partner in the head. The victim survived the attack and Henry is charged with attempted murder.
Reporter Lois Yoo: On Thursday, Lois Yoo observed a further jury trial in Alameda Superior Court Dept. 109 heard by Judge Jennifer Madden. The defendant, named David Whitney Afufinau, was accused of physically abusing his wife. Afufinau’s wife was questioned by both the DA and Defense Attorney about her testimony. Afufinau and his wife had been drinking at a Christmas party and got into an argument on the drive home. Afufinau had hit her in the face two times on the drive on the freeway. The altercation continued at their home in Hayward. The police were called and showed up at their home. An earthquake actually interrupted the middle of the hearing and the hearing had a second 15-minute recess. The hearing continued later in the week.
Reporters Raïssa Ngoma and Eric Grammatico: On Friday, Raïssa Ngoma and Eric Grammatico heard a further jury trial for a domestic violence case involving defendant David W. Afufinau. Judge Sharon L. Djemal conducted the criminal jury instructions with District Attorney James Logan and Defense Attorney Erin Ryan. Evidence presented to Judge Djemal that could potentially be used in the future trials were a 911 call by the victim and a change in behavior by the perpetrator because of alcohol intoxication.
Reporter Alexander Jimenez: On July 9, Alexander Jimenez heard many hearings throughout the day in Alameda Superior Court Dept. 2 and 712. Most notably in Dept. 2, the attorney for Joseph Torres had praised him in his progress of going through sex offender treatment, even calling him an “an inspiring guy,” highlighting some of the mentorship that Torres has provided.
In Dept. 712, judge Stuart Hing was visibly upset regarding the timing of filing charges out of Santa Rita County Jail. Hing had acknowledged that this issue has persisted over some time now, where the county jail had failed to officially file charges within the 48-hour time frame, and the defendant must be released after that time. Several members of the court, including the judge, pondered on whether or not the courts have jurisdiction over an uncharged matter. “If it were up to me, he would be released,” said the judge regarding the 48-hour deadline to officially file charges, in which both the DA and defense agreed to this sentiment.
Ventura County Superior Court
Reporter Angie Madrid: On Tuesday, Angie heard various continuances, motions, and arraignments throughout Riverside and Ventura Counties. In Ventura Superior Court Dept. 14, Judge Gilbert A. Romero denied defendant Jose Manuel Abarca judicial diversion. The defendant claimed self-defense in an altercation over a parking spot. Defense Attorney Damon Jenkins explained, “He works for his family, including his disabled mother. He cannot afford to do jail time.” Unconvinced, Judge Romero went further to ask for clarification on the case, where Abarca pulled out a firearm and racked it during the altercation. Judge Romero immediately believed this case revolved around anger issues and denied the request for judicial diversion.
Reporter Aakanksha Patel: On July 6, Aakanksha Patel observed the afternoon session of Ventura Superior Court’s Dept. 10 where she heard a series of hearings. All of them were regarding traffic violation laws – texting while driving, driving without a license, driving with expired vehicle registration or driving with a high blood alcohol content level. All of the defendants pleaded guilty, agreed to pay charges and agreed to go to driving classes in necessary cases. None of the cases went into trial.
Reporter Angie Madrid: On Thursday, Angie heard a couple of arraignments throughout Ventura County. In Ventura Superior Court Dept. 37, defendant Matthew Wohlfahrt requested a modification to his probation, which was to allow medical marijuana use. Wohlfahrt was charged for domestic violence against his child, but Wohlfahrt asserted he stopped using methamphetamine seven years ago. Judge Rocky J. Baio reviewed the facts of the case and requested a report on Wohlfahrt’s drug testing, continuing the case next week. In addition, in Ventura Dept. 37, Defense Attorney Sandra Bisignani requested judicial diversion for her client, defendant Brian Macias De Luna after domestic violence allegations. Judge Baio believed the crime was too severe for this decision, rejecting the proposal.
Reporter Angela Patel: On Thursday, in Ventura County Dept. 10, Angela witnessed numerous continuances, arraignments, and hearings. Judge Julia M. Snyder presided over the court that afternoon. Judge Snyder told four people who were scheduled for a trial de novo that she would automatically lower their fines and allow the individuals to attend traffic school if they pleaded guilty rather than going to trial. All four defendants ended up pleading guilty. Judge Snyder also clashed with several defendants and defense attorneys over the impacted nature of the work release program. Many defendants wanted work release, but Snyder emphasized that work release requirements currently tend to lead to probation violations because the program is so impacted in Ventura County. She preferred to recommend electronic monitoring of defendants in certain situations.
Reporter Alex Klimenko: On Friday, Alex K. heard arguments from DDA Theresa Pollara and DDP Russell Baker during a sentencing hearing. The defendant was sentenced for attempted robbery. One notable aspect of the hearing was the location of the attempted robbery. The attempted robbery took place in the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant. Based on this, the DDA argued, “Because what really happened was when he came up, there was a teenager working a window which exposes her to the public without being inside the restaurant, where she is more protected by the people she works with. And the other patrons come up to the weakest point at that restaurant.”
On the contrary, the DDP argued “I would also tell the court that I believe that’s the appropriate sentence because what occurred in this case is that (the defendant) walked up to a drive-thru window and I think that’s important because that is a location which is relatively safer for an employee than the counter inside.” The role of the defendant’s criminal history also played a role in the hearing. The DDA argued that because the defendant had a criminal history, he should serve the midterm sentence. Judge Bruce Young commented on this, saying, “I recognize, Ms. Pollara, this is a long and lengthy record for (the defendant) in his early 40s and many of them are misdemeanors, and he does not seem to be learning as fast as we would like.”
Riverside County Superior Court
Reporter Sam Zou: Sam Zou attended court hearings in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 3N on July 7. Defendant James Oran Fratus was set for a bail review that day. He faced a $1 million bail.
Fratus is receiving approximately $1,500-$1,700 per month for the government assistance program over his disability. He was charged with possession of firearms when he was not allowed to possess them due to his previous criminal records. This was his first strike. However, the public defender explained that Fratus’ meager income does not allow him to pay the said bail and instead asked the judge for home detention rather than the exorbitant bail due to Fratus’ impaired physical capabilities. The judge agreed that the bail was unreasonably high and decided to release Fratus on the condition that he does not leave the house. The case is up for another review hearing on Aug. 9.
Reporter Alex Klimenko: On Tuesday, Alex K. heard the results from forms that potential jurors filled out in Riverside County Superior Court. Throughout the morning Judge Dale Wells, DDA Christopher Paynter, and DPD Daniel Yu considered the results of the information and advanced potential jurors for Voir Dire, which would excuse them.
He then wrote on the status of Senate Bill 57. This bill would “legalize overdose prevention programs, also known as safe consumption sites or safe injection sites, as a pilot program in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles Counties. Each of the pilot areas will decide locally whether to participate, and SB 57 simply removes the state prohibition that currently makes such programs illegal.” However, this bill is postponed until the January session.
Reporter Sam Zou: Sam Zou attended court hearings in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 3T and 2G on July 8. Defendant Chance William Morris was on trial over his five concurrent charges filed on two separate occasions. In Dec. 2020, Morris was charged with issuing felony criminal threat, resisting a police officer, and violation of criminal court order. In March this year, the defendant was charged with making threats to executive officers who were performing their duties at the time. The March violation occurred while the defendant was released from custody. Thursday was the very beginning of the trial. The court spent half of the time training the newly-selected jury on how to behave and listen to a case.
Reporter Alexa Kendell: Alexa Kendell visited multiple courtrooms today including Riverside County Superior Court Dept.s 12, 14 and 37. She found an interesting case about a man who allegedly committed a domestic violence violation. He had four other offenses in 2020 and one recently in 2021. The prosecution argued for the family, stating there have been incidents in which he involved his family, dating all the way back to 2008. Alexa Kendell additionally witnessed another case between a mother and a daughter in which the daughter physically assaulted the mother. The judge removed the no-contact order for six months.
Reporters Neha Malhi and Alexander Ramirez: On Friday, Neha Mahi and Alexander Ramirez heard a Probation hearing and Jury Trial of Chance William Morris, who was alleged of violating the Probation terms and restraining order. He was arrested prior to 2018 regarding domestic abuse of his wife. On-call police Officer McQueeney at that time saw Morris reaching out for a gun which was still outstanding even after his arrest. McQueeney got another 911 call in 2020 from Morris’ wife when he wanted to violate the restraining order and go inside his wife’s house. Deputy Ferris said that Morris told him, “I went to your academy and I have learned all your tactics, which I can use against you.” After that, he threatened to take the deputy’s gun and shoot him.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court
Reporter Elizabeth Garabedian: On Thursday, Elizabeth saw many hearings involving scheduling and continuances in Santa Barbara’s Superior Court Dept. 6. In one case, a defendant missed mandatory classes for a DUI; the defendant described the program as “triggering,” mentioning religious jargon used during sessions. He said it was hard to get to classes, claiming to be “system-impacted.” While the defendant stated he only had one year left on his probation and wanted to explore other options, Judge Maxwell denied his request and re-referred him so that he could finish the program.
Reporter Ascari Bryant: Judge Von Deroian presided over many cases in Dept. 11 of Santa Barbara Superior Court on Thursday. Judge Deroian’s most interesting case of the day was a bail hearing where she only granted access for release of the defendant due to SSI appointment because of a health condition. Defendant Elena Figueroa was seeking release because of changes involved in her case, as well as seeking treatment for a health condition she is unable to receive while in custody. PD Rebecca Seldin argued on the defendant’s behalf, stating she has a job and is no longer on probation due to an appeal while in custody and should be granted release. DDA Elizabeth Banks counterargued that she should remain in custody due to a lengthy criminal history, including possession of drugs and stolen property. Judge Deroian decided not to grant release that day but closer to the defendant’s appointment date due to criminal history.