Compiled by Benjamin Porter
The Vanguard is an online media group that began in the City of Davis in Yolo County, CA, covering local politics and government. With budget cuts harming the ability of other local news outlets to send reporters into court to cover what happens in the criminal justice system, The Vanguard’s Court Watch project began as a way to help the public continue learning about everyday injustice and to give interns the opportunity to experience it from a front row seat, either in person or virtually, due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program has expanded from the Yolo County Superior Court to courtrooms across the state, sending dozens of interns, many of whom are aspiring lawyers and reporters, into court to observe the legal system in action.
San Francisco County Superior Court
Reporter Karisa Cortez: Monday, July 12, Karisa was in San Francisco Dept. nine where there was a preliminary hearing for a drug case. The witness called was one of the arresting officers. There were multiple bags of meth, fentanyl, and cocaine found on the defendant. This made it clear to the officers that he had the intent of selling the drugs. The judge set a date for arraignment on July 26, with the pre-trial and trial date being set later.
Reporter Sophia Barberini: In Dept. 9, Judge Richard Darwin presided over multiple continuances and bail hearings. Most notably, Judge Darwin refused to grant defendant Jose Beltran-Gomez a non-monetary alternative to bail after he missed several court dates. Deputy Public Defender Nikita Saini explained that her client missed some of these court dates because he was kidnapped while visiting family in El Salvador, only freed when the US Embassy got involved. She advocated for the client to be released on his own recognizance or with a GPS monitoring device, explaining that he could not afford the $50,000 bail. She also highlighted his ties to the community. Despite this, Judge Darwin was unsympathetic, refusing to lower bail. In response, PD Saini requested a bail review hearing which is set for July 20.
Reporter Esme Lipton: On Tuesday, July 13, Esme Lipton attended the Superior County Courts in San Francisco. In Dept. 20, Esme sat-in on Judge Linda Colfax’s courtroom, where a man faced charges for second-degree burglary. Three police officers testified as witnesses against the defendant, who allegedly broke into a MetroPCS store and a Boost Mobile store in San Francisco. The judge moved the case to trial, and the defendant will appear for arraignment in two weeks. Afterwards, Esme attended more preliminary hearings in Dept. 12 where multiple inmates addressed the court. One defendant was being charged for attacking an elderly man, resulting in broken ribs and a collapsed lung. The defendant pleaded with the judge to release him, but she was unconvinced.
Reporter Ned Meiners: On July 14, Ned observed San Francisco County Superior Court, Dept. 17, a misdemeanor court. Any case that was set for trial had to be continued to a later date as there are no available courtrooms in San Francisco. Ned watched five different cases be continued over the objections of attorneys and wrote an article about the phenomena. There were other notable cases. Sean Cotter was able to alter his home detention to attend AA meetings in the evening and leave the house earlier for work. Billy Ennis had a negative report from Pre-trial Diversion, but had never heard from them regarding his classes. He was given time to sort out the issue. Tricia Rosa-Rivas had two misdemeanors for refusing to give a DNA sample. It was confirmed that she had subsequently given a sample and was “DNA compliant.” Both charges were dropped.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Reporter Fiona Davis: Monday, July 12, Fiona oversaw court proceedings in the Sacramento Superior Court, in Depts. 41 and 44. In Dept. 41, the preliminary trial proceedings began for defendant Armando Ybarra Jr., who’s been charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. In Dept. 44, technical difficulties with the court live-stream caused an officer to struggle in his identification of a defendant charged with speeding and evading an officer.
Reporter Stacie Guevara: On Monday morning, Stacie Guevara saw three heavily-detailed and long court cases, one in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 36 and the other two in Dept. 28. The case in Dept. 36 had to do with the defendant’s dog biting a police officer as the police were called to the scene. The defendant, angry, approached the police and seemed to threaten one of the officers, displaying a firearm and saying, “Come outside. I got something for you, white boy.”
In Dept. 28, Stacie Guevara jumped into the middle of a court case, where the defense attorney was showing footage of the incident at hand from police officer Anstess’ dashboard camera. The defendant had almost backed into Officer Owen Anstess’s car, but no one was hurt. A short car chase took place, for about 0.2 miles, before the defendant stopped driving. Officer Anstess asked the defendant to get out of his car, which he did, but Officer Anstess said the defendant “became uncooperative with me, not listening to police commands.” The video footage showed this to be true, as the defendant would not face away from Officer Anstess when he told him to.
The final case that took place was that of defendant Cordell Jones. He was charged with inflicting corporal injury to a spouse, resulting in traumatic condition. Jones requested he represent himself in his trial, so the hearing took several long recesses to work out the details and the trial was moved to later that day.
Reporter Annette Wong-Toi: On July 13, Annette Wong-Toi started in Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 28. There, she heard one continuance before the stream ended. She then moved to Sacramento Dept. 40, where a defendant pleaded no contest to a felony charge of setting his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire while she was asleep inside. His judgement sentencing will take place on September 3 at 9 a.m. in Dept. 40. Finally, she moved to Sacramento Dept. 61, where she heard multiple pleas and continuances. One man, present in custody to arrange a mental health examination, exclaimed that he was being locked up for reason. “They’re just trying to keep me longer so they can experiment on me!” Towards the end of her shift, she listened to a few bail reviews, one of which she will be writing an article on.
Reporter Benjamin Porter: On Tuesday, July 13, Benjamin Porter heard several short motions and continuances in Dept. 63 of the Sacramento County Superior Court before a lengthy proceeding in which a defendant facing three felony charges and three misdemeanors went through a Faretta advisement after deciding less than a week before his trial that he wanted to represent himself. Defendant Andrew Duenas claimed that he “no longer trusted” his attorney’s legal strategies and wanted to go pro per. Luckily for Duenas, delays in appointing a pro per coordinator motivated the DDA to reset the trial from July 19 to Sept. 13, which will give him more time to prepare his defense.
Reporter Zoey Hou: Intern Zoey began her Court Watch shift in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 40, where she heard a case about a 63 year-old victim who attempted to sell his tools over Craigslist but was wrongfully assaulted for unknown motives. On Oct. 23, 2020 a seller on Craigslist received a message from a man, later found out to be Taylor Montgomery Clift, contacting him regarding a tool he wanted to purchase. The buyer met the 63 year old seller at his residence in Citrus Heights to pick up said tool, then left. After an hour passed, he got a text message from buyer Clift expressing that the tool wasn’t working properly and wanted to return it. The two decide to meet the next day to make the exchange again. Very unexpectedly, defendant Clift is reported to have walked up to the victim, taken off his shirt, then proceeded to assault him. The victim was badly bruised on his forehead, sustained an injury to his right eye, and reportedly had swelling underneath his chin. Judge Richard Sueyoshi finds that there is sufficient evidence to bring the defendant to trial. Matters for defendant Clift will take place on Aug. 25.
Reporter Natasha Pawar: On Wednesday, July 14, Natasha Pawar heard multiple ongoing cases in Dept. 9 and Dept. 83 of the Sacramento County Superior Court. The majority of cases in both courts seemed to be short, relating to continuances, preliminary hearings, and some bail reviews. Most of these were granted and both courts went through a lengthy list of cases all morning. Some cases required language interpreters to make the hearings accessible. In Dept. 9, a fully virtual court, a defendant, when answering a question presented to him by Judge Helena R Gweon was asked by his attorney to stop talking and answer only what was being asked, rather than share information that wasn’t necessary. This presented an interesting perspective of the virtual court, as the attorney wasn’t able to privately speak with his client, and instead had to interject him in front of the whole courtroom. In Dept. 83, Judge Philip F. Stanger remained in high spirits all morning and kept the courtroom going with anecdotes throughout the morning.
Reporter Anna Zheng: This Wednesday afternoon in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 61, Judge Goodman handled several arraignments and rescheduled several trial dates. Once again, Judge Goodman faced a similar problem where attorneys were unable to show up on time. In one instance, Joseph Cruz’s case couldn’t be heard until after a 10 minute break. Cruz’s case was only heard today because an attorney was willing to sub in for public defender, Iyama. Throughout today, Judge Goodman also continuously called to hear the Morales case, however, he was unable to due to the defendant’s attorney, Hillary Davisson, not making an appearance. This case was continuously pushed back, which caused frustration given that it was the last case to be heard. Judge Goodman requested the deputies and Davisson’s colleagues to reach out to her. In the end, Davisson arrived and explained how she was not aware she had an appearance today stating, “I didn’t get any information… I actually talked to Ginichi this morning and we had no idea what we were supposed to do”. It turns out that both Goodman and Davisson had conflicting information, where Goodman expected the case to be heard today while Davisson did not. Ultimately, Judge Goodman decided to help them schedule a trial date set for this Friday at 8:30 a.m.
Reporter Allison Hodge: On Wednesday, July 14, Allison Hodge observed continuances and bail reviews in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 63. Judge Timothy Frawley presided over a majority of continuances, with several noteworthy cases in instances of bail negotiations and defendant interruption. In a co-defendant case, one defendant became highly disruptive and angry over the continuance of his case to next week. The defendant became so uncontrollable that Judge Frawley was forced to exclude him from further court proceedings for the day, despite efforts by his attorney to calm him. The case is scheduled to continue on July 19 at 1:30 p.m. to resolve plea differences.
Reporter Fiona Davis: Fiona observed several hearings in Dept. 63 of the Sacramento County Superior Court. Judge Timothy Frawley, along with other court officials, noted that their Calendar was greatly impacted, with 152 cases scheduled that day. Defendant David Guzman, charged on several counts relating to the possession and sale of controlled substances, requested that the judge read a summary of his charges to him, stating that they had not been fully read to him during his arrangement. Guzman’s request was granted. Judge Frawley issued a $1,000,500 bench warrant for Mike Nguyen, charged with arson resulting in great bodily harm, after he failed to attend court.
In several cases, non-English speaking defendants needed the assistance of a language interpreter, which led to delays in court proceedings. Santiago Rojas-Martinez, charged with burglary and grand theft, demonstrated a struggle to communicate fully with his attorney, who was unable to contact him and explain the terms of a potentially resolution deal. The sentencing of Yuri Sobaev, accused of possessing child pornography and “commit[ting] lewd or lascivious act[s]” with a minor, was delay and ultimately rescheduled when the court realize he would need a Russian interpreter to assist him.
Reporter Stacie Guevara: On Thursday morning, Stacie Guevara sat in on several preliminary hearings in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 63, most of which were quick continuances and trials being rescheduled. Many of the cases detailed defendants committing acts in violation of their probation. In one case, defendant Tylu Owens was put on probation for five years for a DUI, but she asked for that probation to be shortened to three years. Owens was required to attend six Alcoholics Anonymous meetings between June 25 and July 15, 2021, and she actually ended up attending seven. After finding this out, Judge Timothy Frawley granted her the request. In another case, Judge Frawley issued a 100-yard stay-away order to defendant Russell Shaw from his next-door neighbors. At the end of his case, Shaw told the judge, “Thank you for not revoking my bond; I appreciate that.” Near the end of that morning’s court proceedings, Judge Frawley got increasingly more agitated, eventually snapping at public defender Guy Danilowitz. He clearly wanted to get his morning over with, telling Danilowitz, “You talk too much.”
Reporter Anna Zheng: This Thursday morning in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 61, Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman oversaw a case that involved a defendant who was charged on three counts related to lewd and lascivious acts with a minor child. The defendant, Enrique Reyna-Cruz, allegedly annoyed or molested two children who were both under the ages of 15 for sexual purposes, which violated PC 288(A) twice, PC 288(C)(1), and PC 647.6(A). The victims were two girls, who were sisters. Although the two girls were not the defendant’s blood relatives, they were his nieces by marriage through his wife.
District attorney, Dinah Mielke, appeared in court today to request for a bail increase to $250,000. Throughout the court hearing, Mielke presented Judge Goodman with the facts of the case as well as statements taken from the two victims during an interview. The youngest sister, who was between the ages of 9 and 10, stated that on one occasion that defendant “put his arms around her and [pulled] himself towards her. Ultimately, Judge Goodman decided to set the bail as is, where instead he added additional conditions for the defendant. The defendant was not allowed to have contact with the two named victims, be it personal, direct, or indirect contact, through any electronic, third party, or social media.
Reporter Allison Hodge: On Thursday, July 15, Allison Hodge observed arraignments and several noteworthy cases that either disrupted court or delayed hearings. Judge Geoffrey Goodman presided over a rather eventful afternoon of cases in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 61. In a bail review, the defendant suddenly left the courtroom following Judge Goodman’s denial of release on bail. It was fairly evident that the defendant was agitated for the entirety of the session. The case is set to come back on Sept. 2 for further proceedings.
Reporter Annette Wong-Toi: On Thursday, July 15, Annette Wong-Toi started her shift in Dept. 9 of Sacramento County Superior Court. There, she heard multiple continuances. Most notable was an attorney who requested to continue the case because of a health concern that had apparently been discussed with the court previously. He mentioned that it was the same concern as the last time they had spoken and decided to continue it, and the court accepted this as reasonable cause to continue the case. After the stream ended, she moved to Dept. 11, where she heard a preliminary hearing about a man who ran over his girlfriend’s father after an argument, which she will be writing her article about.
Yolo County Superior Court
Reporter Michael Wheeler: Today in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7, Michael witnessed the second half of Robert Husted’s preliminary hearing. Charged with stalking and contempt of court, Husted was held to account for both charges. They stemmed from his frequent violations of a restraining order protecting his grandfather’s roommate, with whom he has a very tempestuous relationship. Public defender Richard Van Zandt argued that because Husted was illiterate and had “mild intellectual disability,” the stalking charge should be reduced to a misdemeanor and that he should not be held any longer in jail. Judge David Reed ruled that presently Husted proved a public threat, as well as a threat to himself and to the victim, and therefore would not be released or reduced, although should a plan be made and Husted stick to it, he would be open to reconsider.
Reporter Anika Khubchandani: On July 14 in Yolo County Superior Court in Dept. 8, a jury trial involving burglary and vandalism at a laundromat took place. The jury heard opening statements from Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman, representing the People, and Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez, representing the defendant Scott Ray Talley. Earlier this year, Talley kicked in the office door of a laundromat and took the keys used to open cash machines and the cash register. Although he is not being charged for theft, security camera footage shows that he also took a laundry basket filled with another customer’s clothes. DDA Vroman called upon the laundromat owner and a police officer dispatched to the commercial burglary incident to testify today.
Reporter Peter Eibert: On Wednesday, July 14, Peter observed multiple arraignment and review hearings in Yolo County Superior Court. In Yolo Dept. 1, Eric Loyden, in court for a felony stalking charge committed while he was released on bail or his own recognizance, verbally assaulted Judge Tom M. Dyer after Judge Dyer asked him to not interrupt the Deputy District Attorney, Carolyn Palumbo. In his tirade, Loyden shouted Judge Dyer subsequently had Loyden removed from the courtroom. The arraignment is set for July 28.
Reporter Alexander Ramirez: Alexander checked into Yolo 7 to start his afternoon shift. The Dept. started almost immediately as soon as the afternoon shift opened. Shortly after the Dept. opened however, the judge and court left the Zoom stream to conduct an in-camera review of records. This lasted for about 45 minutes, so Alex looked for another Dept. to attend, but Yolo came back before he found anything. As for the record review, the case ended shortly after the judge decided the records weren’t sufficient for the case. Yolo ended shortly after.
Sacramento County Superior Court 62 had numerous cases, but many were just continuations. The most notable case was a trespassing case in which the defendant broke into his ex-wife’s house after she killed him and he could hear her say, “That’s the second time you try to choke me,” to her new boyfriend. Fearing for his kids, he broke into her house and confronted the boyfriend, but had charges pressed against him. The defendant was able to face pre-trial release.
Reporter Genesis Guzman: Thursday, July 14 – Today I heard a multiple of Trial Readiness Conferences and Arraignments across Yolo County Superior Court. I started off in Dept. 1 where the usual Judge Fall wasn’t present but instead Judge Mock was substituting, and I watched multiple PreTrial Conferences. There were many unusual long periods of silence where Judge Mock was waiting for certain counselors to get to court because they were in different Depts.. Then court ended and I moved onto Dept. 7 where oddly enough two separate non related cases involving unlawful fish removal were heard. It was very odd to hear two very uncommon violations be heard in the same court at the same time. One man was accused of unlawfully removing salmon and the second defendant was accused of removing sturgeon. Court ended and I moved onto Dept. 11 where there were a series of cases being given dates for their Arraignments.
Reporter Peter Eibert: On Thursday, July 15, Peter observed multiple trial setting, review, and pretrial conference hearings in Yolo County Superior Court. In Yolo Dept. 7, Judge David W. Reed refused to temporarily take away Trent Stonerock’s legally owned firearms. Trent Stonerock was charged with a misdemeanor for resisting a police officer in an August 2018 incident, in which officers were “concerned for their safety” due to the presence of his firearms. Judge Reed believed that even if Stonerock were to be convicted of the alleged offense that the court “would [not] have anything to do with the guns.” Instead, Judge Reed mandated that Stonebrook perform 40 hours of community service.
Reporter Natasha Pawar: On Thursday, July 15, Natasha Pawar heard cases in the Yolo Superior Court as well as the Sacramento Superior Court. Dept. 14 of the Yolo Superior Court saw multiple continuances, preliminary hearings, and cases that were pending resolution. There were some cases wherein the continuances were asked for and granted on the basis of a backlog in discovery. Dept. 42 of the Sacramento Superior court saw a preliminary hearing of alleged domestic violence and possession of firearm case, wherein the defendant threatened and hurt his then-girlfriend and her friends before entering into a physical altercation with his (ex)girlfriend. The court saw a heated back and forth between the defense and the prosecution as they presented witnesses for both charges, calling into question the facts of the case.
Reporter Benjamin Porter: On Thursday, July 15, Benjamin Porter observed two preliminary hearings in Dept. 14 of the Yolo County Superior Court. First, police officers offered testimony in a case in which a large number of firearms, including a sawed-off shotgun, shorter than the legal 18 inches, were found at a residence. It was unclear if the firearms belonged to her or her boyfriend, but the woman was also in court for potentially possessing meth with the intent to sell it. There was a quarrel over whether or not the amount of meth in her possession indicated that she intended to sell it or use it herself. Later, four Spanish interpreters were needed in a preliminary hearing regarding domestic abuse in which a woman’s partner, with whom she has two children, drunkenly dragged her outside by the hair after learning that she had spoken with another man. Their teenage son responded to his mother’s call for help and intervened by punching his father several times.
Reporter Alexander Ramirez: Alexander took an afternoon shift and checked into Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 62 to start, but moved to Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 1 when Sac 62 didn’t start. There were continuances, but also a wholesome case about a defendant who was rehabilitated after going down a trouble filled path. The judge and her lawyer congratulated her for her community work and raising her four kids in a good direction, and she cried on stream. Too bad the case wasn’t longer because it would’ve made a nice article.
After the stream recording was taken down, Alex checked into Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 35 where a 3 hour long trial was. He went through the whole session and is going to write an article on the case, but it’ll take another day. The case involved a man threatening his neighbor if he was to continue smoking around his house, and even brandishing a gun at one point. Because of its long duration, Alex is still working on the article as of Thursday.
Fresno County Superior Court
Reporter Allison Hodge: On Tuesday, July 13, Allison Hodge observed several pre-trials and arraignments in Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 10. Judge Francine Zepeda presided over many fairly quick arraignments and heard motion proposals from both defense and prosecuting attorneys. In one case, Judge Zepeda granted a motion by the people to hold the defendant in jail on no bail, citing the seriousness of the crimes committed and potential risk to the victim and public safety. The defense attempted to assert that keeping bail at the predetermined level would suffice, as the defendant could not afford it. However, Judge Zepeda asserted that no bail should be set due to lack of compliance and criminal history with the victim. This case is set for preliminary hearings in August.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court
Reporter Carson Eschen: On Monday, July 12, Dept., Carson Eschen observed Santa Barbara County Court Dept. 10. Judge Maxwell oversaw several entries of no-contest pleas to drunk driving, as well as several continuances. She also oversaw a private settlement hearing. One case was dismissed due to the passing of the 28-year-old defendant. One no-contest entry plea had an interesting legal discussion between the counsel of the District Attorney’s office Sherwin Nadjm and defense counsel Bill Makler. In the case, two 20-year-old defendants, after pleading no-contest to driving under the influence, are facing court-ordered abstinence from alcohol, attendance to NA meetings, and a one-year suspension of their licenses. However, defense counsel Bill Makler argued that the punishments set forth in CA 13352 and 13202 were duplicative. Code 13352 regards the DMV’s response to a drunk driving conviction, which mandates a 12 month suspension of the license, while 13202 states that the court shall suspend the defendant’s license for one year.
Makler expressed concern that the dual punishments could “confuse” the DMV and result in an unduly extended suspension of their license. On the other side, Nadjm argued that the language was clear in what punishment the judge had to hand down, and that having the court simply not address the issue was “probably not the best interpretation.” Although Judge Maxwell said that she understood Makler’s concern, it was her belief that she legally had to impose that punishment. Makler then requested that the court backdate its ruling to begin when the license was first administratively suspended by the DMV, to which Judge Maxwell complied.
Reporters Elizabeth Garabedian and Paulina Buelna: On Monday, July 12, in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Dept. 8, Paulina Buelna and Elizabeth Garabedian watched as Judge Anderson presided over several arraignments and continuances. A notable arraignment presented in Judge Anderson’s courtroom was the case of a civilian named Vega, who decided to defend himself in the court of law instead of hiring a qualified attorney. In January Vega was arrested during a sting operation carried out by law enforcement and subsequently investigated after soliciting prostitution and when police found pornographic images of minors on his cellphone. Another notable case witnessed in Dept. 8 was the arraignment of Elizabeth Ann Lynn who’s hearing ended with Judge Anderson sending her to get a psych evaluation after her outburst during her hearing.
Reporter Joseph Shepard: On Monday, July 12, Joseph witnessed scheduling and continuances in Santa Barbara County Superior Court’s Dept. 12. An interesting situation occurred when one defendant requested to address the court after having a disagreement with his attorney. Despite his attorney’s objections, the defendant was allowed to address the court, at which point he attempted to file several motions. Ultimately, the defendant agreed to schedule his preliminary hearing for a later date.
Reporter Ascari Bryant: In Dept. 8 of Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Judge Clifford Anderson presided over several arraignments. Most arraignments saw pleas of guilty and or not guilty, with the majority being covered by Deputy Public Defender Brian Mathis. Judge Anderson’s most interesting case of the day was that of a traffic infraction. Defendants Mark Gomez and Anthony Mendoza were both individually cited for traffic violations of doing 100 MPH. Judge Anderson gave both defendants the option of a not guilty plea which would lead to a case trial at a later date. They also had the option of no contest where they were told they could explain to the judge what happened, and he would act accordingly to what was said. Both men chose to plead no contest. Gomez explained the pressure of life had gotten to him and he was under stress and mentally drifted away while driving. Judge chose not to suspend Gomez’s license but rather give him a $350 fine due Sept. 13. He also gave a lecture on driving at such speeds. Mendoza also pleaded no contest and explained he had no excuse; he just made a terrible mistake. Judge Anderson issued the same exact punishment to Mendoza as he did Gomez.
Reporter Paulina Buelna: On Tuesday, July 13, in Santa Barbara County Superior court Dept. 3 Paulina Buelna watched as Judge Anderle presided over a few settlements and continuances. Notable settlements presented in Judge Anderle’s courtroom were two cases pertaining to two large corporations, J.P Morgan and Starbucks. In both cases, Judge Anderle said the next time he was to see both cases in his courthouse they needed to be settled and was not going to provide continuances.
Reporter Maia Surendra: I was assigned to Santa Barbara County Superior Court Dept. 6, but since it did not start I went to Dept. 2. I believe the judge was Judge Adams, who I have had the pleasure of meeting over zoom before, and also got the chance to speak with today. The first proceeding that happened was the plea hearing for Russell Wallace. This was concerning a change of plea, as the DDA stated that page 8 of the plea was meant to be removed. However, there was a disagreement over the necessity of another mental health evaluation of the defendant between the DDA and the PD. Another proceeding was the discussion of the release of a defendant with the last name Campos. The person who I believe was the victim came to court to say that in a phone call with the defendant, the victim may have provoked him. However, the judge said that the defendant is dangerous regardless, and would not release him.
Reporter Marcia Barajas: Tuesday July 13, in Dept. 8 of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Marcia witnessed many arraignments with Judge Clifford R. Anderson III. In the beginning, there were two defendants with similar charges of speeding and one of the defendants claimed to be “under stress from school, work, and bills” that caused his reckless driving in Isla Vista the night of. The Judge charged one of the men with a fine of $350 and lectured him about responsibility on the freeway and the dangers one can cause from distracted driving. However, the other defendant did not have a driver’s license during the dangerous incident, but the Judge did not suspend his recently obtained license. Judge Anderson III charged him with a fine of $350 similar to the aforementioned defendant.
Reporter Maia Surendra: Wednesday, July 14, I went to Santa Barbara County Superior Court Dept. 6, where I witnessed a couple of relatively brief hearings. There were two plea hearings during my shift; the first reviewed a plea where the defendant pleaded guilty to dissuading a witness by force of threat, and for prowling. The other plea hearing was for a man facing a number of charges, including shoplifting and possession of paraphernalia. There was also a man charged with identity theft for stealing his girlfriend’s debit card and spending $175 on it. The judge was not sure if she thought this classified as identity theft or not, however. The judge also said that if this defendant did not seek help for his substance abuse he would continue to have more issues down the line.
Reporter Elizabeth Garabedian: On Thursday, July 15 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Dept. 2, Elizabeth saw numerous scheduling and continuances for preliminary hearings. There were some technical difficulties for the public defender which caused the defendant to sit on zoom without counsel as the court waited for his attorney to join.
In another case, Judge Brian Hill appointed Dr. Tahmisian to evaluate the defendant, Wallace, following a brief argument between Steele, deputy public defender, and Howland, deputy district attorney. Steele claimed that Dr. Tahmisian was biased towards the prosecution, citing statistics that showed Dr. Tahmisian sided with the prosecution in over ninety percent of the cases where he evaluated individuals. Steele proposed using Logan Spears from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs because Wallace suffers from PTSD as a result of serving in the armed forces. Howland objected to Steele’s claim that Logan would be a neutral party and opted for . Tahmisian to evaluate Wallace to determine if there was a connection between his PTSD and the crime he committed.
Reporter Joseph Shepard: On Thursday, July 15, Joseph and Cassie witnessed a relatively slow day in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. In Dept. 11, the court had to wait for a room to open up for a defendant, which caused a delay in cases. When a room finally did open, the court primarily heard continuances and scheduling. In one notable case, however, a defendant filed a Marsden motion which caused the Judge to temporarily remove all court attendees from the Zoom meeting in order to hold a hearing with just the defendant and his attorney. Additionally, in Dept. 6, Judge Pauline Maxwell heard a motion to dismiss in a DUI case after a defense attorney claimed exculpatory evidence had been destroyed. Despite an extended argument from the defense, the motion was ultimately denied.
Reporter Ascari Bryant: In Dept. 11, Judge Von Deroian saw over many cases that involved plea changes. Judge Deroian’s most interesting case was that of a defendant with mental health issues. Defendant Christian Hernandez appeared before the court today for a preliminary hearing in hopes of being released. Hernandez who has mental health issues was in custody for crimes related to his mental health. The defendant was tied to such crimes such as vandalism and domestic abuse. Public Defender Jenny Andrews argued on Hernandez’s behalf explaining the crimes committed were not in fact crimes but manic episodes. Prosecutor Elizabeth Branch then responded that mental health is a concern, and it is because of his failure to show proper treatment for his condition. Judge Deroian chose to grant release only after a written plan was enacted to ensure the court that he would take his medication to treat his condition. Judge Deroian chose to set a continuance for July 22.
Ventura County Superior Court
Reporter John Arceno: On July 12, was scheduled to do court watch on Ventura County Superior Court Dept. 46. I waited for almost an hour for them to start streaming, but they didn’t. So I live streamed different courthouses in LA county simultaneously and settled for Riverside Dept. 63. I stayed there for less than an hour and tried my very best to extract some content but the audio quality was really bad, and I later noticed that they were merely interviewing the jury members about their background and occupation to minimize bias. I heeded Koda’s advice and left, realizing that I probably won’t be able to write an article if I stayed. Good thing Ventura 46 started streaming so I stayed for a little while. The court case was really interesting. It revolved around the defendant — who has been incarcerated (unclear if he still is) — stalking the witness. I had pulled out my recording device, hopeful to eventually write something good after my shift, but then the defense counsel wasn’t speaking up when it was time to cross-examine, thereby leaving me with notes told entirely on one perspective.
Reporter Luke Kyaw: July 13, Monday, Luke heard in Ventura County Superior Court Dept. 13 personally for the first time the use of risk assessment in multiple cases. Judge Nancy Ayers cited risk assessment scores multiple times in deciding cases where the defendants had relatively high scores of 6 and 7. Defendant Pasellon scored a seven on the pre-trial risk assessment, which the judge attributed as one of the reasons that bail will not be reduced and be kept at $60,000. Another defendant (couldn’t catch the name) had a score of six that the judge cited in her decision to issue a detention order as well as keep bail.
Reporter Alex Klimenko: Tuesday, July 13, Alex K heard many continuances and guilty pleas in Ventura County Superior Court. He heard one notable case that surrounded early termination of probation. The Probation Dept. recommended that Probation be terminated early. However, the DDA argued that probation should not be terminated, and instead the defendant should serve the rest of the term. In the end the Judge ruled in the defendant’s favor and ended probation early. Alex then wrote on a ruling in which the Arizona State Supreme Court denied the State of Arizona’s request to abbreviate the briefing schedule for an execution.
Reporter Angie Madrid: Tuesday, July 13, Angie heard various arraignments and motions throughout Orange County, Ventura, and Riverside. In Ventura County Superior Court Dept. 12, Judge Patricia Murphy sets a $50,000 bail for defendant Audrey Benck for the purpose of public safety. Public Defender Andrea Neumann entered a not guilty plea and requested early disposition within 30 days for Benck, who had rear ended a vehicle multiple times and tried to flee the scene while on the freeway, partially intoxicated. A public citizen had to stop the victim, pulling out the key from the ignition. Judge Murphy believed bail was appropriate.
Reporter Alexa Kendell: Today, Alexa Kendell was able to virtually visit multiple courtrooms, including Ventura County Superior Court Depts. 31, 32, and 36. All three of these courtrooms seemed to focus on crimes involving family members. The first courtroom featured a case in which a family member, the relation is unknown, had filed a restraining order against another family member. The court date was set to grant the order and decide on a length. It was particularly interesting to see the defendant argue that a restraining order would not allow for him to attend family gatherings. The judge then allowed for the order to require him to only stay 25 feet away from the victim. Kendell was also able to watch multiple testimonies from another case involving a mother with substance abuse issues who denied having issues with alcohol, although she had driven with children while drunk and had left them alone because she was passed out drunk.
Reporter Alex Klimenko: Friday, July 16, Alex K heard many notable guilty pleas in Ventura County Superior Court. In one case he heard the defendant’s attorney argue that the defendant was not competent. The prosecution argued that the defendant was but allowed for the defendant to be seen by additional medical personnel. In another case that Alex heard in Ventura County Superior Court Judge Romero was frustrated that an interpreter was present when the defendant said he could speak conversational English. Judge Romero expressed that he was concerned about the burden that the taxpayers would have because Judge Romero believed that interpreters are expensive.
Reporter Luke Kyaw: July 16, Friday, Luke heard numerous preliminary hearings in Ventura County Superior Court Dept. 14. Private Attorney Brian Vogel was in court for four cases today, three of which had defendants ordered by Judge Gilbert Romero to appear in court. However, all three were not present in court and Private Attorney Vogel awkwardly gave numerous explanations (out of town, untimely texts, etc.) as to why his defendants were not in court. This prompted Judge Romero to point out that there seems to be a lack of communication between judge and attorney and that Attorney Vogel seems to not understand what being ordered to appear in court meant.
Alameda County Superior Court
Reporter Serene Chang: On July 12, 2021, Serene Chang heard multiple cases in Alameda County Superior Court Depts. 705 and 706, one of which was a civil domestic restraining order suit. The victim in this case allegedly spoke about issues of her case outside of the court, prompting the judge to state: “The damage is done by now.” There have been three different district attorneys involved in this case and the current DA will speak to the defense attorney to complete the jury questionnaire on a later date.
Reporter Tatiana Gasca: Monday, July 12, Tatiana Gasca appeared at the Alameda County Superior Court, Dept. 113. Judge Madden was mediating a jury trial, involving a domestic violence case. The defendant was charged for intentionally inflicting pain onto the victim due to an altercation over beer. The victim faced traumatic injuries over a blow to the head with the defendant’s cell phone. The DA argued that the defendant did not lawfully act in self-defense. Rather, they claimed that the defendant twisted the narrative for personal gain. The defense attorney fired back arguing that the victim was persistent in harassing the defendant, and did not use excessive force than needed. After hearing both arguments, the jury is set for deliberation.
Reporter Ankita Joshi: On Monday, July 12 in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 11, Ankita heard a revocation of probation hearing for Defendant Kevin Lagarde. At a previous plea hearing, Lagarde had taken a plea deal which would have struck a misdemeanor probation that he was allegedly serving. However, it was discovered that the court had made a mistake, and Lagarde was actually serving a felony probation. As a result, the conditions of his plea deal needed to be reviewed.
DDA Allyson Donovan contended that she had never agreed to strike a felony probation during the plea hearing, and Lagarde should continue to serve the rest of his sentence. Another element that added on the confusion was a new case law on domestic violence that had been passed last month. Neither the defense nor the prosecution were sure on how the new case law would apply to Lagarde’s case. Thus, the hearing was set to be continued on Thursday in order to give both attorneys time to review the case law and the facts of the case.
Reporter Jeramie Gutierrez: On July 13, Jeramie Gutierrez sat in on two police officer witnesses depicting a case in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 704, where defendant Ho Yin Pang, an ex-husband to the victim, parked in front of his ex-wife’s house (later stating that that’s where he lives despite his ex-wife changing the locks the day before) with a gun on the rear floorboard behind the driver’s seat. The victim alerted the police because she felt scared about her ex-husband being “possibly angry.” The gun was unloaded but there were two full magazines next to it in the gun-box. The 2nd witness, knowing the defendant’s probation status from dispatch before arriving on the scene, allegedly arrested the defendant on site, finding the gun upon searching the vehicle afterwards.
Reporter Lois Yoo: On July 13, Lois Yoo observed a case in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 707 regarding defendant James Michael Persinger. He was charged for the possession or control of child pornography. During the hearing, an attorney(unsure of name) was questioning one of the officers(name not heard) that was involved in the investigation and searched Persinger’s home for any evidence. They discussed when the officer’s body camera was turned off during certain points of the search and what forms of possessing child pornography exist.
Judge Kimberly Colwell got angry with the questioning attorney because he kept asking tedious questions in what was supposed to be a preliminary hearing. Judge Colwell specifically said to him, “I explicitly do not allow preliminary hearings to become discovery. Today, the questions have to be relevant. If the answer is no, we don’t have to specify every single thing.” The hearing will continue tomorrow.
Reporter Alexander Pleitez: This Tuesday afternoon, Alexander Pleitez witnessed a load of arraignments in many different courtrooms. Throughout the day I shifted around various courtrooms since many ended after only a few minutes or never began. To start off, Dept. 19, which we were assigned to, did not open by 2 p.m., leading me to go to Dept. 13. Dept. 13 ended shortly after with nothing of note, with Depts. 702, 509, and 23 sharing the same fate. Lastly, I moved to Dept. 707, where I witnessed the end of a witnesses testimony about defendant Zacharia Grubs was charged with the possession of child pornography. Although nothing was stated about the defendant themselves, allegedly the defendant was downloading shady images off a torrent website.
While downloading they could not see the images themselves and only had a name associated with numbers. What they had downloaded turned out to be a mix of adult pornography and child pornography. The defense made it clear that since the individual could not have known what they were downloading and therefore had no intent to possess it while the prosecution argued the intent was irrelevant as long as they were in possession of it. Since I came in for the last few minutes of the testimony, that’s all I could gather before the room shut down.
Reporter Sydney Kaplan: The morning of July 13, Sydney Kaplan attended Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 2. The defense, led by Joseph Penrod, called three witnesses to the stand including an expert medical examiner and two police officers responding to the scene. The defendant, Marius Robinson, is being accused of murder among a slew of other charges. Dr. Thomas Rogers, the medical examiner, testified that, despite being shot four times, the victim’s injuries were not consistent with injuries that typically resulted in death. The first responding officer on the scene testified she administered CPR at first but, allegedly, when the paramedics came, they stopped CPR and administered other treatment methods. The audio was too poor to make out the police officer’s names.
Reporter Sydney Kaplan: Sydney Kaplan attended Alameda Dept. 705 and 707 on July 14, In Dept. 705, Judge Thomas Nixon decided to make a deal with defendant Martin Pitts. Pitts had numerous prior offenses and was currently being accused of destroying $200,000 worth of property. The defense argued that Pitts had mental health issues and drug problems, thus this destruction was done as a cry for help rather than with bad intentions. Nixon agreed to two years of felony probation and 118 days in county jail with the condition that Pitts attends an inpatient program.
Reporter Esme Lipton: On Wednesday afternoon, Esme listened-in on multiple court proceedings in Alameda County Superior Court. Esme started her day in Dept. 103 where a judge ruled on behalf of multiple hearings, starting with a DUI case. The defendant faced misdemeanor charges for driving under the influence; she was sentenced with 3 years of court probation with credit for time served, a fine of $430, and must attend a three month DUI program. Another defendant faced assault charges, and was sentenced with 1 year of court probation, a fine of $240, and must attend 26 anger management classes.
Reporter Ankita Joshi: On Wednesday, July 14, Ankita observed many continuances and bail review hearings in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 605. Many cases were either resolved, or were rescheduled for later dates so that attorneys could have more time to go over materials of their cases. In one such case, the defendant was switched to a different work project as the prosecution and defense deliberated over what next steps would be.
Reporter Karisa Cortez: Today Karisa was in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 705 where a father spoke to the court on behalf of his son stating that he is a changed young man who deserves a second chance, he has been in treatment for mental health issues for two and a half years. However, based on the probation reports the Judge sentenced him to one year in county jail as he has continued to violate the terms of his probation by smoking marijuana. There was another case where the defendant was ordered to remain in custody until further court date as a result of ongoing felony and misdemeanors that go back to 1999. The defense stated that the defendant is working on getting help for mental health and addiction issues and no longer wishes to remain homeless. There were also a couple of cases in which the court had to take a break because the District Attorney did not have the packet containing information regarding the cases.
Reporter Lois Yoo: On July 15, Lois Yoo observed Defendant Daniel Louis Araiza’s case in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 701. The defendant shot a victim 11 times while he was making dinner in his trailer home at night. The victim was present to testify what happened before, during and after the shooting. Three officers were brought in to testify what they knew and observed as well. Judge Michael Gaffey stated he would “hold Mr. Araiza to all the allegations” and that Araiza would be out for an arraignment later this month on July 29.
Reporter Eric Grammatico: On Thursday July 15, Eric heard a motion for bail reduction involving a defendant accused of arson. The event took place in Fremont on June 13, sometime before 2 p.m. The defendant, Hannah Shepard, allegedly set fire to a metal garbage can located near the forest. The flames got out of control as burning debris flew up and out of the garbage can, landing near a juniper bush. Fortunately, the bush did not catch fire and the flames were extinguished. Defense Attorney Allison Fisher motioned for the reduction of bail that was originally set at $10,000, contending that the defendant was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Judge Kimberly Colwell stated that bail could not be reduced due to a high public safety risk factor. But she was sympathetic to the case and extended the motion so that the defense could collect and present the necessary documentation to permit the appointment of a conservator.
Reporter Sydney Kaplan: Sydney Kaplan attended Alameda Superior Court Dept. 704 the morning of July 15. Several cases occurred, the most notable of which was a preliminary hearing for a carjacking case. Five witnesses testified during the preliminary hearing and more details concerning the defendant’s health at the time of the incident were released. The defendant had reportedly just been released from the hospital and was still wearing his hospital bracelet. In addition, he had bloodied bandages on his feet and was in a wheelchair. The defense, led by Madelina Zepida, attempted to reduce one his three charges to a misdemeanor under Penal Code 17b and cited the victim’s past as well his mental and physical health and justification. Judge Paul Delucchi denied this request.
Reporter Tatiana Gasca: Friday, July 16, Judge Djemal deliberated over a defendant’s execution of sentence as defense attorney Mendoza attempted to modify the terms of probation. Mendoza represented defendant Drawsand, who was charged for two misdemeanors that involved robbery and breaking/entering into a home. Mendoza aimed to renegotiate Drawsand’s initial 120 day sentence by issuing Drawsand into a program instead. However, the DA argued that the court lacked power to reduce the initial sentence and that both (the DA and defense attorney) agreed to the terms & conditions laid out on May 10. The defendant had been found to be in violation of his restraining order. To which, Judge Djemal denied Mendoza’s request.
Reporter Alexander Jimenez: On July 16, Alexander Jimenez heard a few notable hearings in Alameda County Dept. 702. Early in the day defendant Ariel Montiel was given a second chance to deal with his drug issues despite multiple failures to comply with court orders and failure to enter drug treatment. Both councils agreed to release Montiel on the same conditions that he enter a drug program and report to his probation officer, despite reluctance from the Judge who claimed that if he were in the council’s possession he would not have given him a second chance.
In another case Bryon Perez was charged with evading in which he sustained serious injuries where he crashed into a concrete barrier. The accident caused acute fractures to his legs and hips and has been recovering for several months in a hospital where he was recently released. In the best interest of recovery, the Judge agreed to keep Perez out of custody on the condition that he wear an ankle monitor. Prosecuting attorney David Cook was initially hesitant given a pending felony burglary complaint but was assured that out of custody status would not be a problem with the electronics put in place.
Reporter Krista Cortez: On Friday, July 16, Karisa heard a motion to suppress for a DUI case in Alameda. The defense argued that the Officer had done a poor job conducting his investigation and therefore the evidence gathered should be dismissed. The prosecution argued that it would have been inadequate for the officer to not have conducted an investigation as the evidence at the scene pointed to criminal activity. In the end, the judge denied the motion to dismiss and they are expected back to court in August for a pretrial hearing and diversion request.
Riverside County Superior Court
Reporter Angela Patel: On Tuesday, July 13, in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 2G, Angela P. heard a preliminary hearing involving an alleged rape that took place in August 2020. Judge Dean Benjamini presided over the court that day. The defendant’s ex-girlfriend, who had initially accused him of raping her while they were broken up, testified that her accusation had been false. She said they had been fighting and had made the accusation without knowing how far it would go. The judge ultimately dismissed the case, arguing that he saw sufficient proof that the defendant did not commit the crime.
Reporter Sam Zou: Sam Zou attended court hearings in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 3R on July 14. Defendant Corintia Dayanara Pimentel-Galo was charged with fraud to obtain government aid on Dec. 01, 2016. Pimentel was ready to enter into a plea today for her charges. Pimentel’s charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. She pleaded guilty for the charges and will be ordered from the court to pay $4,689.17 in restitution with a one-year probation as well.
Reporter Michael Wheeler: Today I worked the afternoon shift in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 44, the jury trial of Ronald Maestas. Maestas faces many charges of sexually molesting his step daughter over a long period of years, although I did not hear the specific date range during my portion of the trial. The prosecutor, defense attorney, and Judge Bernard Schwartz began the afternoon session (without jury present) by ascertaining the specific date of the beginning of abuse, dating it to the victim’s fifth birthday in 2004. Counsel and Schwartz next discussed whether or not the actions had occurred under threat of force, with Schwartz ultimately stating that he believed there was sufficient evidence to convict based on those charges and that any such convictions would likely be upheld on appeal. Before the jury, Tom Ku, a physician’s assistant who repeatedly treated the defendant from 2008 to 2013 or so, testified to the various issues for which he had treated Maestas, including both types of herpes. The trial resumes tomorrow afternoon.
Reporter John Arceno: On July 14, I went to different courthouses to find an interesting case that would potentially make for a good article. Michelle assigned me to Riverside 31. I hopped on the stream and waited for about 40 minutes or so. At 9:12 A.M., I tried looking for other court rooms because Dept. 31 wasn’t streaming. I eventually settled for Riverside Dept. 21. I took some notes for a bit, but realized that I probably would not get any interesting stories had I stayed. In desperate need for a story for my article, I looked through the old courthouses that I streamed on Monday and tried to see if Riverside 63 was streaming. Fortunately for me, they were. On Monday, I left that Dept. because their audio was patchy. Today was significantly better. I ended up sitting in on a trial where two defendants were facing allegations for conspiracy, carjacking, and battery of a victim in front of a liquor store.
Reporter Angie Madrid: Wednesday, July 14, Angie heard a jury trial in Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 44. Defendant Ronald Maestas was on trial for sexually abusing his step daughter in 2017. The District Attorney, Karrie Bursselback, called on two witnesses for testimonies. The first witness was the victim’s therapist, (first name was not captured) Dodie, and he recounted the victim sharing her experience of sexual assault during therapy sessions.
Reporter Angela Patel: On Thursday, July 15, Angela saw several arraignments and hearings across Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 3T and Ventura Dept. 13. In a case in Ventura, the prosecutor asked for bail at $55,000 for Rudy Garcia, a man who was recently found in possession of narcotics and a loaded gun with no serial number. Public defender Christina Alvarez-Barnes asked for bail to be lowered due to the defendant’s lack of finances. Judge Ayers denied to release Garcia pre-trial or to set zero dollar bail due to the circumstances of the arrest and the defendant’s high ORAS (Ohio Risk Assessment System) score of 7, but she did lower bail to $20,000.
Reporter Anya Chen: Riverside County Superior Court Dept. 1B – On Friday, July 16, Anya Chen observed the court of Judge Elizabeth Tucker. Most defendants were present for dismissals or traffic related trials, with several involving speeding. The police officers responsible for issuing the violations presented their evidence and radar data, and in a majority of the cases Judge Tucker ruled that speed limitations and reckless driving laws were indeed violated.
Reporter Neha Malhi: On Friday, July 16, Neha Mahi heard a preliminary hearing and Jury Trial of Ramirez, Barbosa, Lopez, and Munoz. These four defendants are accused of allegedly hitting their other inmates twice on the same day. There seems to be confusion on who was involved in which attack, as the first count of physical assault was only hitting in the face while the latter was more brutal which led the alleged victim in getting hospitalized. The defendants are accused of hitting the victim with his guitar, mope, and cane. After being released on bail, the police and other attorney were unable to contact the alleged victim.