Public Defender, Judge Hold Heated Exchange about Limiting Number of Defense Witnesses in Domestic Violence Trial

By Tiffany Thai

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy and Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos got into a heated discussion here Thursday when Avalos accused the judge of limiting her witnesses in trial, and hurting her client, Damian Orestes Alvarez, accused of attempted assault against his ex-wife.

Deputy District Attorney Karen Catalona represented the prosecution, and Alvarez was not present in the courtroom. Judge Conroy agreed that Alvarez’s appearance in court could be waived.

Before the jurors arrived, Judge Conroy and Avalos had a heated exchange about the circumstances of the proceedings.

The court scheduled two days for the trial, but Avalos said “the undue consumption of the court’s time should be assessed.”

PD Avalos argued, “I have been under-scheduled,” and the court should have given her until Nov. 7 to defend her client, noting she wanted more witnesses to testify on Alvarez’s behalf. Judge Conroy was insistent the court would only be hearing from the testimonies of witnesses previously agreed upon.

“Is this court precluding me from calling these witnesses?” Avalos asked Judge Conroy, who maintained the court did not need to hear from witnesses that would testify with the same statements repeatedly.

As the trial before jurors resumed, DDA Catalona finished her case prior to Thursday’s proceedings.

PD Avalos called three witnesses to testify on the character of Alvarez and his interactions with his ex-wife, specifically her demeanor when she was drinking.

The first defense witness, a family friend of Alvarez, recalled an incident where the family friend, their partner, and the defendant were gathered together.

The witness said the defendant’s ex-wife “never came down” to greet them when they were over. She added the couple intensely bickered causing the witness to feel unwelcome. The witness noted Alvarez used to be a vibrant person, but became quieter throughout the years.

“It is hard to see someone so vibrant break down on you. When I first met him, he walked with his head high,” she testified.

PD Avalos then called Alvarez’ daughter to testify about the relationship between the defendant and his ex-wife, and asked if she ever saw the former couple argue with each other.

The witness recalled a party in 2019 the family attended in which the ex-wife offended Alvarez in front of everyone. Although the defendant was embarrassed, she noted her father took off and left.

Avalos stated to the witness, “When conflict got heated, your dad left.” The witness replied, “Exactly.” The witness said Alvarez did not yell or touch his ex-wife in the situation discussed.

Avalos then proceeded to ask the witness about how the ex-wife acted when she drank alcohol at parties.

The witness noted that “the drinks did not agree with her” in reference to her father’s ex-wife and recalled another incident where the ex-wife “grabbed him from here [chest].”

The witness also attested to the personality of her father’s ex-wife stating that “she was really nice one moment, and then she would act differently the next.”

The public defender called Alvarez’ nephew, who testified he has known Alvarez and the ex-wife since 2009 when he first met his uncle, Alvarez, when he emigrated from Cuba.

He testified he often saw the former couple as much as four times a week, notably only calling the ex-wife by her first name due to the strain on the couple’s relationship.

The witness admitted that he had a personal argument with the ex-wife six years ago about how she was treating the relationship between herself and her ex-husband.

The ex-wife notably said, “ I don’t like Black people.” Black is a reference to the tan color of the defendant’s skin, not his identity.

The witness pointed out the defendant is a Black man, the man she married.

“I am with him for papers,” the ex-wife responded, according to the witness, who said he argued with the ex-wife for using Alvarez due to the ability to give her (immigration status), not because she loved him.

However, even with this testimony, the witness testified that he had no ill will against the ex-wife. He said he even took her to the hospital six months ago when she had health problems.

Although Alvarez is accused of attempted assault against his ex-wife, PD Avalos’ line of defense is that her client was peaceful during heated episodes with his ex-wife, as attested to by the witnesses, and it was the alleged victim, the ex-wife, that was aggressive toward him.

The trial reconvened through Friday.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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