Judge’s Frustration Evident After Trial False Starts, Reminds Defendants Public Defenders ‘Hundreds, Even Thousands’ of Case in Arrears

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By Darling Gonzalez

RIVERSIDE, CA – Judge Otis Sterling exhibited visible frustration here in Riverside County Superior Court Monday when two trials scheduled to start did not, and he reminded defendants that public defenders are “hundreds and even thousands” of cases behind because of COVID.

The day began with the scheduled jury trial of Frederick Hearne, charged with battery—technically he was representing himself in court because he had no attorney, who was out with a COVID diagnosis.

Hearne began by requesting a copy of a specific transcript from Judge Sterling, who asked Hearne to be specific about what particular transcript he was looking for and if he could tell him the case number.

Hearne, then, began to state numbers, but Judge Sterling explained that case numbers began with three letters such as “INF” or “INM,” adding, “If you’re asking me to do something to help you move your case forward I need the specific information of what you’re asking me to do…tell me the case number of [the transcript] you’re looking for.”

Hearne then said he never got the specific case number because it was not provided in discovery.

Judge Sterling then said he would trail the trial to Nov. 3 so that Hearne could get the specific case number of the transcript he needed.

Hearne then asked Judge Hearne, “I would like to request review for extra cable, for extra phone time because I use the phone a lot…”

Judge Sterling said he had already made an order for Hearne’s phone time and it was confirmed by the clerk of the court, noting, “Those orders remain in effect.”

Hearne stated that sometimes the hours were not enough, with the judge again stating he needed to know what was being asked of him.

Judge Sterling explained that Mon. through Fri. from the times of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hearne would be able to make a legal call to his investigators if needed, but Hearne continued, “What I’m saying is that the hours that are provided sometimes are not enough. I need extra time.”

“I don’t know what you’re asking me to do, so the orders remain the same and we’ll see you back on Nov. 3,” Judge Sterling replied.

Hearne then began to try to explain what he wanted, but due to the confusion Judge Sterling was facing he said he would talk to the deputy and put the case on second call so he could be on the same page with the defendant due to lack of context of his request.

The frustration didn’t stop.

Later, Judge Sterling had a jury trial trailing with defendant, Miguel Reyes, who was being charged of rape of an unconscious victim.

Because the Public Defender Leah Kisner was in quarantine for COVID, Deputy District Attorney Steven Sorenson asked the trial to be pushed back to Dec. 17.

However, Reyes began to tell the court that he would like to represent himself because of the long wait for his representation to be in court.

To this request, Judge Sterling clarified, “We’re not trying your case today. Are you ready to go to trial yourself? Handle your own case and go to trial today? Are you ready to step in a courtroom, handle the case on your own, file whatever motions need to be heard pre-trial? Are you ready to do all of that today?”

Judge Sterling then realized that Reyes seemed to be acting out of emotion and asked Reyes if he was prepared to face a prosecutor with years of experience and if he was completely ready to take on the expectation of readiness if he placed himself as his own representative in the case.

Reyes stated, “Why is it that they’re having difficulty finding counsel for my representation that is ready? Why is it that they’re not ready? Why is it that they cannot try me with a counsel that is ready?”

Judge Sterling then explained that unfortunately there were attorneys that were facing the problem of having hundreds and even thousands of cases they must take on and be ready for.

He explained PD Kisner was unfortunately facing the difficulties of COVID and that the case would have to be set back to when she would next be available.

Another public defender stood for Kisner’s appearance, and informed Judge Sterling that due to Kisner’s trial schedule the Reyes’ matter would not be going out until some point in February.

Judge Sterling stated that he did not see why Kisner could not be in court after ending quarantine in time for Reyes’ case, and the public defender standing for her appearance explained that due to her schedule she could not take any earlier dates.

“If she can’t even step foot in the courtroom on his case until Dec. 17, [Reyes] needs to have a different lawyer. He doesn’t have to wait for a month and a half for his attorney to even be able to come to court on his case,” Judge Sterling replied.

The public defender then stated, “Your Honor I’m sorry, but we don’t have a ready amount of people just ready to come in and start taking cases. I don’t know what to tell the court…we’ve got hundreds of cases, we’re trying to do what we can, but simultaneously…”

Judge Sterling cut him off and then explained that Kisner did not need to step in court and be ready to try Reyes’ case before Dec. 17, but she did need to make an appearance on his case and that he, the public defender, would need to figure out a date when she could make an appearance for Reyes.

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About The Author

Darling is an incoming junior at UCLA, majoring in English and Political Science with an interest in law. She is originally from Bell Gardens, California.

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