By Luke Kyaw
RIVERSIDE, CA – Judge Sean Crandell, at an arraignment Wednesday here in Riverside County Superior Court, had some sage advice for James Allen Lopez.
Charged with violating felony probation which is active on his file until 2023, Lopez Wednesday requested to appear in court pro per throughout his case.
[Note: Pro per, or “in propria persona,” refers to a situation where the defendant/litigant represents themselves without a lawyer.]
Judge Crandell asked Lopez if he had consulted with his attorney and properly understood the terms of the pro per petition since Lopez will essentially be proceeding with his case without an attorney.
The judge explained to Lopez he has a right to an attorney and that there are public defenders—who are of no cost whatsoever—available to help him out with his case if he elects to do so.
The judge also stressed that if Lopez decides to go pro per, he will not be able to backtrack his decision for an attorney’s help later in the case.
This led defendant Lopez to claim that it would not make much difference anyway since everyone in the court will probably be working together against him.
[Disclaimer: It was difficult to hear the words of defendant Lopez as he may have been further from the live-streaming device.]
Judge Crandell then firmly refuted the claim, asserting that “the Public Defender’s office is an independent agency, the district attorneys are independent, and the court is independent … [even if all of them] work in the same courtroom.”
The judge admitted that while he does believe that “the attorneys in th[e] courtroom get along very well, … to say that they are working together against (Lopez) would be very incorrect.”
It seemed that Lopez was smirking during this and the judge calmly stated that even though Lopez may not think that it’s true, a lot of PDs work really hard for their assigned cases and will not collaborate with the DAs to sabotage their clients.
Judge Crandell shortly recounted his experience as a prosecutor before becoming a judge and said that he met many PDs who were difficult to deal with because they were so adamant about winning their cases.
He proceeded to tell Lopez that if he is going pro per on the sole reason that he believes that the PD will work together with the DA against him, it will be a very big mistake.
Furthermore, Judge Crandell started to recommend not going pro per because defendant Lopez has no legal background or experience whatsoever.
The judge asked Lopez about his formal education, to which Lopez replied that one never stops learning and that he has gained a lot of life skills.
The judge acknowledged the reply but also refuted it, stating that life skills “do not deal with the things [one] learns in law books” nor knowing how to navigate the court system properly.
He compared going pro per with no legal knowledge or connections to getting told at a doctor’s office that you need an operation and then going back home to search on YouTube and do it yourself in the kitchen rather than entrusting the surgery to the doctor.
If he elects to go pro per, Lopez would be fending for himself in his case without the legal education, courtroom experience, and relationship with the DAs that PDs typically have, the judge noted.
Judge Crandell then ended by stating the law gives one the right to represent themselves in court but it has never been in one’s best interest to do it, according to his experience.
The court is scheduled to reconvene in the same courtroom on Jan. 4, 2022.