Zoom Connection Causes Trouble in Santa Barbara

By Eric Rodriguez

SANTA BARBARA, CA – A public defender lost Zoom connection during a Santa Barbara County Courthouse hearing this week, leaving her client in the dark on what the judge decided to do in her case and delaying her release from jail.

In Judge Pauline Maxwell’s courtroom, Assistant Public Defender Giulia Moore and “Donna,”* who was in custody, waived personal appearance to appear via Zoom on Nov. 1, to request that Donna be re-released on pretrial release.

*(NOTE: “Donna” is not the accused’s real name. The Vanguard policy is not to use the true name of the accused in most misdemeanor cases.)

Donna is being charged with public intoxication and smoking in a public building, and was previously released with the condition that she would wear a device to monitor her and confirm she was following the conditions set for her pretrial release.

Also present in the Zoom call was holistic defense advocate Vanda Epstein, who has been working with Donna to assure that she stays on track with the terms that are being asked of her.

PD Moore argued Donna be released with all previous terms set except the SCRAM device, adding, “It is a completely onerous term that is unnecessary. We are dealing with two…type charges…(Donna) is facing homelessness and was working to the best of her abilities to abide with that term.

“It was such an overwhelming thing for her to have on her ankle that she requested to be remanded into custody. Her own request, not the court’s request,” the PD added.

Deputy District Attorney Denny Wei objected, noting, “We were here two weeks ago and released her over my objection, but decided SCRAM was appropriate…I don’t think it makes any sense to release her when she’s back in custody after one week and basically reward her for refusing to install a SCRAM.”

PD Moore restated this is the first offense for (Donna), who shows no signs of having a drinking problem, “no DUI’s…there are other means to make sure that she is not drinking alcohol.”

At this point in the hearing Epstein intervened and stated she was present when Donna was being processed and that Donna complied with all that was being asked of her, and never objected to not signing for the SCRAM. But Epstein said that she was struggling with the DocuSign—a method of digital signatures—as it wasn’t allowing her to use her own signature.

Defense Advocate Epstein repeatedly stated that “she was making a great effort,” adding she is in the process of helping Donna find housing, and will do what she can to continue to help stabilize Donna.

Judge Maxwell agreed to pretrial release, and updated the terms to remove the SCRAM device, while maintaining random testing and breathalyzing as needed.

It is common practice for defense attorneys to meet with their client after a court hearing to assure that they understand what is being asked of them and clarify any confusion. Moore asked the court for a private breakout room with Donna.

This, however, was met with technical difficulties as Moore lost connection to the courthouse and texted another attorney that was present to update the court on what was occurring.

Despite Moore being unable to meet with Donna to clarify the proceeding, Donna was removed from the jail Zoom room.

Judge Maxwell attempted to get Donna back on a call, to no avail, and suggested Moore set up an appointment with Donna. But, Moore said that “they won’t be able to set that up in time, every time we try to set up an appointment with our clients in custody it’s usually a week out if we’re lucky.”

Judge Maxwell and Moore stayed till the end of the day hoping to get Donna back on a line but were unable to because of the sheriff’s regulations regarding COVID-positive jail Zoom rooms and their procedures. Donna had refused to take a COVID-19 test.

The court agreed to meet next week, Dec. 9.

About The Author

Eric is a senior at UCSB double majoring in Spanish and English Literature. He is from Oxnard, California and has an interest in law.

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