Judge, Defense Attorney Spar Over Setting Preliminary Hearing Date; Accused Languishes in Jail


By Nora Dahl

MODESTO, CA – Ricardo Rivera, sitting in jail with bail of $300,000 on felony assault with a deadly weapon charges, had a pretrial hearing here this week in Stanislaus County Superior Court—but it was largely spent on the judge sparring with defense counsel.

Judge Carrie Stephens was ready to set the preliminary hearing. But, before doing it, Judge Stephens wanted to speak with both attorneys about where they speculated that this case would go.

The unidentified (on Zoom) defense counsel admitted they had not even read through the case discovery yet because the attorney had just received it.

Stephens responded saying that since this is most likely a prison case, the court should set it immediately for a preliminary hearing.

Deputy District Attorney Komnith Moth eagerly agreed, and began throwing out possible dates to the court.

Stephens spoke up again stating that she honestly “did not see the value in setting another case management conference” because the case already had one.

Stephens re-asserted that the next step was an immediate preliminary hearing.

Frustrated, defense counsel raised his voice, and said he needed to look at the discovery before setting a preliminary hearing. He repeated his request for a case management conference.

Judge Stephens sighed.

First she asked both attorneys what they “expected the court to do at a case management conference” that they could not do on their own. Then the judge gestured to the defense counsel and said he would be reviewing the discovery on his own time and the attorney “does not need her involvement in that matter.”

Disgruntled, the defense attorney asked the judge why she doesn’t “set every single case for prelim at the time of arraignment” as that’s typical court procedure.

Judge Stephens asserted that the court just needed to set a preliminary hearing at this point and that the attorney needed to find “free time to do his work as a lawyer instead of setting it for case management.”

Judge Stephens said again she found no reason for the court to be further involved in this affair between “now and the preliminary hearing.”

Defense counsel raised his voice, and declared he couldn’t possibly know how to set a preliminary hearing without having read the discovery, and that he would not know if “two weeks or two months” would possibly be an appropriate amount of time.

The defense attorney said that he “respectfully requests a future pretrial to either resolve the case or set it over for prelim or do whatever other requests that I may deem appropriate at the time.”

Judge Stephens grunted, and quipped, “So what we are doing here is changing that way that we have calendared in the past?”

Judge Stephens muttered that she is “not trying to be difficult,” but gave in and set the case management conference for June 3.

However, she raised a finger as she looked over the court and stated that “there will be no more,” noting “nobody likes change.”


About The Author

Nora Dahl is a second year History of Public Policy and Law major, and English minor, at UC Santa Barbara. She enjoys writing, advocating for social justice, and pyschology. Nora speaks fluent Norwegian and English. She plans to graduate Spring 2024, and hopes to attend law school.

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