Defense Counsel COVID Diagnosis Delays 6-Year-Old Murder Trial Again

By Citlalli Florez

MODESTO, CA – A six-year-old murder jury trial was put on hold once again this week here in Stanislaus County Superior Court after the defense attorney tested positive for COVID-19—the trial is now not expected to end, or maybe not even begin, before the holidays.

The accused is being charged with murder and represented by defense counsel Allison Margolin. The judge is Dawna Reeves.

In the beginning of the hearing—most of the jury already chosen—the judge revealed attorney Margolin had tested positive for COVID-19. The attorney was still present through Zoom. The prosecutor was present in the courtroom.

The judge asked how the defense council wanted to move forward, and Margolin responded, “Ideally I’d like to be able to participate fully in the proceedings and be able to start the case.” She said she spoke to the prosecutor about other options, but the accused would need to agree to them.

“I believe since I’ve been on this case for six years, it would be a violation of his [the accused’s] right to counsel to proceed with my absence,” added Margolin, suggesting continuing the opening statements and evidence at least 11 days after the virus was detected.

It was also suggested the prosecutor could be able to attend the motions that were put on hold, including a motion to exclude a juror and Brady motion, as well as a Pitchess motion which is set for Friday.  The attorney suggested reconvening the trial on Dec. 12.

The defense attorney acknowledged the inconvenience but didn’t want her client’s right to counsel to be violated. The prosecutor asked that the trial proceed throughout the defense attorney’s recovery period.

The judge stated, however, she has no flexibility in her schedule for the defense request, explaining, “I’ve already used up every single day trying to get this trial off the ground. I’m not blaming you for becoming ill, but I’m saying that I do not have any flexibility in my calendar to put the case over until the 12th.”

Judge Reeves continued, “Remember we have Christmas holiday coming up and our jurors have not been pre-screened for that hardship. There may be some who are traveling or have plans for the holiday that we didn’t consider because we were expecting to be finished ending the week of the 12th at the latest, so I can’t put it over till the 12th.”

The judge suggested the trial be reset altogether. Attorney Margolin responded by saying that it would make the accused uncomfortable for her to not be there with him for part of the testimony.

Although the accused has been in county jail awaiting trial for six years, he continued to waive time based on the circumstances.

After the prosecutor noted the victim’s family, the judge intervened and said, “I know that the family is going to be disappointed on both sides. I’m disappointed. This case is from 2016 and I did everything I could to get it going, but these things happen.”

She continued, saying “there’s no way that I am going to force (the accused’) case to trial with his attorney of record ill with COVID.”

The judge found good cause to continue the trial based on Attorney Margolin’s illness and put the matter up for resetting. The jury was later dismissed from the trial and thanked for their service.

There are still two motions pending that need to be heard before the start of a jury trial. The Pitchess motion will start Friday, and a case management conference will take place Dec. 7.

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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