COURT WATCH: Ajay Dev’s Previous Attorney Testifies about Phone Translation Used to Convict Him

By Kristin Trent

WOODLAND, CA – Here in Yolo County Superior Court Friday, Ajay Dev’s previous attorney Michael Rothschild testified in a habeas corpus hearing regarding the translation of a phone call between Dev and his adopted daughter.

Back in 2009, Dev was charged with serial molestation and rape and was sentenced to 378 years behind bars, despite evidence proving his innocence. A habeas corpus petition was filed in July 2018 to appeal his conviction.

The Vanguard reported shortly after that filing, the alleged victim (AV) “admitted to at least six different people that the sexual allegations were not true,” according to lead attorney Cliff Gardner, who filed the habeas corpus petition.

Attorney Rothschild, who testified before court, stated resolutely that he believes his duty to Dev is “absolute honesty” during a cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Steve Mount. 

According to Rothschild’s testimony regarding the audio exchange between Dev and his daughter, the audio has undergone numerous inaccurate translations from Nepalese to English. Multiple versions have been translated by the AV, FBI and expert translators. 

The contentious atmosphere was noticeable when DDA Mount, who served as the DDA in the original trial, started his redirect of Rothschild. He spent the majority of his time questioning Rothschild regarding whether he could identify the handwriting notated on several exhibits.

Dodging Mount’s line of questioning, Rothschild suggested to the court the copied exhibits distributed by Mount had not been compared with the originals, calling into question the accuracy of the documents.  

When questioned about the audio transcripts during the trial, Rothschild, reading from the transcript, noted that the translator testified that he listened to the recording over 60 times and didn’t hear the word “sex.”

Mount continued his line of questioning, asking of Rothschild, “If Mr. Dev was going through and making corrections to Dr. Ariel’s translation.”  

Rothschild maintained a consistent answer of “I don’t recall.”

When questioned in detail about the 2009 trial, Rothschild repeatedly stated to the court, “I cannot recall, that was 15 years ago. I am 81 years old.”

However, when DDA Mount tried to question Rothschild about the FBI’s audio translation, he brazenly recalled, “Both you and I agreed the FBI translations during this trial were worthless.” 

On defense, Rothschild remained astute throughout cross-examination, repeatedly correcting Mount on dates and document classifications. 

Additionally, Rothschild disputed DDA Mount’s characterization he had evidence “lying around,” correcting him matter-of-factly that “I recovered files which I sent promptly.”

By the end of the questioning, Mount appeared visibly agitated.

Despite being summoned to court as a result of the ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC)  claim against him, Rothschild remained firm in his convictions.

The most recent translation of the audio between Dev and the alleged victim echoes Dev’s long standing claims of innocence. Performed using enhanced audio detection by Nepali translator Netra Darai, the translation reveals that Dev was asking his daughter if she was so displeased, why she continued to live in his household after she turned 18.

However, the translation presented before the court in 2009 was translated by the alleged victim, which Rothschild objected to at the time. This translation suggests that Dev engaged sexually with his 18-year-old daughter and it was used as a key piece of evidence to convict him, according to The Vanguard.

When questioned by Dev’s Attorney Jennifer Mouzis regarding other witnesses in the 2009 trial, Rothschild stated resolutely, “I knew there was an issue to get two Nepalese individuals to testify. I know the government went through great efforts to not make it happen.”

One of these individuals is the AV’s cousin, Sangita Dev. 

Sangita told The Vanguard, “Ajay was a good father to her, but ‘he was very controlling and wanted her to live like a Nepali woman’…(AV) admitted that she filed the false rape allegations to scare Ajay but that she had withdrawn the allegations and hoped to reconcile with him.”  

The next hearing will include testimony from a digital media expert about messages from Dev’s brother regarding the AV’s strategy. It is scheduled for Dec. 20.

A podcast interview with Dev about his experience behind bars is available from The Vanguard

About The Author

Kristin Trent recently graduated from UC Davis with a degree in English. She is currently involved in production of Davis Media Access's local radio station KDRT 95.7 FM and hosts DCTV's In The Studio Series in addition to her work for The Vanguard. Currently pursuing a full-time position as a journalist, she is deeply devoted to environmental and social justice journalism.

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