‘Perilous. Very Perilous.’

by Bruce McEwen, July 9, 2013

Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg was in court last week, and a good thing, too. He was about to lose $35,000, and after paying $9,500 in election fines imposed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this year, and maybe spending another $10,000-plus in lawyer fees for burying his wife at home without a legal sign-off his fellow Supes have refused to reimburse, wealthy as Hamburg is, he surely didn't want to get socked another $35,000.

The Supervisor arrived in court with an impressive retinue of supporters who included several tax-paid retainers. County Counsel Tom Parker, togged out in a pinstripe suit and Mr. Parker’s assistant, a pretty young woman in a fawn-colored skirt suit and high heels named Brina Latkin, formerly associated with Hamburg's Ukiah attorney, Barry Vogel. And there were the usual miscellaneous Hamburgians whose cult-like devotion to the supervisor has been discussed before. It was quite a show.

The defendant was the disoriented-looking young guy out in the hall in bedroom slippers and baggy sweats that looked like he'd slept in them.

We would learn that young Matthew Hamburg had, completely outside all laws and procedures, been released from the County Jail and spirited away to a lock-up mental facility far from Mendocino County, the whole show paid for by local taxpayers.

The DA and the judge wanted to know how all this had happened.

The defendant, a pawn in this unprecendented maneuvering, didn't seem to know where he was. Ordinarily, the bailiff would have enforced the dress code for Superior Court. But the bailiff even had to allow a psych tech in who, called in at the last minute, was wearing shorts. She was Anderson Valley resident and Mendocino Mental Health senior crisis worker Beverly Bennett. Ms. Bennett said she had no idea she was coming to court or she would have dressed appropriately, and the bailiff made an exception by allowing her to stay.

A little background is in order here. Matt Hamburg’s latest legal problems stem from an episode back on May 5th when he got into some sort of beef at or near the Frank Zeek School in South Ukiah. He was reportedly using foul language at peak volume and blistering the sensitive ears of the young scholars on the playgrounds. The police were called, a dangerous high-speed chase ensued as Matthew lead cops down South State Street and out the Boonville Road to Shepherds Lane, site of the Hamburg property, where Matthew was finally run to ground and arrested after a scuffle with deputies. He was charged with recklessly driving to evade an officer, a felony.

Young Hamburg’s attorney is Carly Dolan of the Public Defender’s office. She is calmly capable in an office characterized by calm incapacity. She was immediately rushed — swarmed, really — by the Hamburgians when she appeared in the hallway.

“Oh, Ms. Dolan. Matt’s all better now, aren’t you, Matt? And Ms. Elliott, here, will be taking over. You know Ms. Elliott, of course, don’t you? Thank you, Ms. Dolan.”

Ms. Dolan’s comment the week before suggested that the Hamburg clan might be putting their political interests ahead of her client’s, and the judge had characterized visiting Judge Kossow's work on the Hamburg case as “incompetent.”

Out in the hall someone had nudged Matthew forward, and he had made some perhaps rehearsed comments to Ms. Dolan when Katherine ‘Kit’ Elliott pointed up like an Irish setter to smile about how the Hamburgs had just retained her services and she would be substituting in. “Thank you, Ms. Dolan,” but here's your hat and what's your hurry. Ms. Elliot will be taking over for you.

When Ms. Dolan finally got to the courtroom she was still attorney of record. She seemed a little overwhelmed. But that’s her natural expression. If you had any idea what she endures daily, you’d understand. She’s one of the few public defenders with a sense of humor, and enough sense of propriety to conceal it. They call her Olive Oil at the jail, but in any sane county she’d be running the Public Defender’s Office instead of taking orders from Linda Thompson who does such a bad job that her in-custody clients charged with serious crimes routinely ask to have her removed from their case or ask for new trials based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Judge Moorman called the Hamburg case and mentioned the bench warrant for Matt Hamburg's arrest she'd issued the previous week, explaining that she had no choice in the matter after 14 days of holding the warrant from the first time Mr. Hamburg had failed to appear. By law, she had to issue it. Young Hamburg, having been magically released from the County Jail and hustled off to Yuba City by County Counsel, the Mendocino County Mental Health Department and, apparently, the Public Defender's office, acting at the behest of Supervisor Hamburg but unaware of what was happening to him, had blown dad's $35,000 bail. Judge Moorman’s bench warrant meant that cops would have to re-arrest him for bail jumping.

“I had no information as to his whereabouts, and I still don’t know where he was,” Judge Moorman said.

“He was at North Valley Behavioral,” Dolan said.

North Valley Behavioral is a mental health crisis facility in Yuba City. They have 16 beds for adults deemed in crisis. Mendocino County has an agreement with North Valley which requires the County to pay $825 per day for patients the County sends to Yuba City. Stays in this place are normally limited to three-to-five days. According to their website, North Valley Behavioral does not accept private placements or walk-ins, only county assignments. Private placements or walk-ins are unlikely to have the $825 per day.

“What was the nature of his residence at North Valley Behavioral?”

Dolan turned and gestured to the clutch of suits standing in the doorway and said, “Mr. Pinizzotto would like to address the court on that point, your honor.”

County Counsel Tom Parker, his female assistant Ms. Latkin, and a short gray-haired man, who turned out to be County Mental Health Director Tom Pinizzotto, scurried forward to the defense table, but the judge had more to say about the warrant, and she seemed to be speaking to Dan Hamburg and his daughter Laura who had taken seats in the gallery.

“When you post bail, that is a monetary promise to appear, and when the defendant failed to appear, the court had no choice but to forfeit the bond because it was unclear as to his whereabouts.”

At this point it became clear that the supervisor was unaware of the complicated logistics done on his son's behalf by County employees. It's doubtful he would have sacrificed 35 grand simply to get his son out of the County Jail.

“If I may, your honor, give the court a brief timeline,” Pinizzotto interrupted. “On 5/5/13 he (Matthew Hamburg) was arrested and his competency was in doubt by the public defender; then on 5/30/13 he was 5150, and on 5/31/13 he was bailed out—”

“Wait a minute,” Judge Moorman broke in. “He was 5150 while he was in custody? How can that happen?”

How indeed. That adjudication has to be adjudicated. In court. An inmate can't be declared 5150 and sprung from custody outside the judicial process.

The judge's question caused much confusion on the part of the delegates from the County offices. The entourage huddled hastily with Mr. Parker. DA David Eyster seemed unaware that his jaw had dropped to the floor. He looked at the Judge like a man who felt he was owed an explanation. A junior prosecutor, Deputy DA Damon Gardner was handling the case for The People. It seemed that something spectacularly unusual, if not downright unlawful, had taken place and DA Eyster was present throughout, marveling with wide-eyed wonder as the scope of the shenanigans became evident.

“Under what circumstances?” Judge Moorman demanded of Ms. Latkin. The judge wanted to know how young Hamburg had been declared a 5150.

“For three days,” Ms. Latkin said. “He wouldn’t come out of his room at North Valley and Judge Mayfield granted the conservatorship.”

Judge Moorman clapped her hand to her head. Something had just occurred to her, it was plain to see, and in a few minutes we were to learn what it was. But first, she wanted to know, “Who placed him (Matthew Hamburg) at risk, Mr. Parker?”

Matt Hamburg, in custody at the County Jail, had been declared incompetent, removed from the Jail and taken off to Yuba City. Everyday 5150s who are not in custody, and there are lots of them in Mendocino County, must have the agreement of a judge and the DA on how they will be processed in the criminal justice system and on into whatever mental health programs may be available to them. It hadn't happened that way in the Hamburg case.

Parker stammered inarticulately. There was still much confused scrambling about in the courtroom. Supervisor Hamburg hung his head and shielded his eyes with his hand. Parker fell silent.

“But you understand my concern, don’t you, Mr. Parker? There was no notice given to the court, no letter to the Public Defender’s office or to the DA!”

Judge Moorman waited but County Counsel Parker had nothing to say. What could he say? Parker had done somersaults to bypass usual legal commitment procedures. The judge resumed: “The client-lawyer relationship is one I take quite seriously, I warn you, and if I find that there’s been any interference in that relationship, that would be perilous, very perilous. Now, it sounds to me like some County resources were used to do the 5150 without the court’s permission. But what I want is this not to ever happen again, so I’m going to recall the bench warrant, and I sincerely hope this has been a lesson to everyone involved.”

Supervisor Hamburg had just been granted a $35,000 reprieve. The Hamburgians in the gallery breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“However,” Moorman resumed, “I refuse to sign the placement order. A 1368 trumps a 5150 — and a conservatorship. Does anyone in the room know—?”

(A 1368 is legal shorthand for a hearing to determine if a defendant is competent to stand trial and participate in his own defense, per Penal Code Section 1368. You have the 1368, then you deal with the 5150 designation if the subject really is crazy.)

Ms. Elliott, self-declared attorney for the Hamburgs, rose and made her way forward, repeating that she’d been contacted by the family to substitute for the Public Defender.

“Not now,” Moorman said irritably, lashing Elliott back to her seat.

“Does anyone know how Matthew is right now?” Moorman asked.

Ms. Dolan resumed her skillful defense of Matthew Hamburg, as if his influential family were beside the point. Although she did falter a trifle. She said she’d just spoken with her client in the hall outside and was ready to withdraw her earlier assertion that he was unable to participate in his own defense.

“I had serious doubts before, but he seems much better today,” Ms. Dolan beamed with a fey glance over her shoulder at the Supervisor seated behind her.

Katherine Elliott again stood up.

“I’m ready to substitute, your honor. I’ve handled numerous 1368s and I’m ready to take the case forward.”

Judge Moorman said, “Please sit down, Ms. Elliott. The defendant has perfectly capable counsel at present.”

“Yes, your honor, but I’ve been asked to—”

The Hamburg purse, it seemed, recently having escaped a $35,000 withdrawal, was being opened to a private lawyer, so the Hamburg family voice would have a direct say in the proceedings via said private attorney.

As a county-paid lawyer Ms. Dolan, in a sense, works for Dan Hamburg — he is a County Supervisor, her superior, her her boss, but here she was hanging on to the case.

“He’s made a turnaround rather quickly,” Dolan said with a little jet of enthusiasm.

If a mentally ill person makes a dramatic behavior change it probably means his meds have been changed from the wrong meds to the right ones. In any case, someone has to make sure the mentally ill take their meds, and right there is where “the system” often breaks down.

Addressing the gallery, Judge Moorman said, “Keep in mind that a lot of taxpayer money is going into this proceeding and what I want to know is where is he now? Is he still at North Valley?”

“He has not yet been discharged,” Ms. Latkin, Assistant County Counsel, said, and Judge Moorman was suddenly reminded of her earlier consternation.

Moorman fixed her sights on Ms. Latkin and fired.

“When you went to Judge Mayfield for the conservatorship, did you tell her that criminal proceedings against Mr. Hamburg had been suspended because of a 1368?”

Ms. Fawn stammered, “Well, I, umm, don’t really, um, recall, exactly, everything that was said… I’d have to look at the file and see. I don’t really remember, um, all of our conversation. I can’t say.”

“Okay,” Moorman said impatiently. “Where is this North Valley Behavioral?”

“It’s in Yuba City, California,” Pinizzotto said.

“What?! You physically removed him [Matthew Hamburg] out of the county when he was deemed mentally incompetent on a felony?!”

DA Eyster seemed to be enjoying the ongoing spectacle. He’d recovered his mandible and was popeyed with delight at this latest gaffe.

Moorman said, “Okay, that’s it. I’m going to take a recess and call in Dr. Kelly.”

A knot formed as the crowd moved towards the door. Supervisor Hamburg sidled up to County Counsel Parker and spoke his first words in the courtroom.

“Geez, I guess it’s turned into a real mess, huh?”

Parker noticed me sitting in the area reserved for the press with a pen poised over my notebook and deftly ushered our Supervisor out of earshot. When they’d mostly all adjourned to the hall, Moorman sent Dolan for her client, young Mr. Hamburg.

“I’m going to re-appoint Dr. Kelly now,” she told Matthew Hamburg. “I want to find out if you’ve been restored. We’re all concerned about your mental health, so I want you to go to Dr. Kelly’s office and talk with him again. Come back at 4:00 or 4:30, however long it takes, and we’ll decide what to do.”

Ms. Elliott made another attempt to substitute for Ms. Dolan, but Judge Moorman wasn’t having it.

“I’m not inclined to agree to the substitution without him signing the form, and he must first be deemed competent to sign. If he’s found competent by Dr. Kelly we’ll take up these other issues at that time.”

I had to go to the dentist at 3:30 and didn’t make it back by 5:00.

But neither did Matthew Hamburg and the matter was put over for another week. ¥¥

 

Detachment & Style

It is an occupational hazard of the journalist to get caught up in the story, the deeper you dig the more you realize how desperate a give situation is and the more you realize something must be done; so you report the facts, the sobering facts, and still the world whirls on, the populace concedes, yes, it is a dismal situation, but they go on about their lives, saying in essence “it’s too much, the powers are too great, and we are simple folk with modest expectations." Perhaps they need to be shown how it’s done. So you lock yourself to a piece of heavy equipment to stop the destruction until after eleven days they come and cut you loose and take you off to jail. This is what happened to Will Parrish, who was arraigned last Wednesday on three counts of trespassing, an infraction. The DA asked for 12 months of probation and charges of $250 for each day Parish was on the work site of the Caltrans Willits bypass, plus approximately $250 in fines and fees totaling about $3,000. Judge Richard Henderson gave Parrish a couple of weeks to think it over and released him on his own recognizance on the condition that he stay away from the bypass work site.

Carl Sandburg was a socialist and activist until he realized it was hurting his credibility as both a journalist and a poet. It was only after his friend Amy Lowell mentioned to him that his poetry was beginning to read like propaganda, that he finally left the Socialist Party; and then, not entirely coincidentally, the resulting detachment enabled his career as a journalist to develop. “The Sandburgs never again affiliated with a political party, although they supported liberal causes all their lives. But as Sandburg’s identity and visibility as a journalist grew nationally, his detachment from party politics was essential to his credibility.” (— ‘Carl Sandburg, A Biography’ by Penelope Niven.)

5 Responses to ‘Perilous. Very Perilous.’

  1. james marmon Reply

    July 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Judge Moorman stated, “it sounds to me like some County resources were used to do the 5150 without the court’s permission.”

    I hope that the other 4 Board of Supervisors make Supervisor Hamburg and County Counsel Parker answer to all of this. Why is Parker and county staff involved in Mr. Hamburg’s personal affairs? The County should bill Supervisor Hamburg for all costs. Not only is Supervisor Hamburg suing the County on another unrelated personal issue (burial permit), he is now using county resources as an attempt to keep his son out of jail. I’d like to know how much time county staff has spent on this.

  2. Mike Jamieson Reply

    July 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Glad to see Matthew has reportedly cleared up as noted here. Yes, McEwen is right, medication adjustments can do that!

    Just got through reading this out loud to a friend. It’s like turning on a dvd and watching a movie, that’s how easily pictured this report is. (The friend noted that plus the lack of animosity or moral superiority shown towards obvious “weakness” or flaws being reported.)

    LOL at Dan’s remark to Tom Parker and Parker then noticing McEwen sitting nearby with “pen poised above notebook”. Which brings up something:

    Where there no other reporters present?!?!?

  3. Carole Brodsky Reply

    July 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    There was another reporter present that day. Moi. The only “retinue” Supervisor Hamburg filed in with was his daughter. I suppose his “retinue” would include his son, whom he has not had the opportunity to communicate with for months since his arrest.

    I find it fascinating that Mr. McEwen and many other bright, intelligent citizens of Mendocino County have chosen to ascribe Supervisor Hamburg with powers bordering on the superhuman. If only this Super Supervisor, and many other parents of severely mentally ill children had the superhuman ability to “spirit” away their loved ones to facilities where they could receive the treatment they so desperately deserve. If only Super Supervisor Hamburg had the ability to prevent his son (who, like many troubled individuals was not unknown to law enforcement due to his mental health history) from enduring nearly one month in solitary confinement, before, I presume, correctional staff rightly alerted mental health personnel to the fact that Young Hamburg was exhibiting at least one of the signs and symptoms warranting 5150 status- “danger to self, danger to others or gravely disabled.” I know for both Mr. McEwen and myself, simply the lack of access to hair coloring agents would probably send both of us to the rubber room. I don’t have pictures, but if that’s what happened, bravo to our correctional staff for protecting and recognizing the need for mental health professionals to evaluate and address Matt’s condition.

    If only brilliant and talented reporters such as Mr. McEwen, who was beloved by the late Carrie Hamburg (do you remember Bruce? Do you remember sitting on the curb in Boonville, laughing with Carrie sharing a glass of wine about a year before she died? I do.) would take the time to ask Supervisor Hamburg how many times he had spoken to his son since seeing him in the courthouse surrounded by his “entourage” of one daughter, one reporter, one therapist and a couple of attorneys. Or perhaps Mr. McEwen could discover, if he actually asked Supervisor Hamburg about how, for the first time in perhaps years, “disoriented-looking” Matt Hamburg was able to converse in a linear, conversational fashion, albeit briefly, with his family in that abysmal, embarassingly public, uncomfortable hallway outside of the courtroom. Gee, how could that be? Because of Super-Supervisor’s powers? I think not. I think because finally, this young man is receiving the life-saving treatment and proper medication he needs and deserves.

    I admit. I’m not a court-watcher or an ambulance chaser. Something really irregular was going on in the courtroom, and if the $900,000 (or more) in suits and salaries can’t pick up the phones, talk to each other and coordinate the treatment and whereabouts of one individual in protective custody, there certainly is trouble in River City.

    Perhaps, Mr. McEwen, the real story here is not the tabloid-style cobbling together of snippets and juicy one-liners, lobbing allegations of family influence-peddling. Oh Please. Given the family’s current legal struggles regarding their attempts to acquire a burial permit, is it not logical to presume that county staff would be falling over backwards to either distance themselves from the family, or at best, make every effort to demonstrate that not a scintilla of the appearance of impropriety was in evidence? And Mr. McEwen- are you entirely certain that District Attorney Eyster was in the house? Swear on a stack of Bibles? He certainly was not standing with his staff. Nor did he make any statement. Nor was he addressed by Judge Moorman. Maybe your eyes are better than mine.

    Matthew Hamburg did return to court, Mr. McEwen, even if you did not. And I guess his father’s superhuman powers were not strong enough to influence Dr. Kelly’s evaluation that Young Hamburg was competent, if barely, to face his charges. And for those beloved AVA readers who are curious about the medieval world that is now the country’s mental health system, perhaps they should investigate what would happen to Young Hamburg, had he been deemed incompetent to face his charges. According to one psychologist I spoke to, most likely, back to Mendo. Back to solitary. To wait, for perhaps six months for a “competency training” bed to open up at Napa State Hospital. You tell me, folks. If you were a Super Supervisor, which of those delightful options would you choose? I saw what he chose. The same thing any of us would choose to do. Take his daughter in his arms, walk outside and attempt to find some privacy to let the tears flow. He might be Buzz Hamburg, but Buzz Lightyear? Not so much.

    Supervisor Hamburg does have one super-power, like him or not, and one that I certainly do not have: the ability to wake up in the morning, feed his late wife’s amazing flock of chickens, get to work and attempt, through unspeakable grief and excoriating, daily public chastisement to work cooperatively with his colleagues and try to find solutions to the truly pressing issues facing all of us who live in this county.

  4. Mike Jamieson Reply

    July 12, 2013 at 7:07 am

    In originally commenting on this story, I asked if the Sheriff’s Dept. had initiated a 5150 but if they did that it certainly wasn’t made apparent in the discussions on the history of actions made by the very upset judge, public defender, and assistant district attorney. These are the things that McEwen reported: that there was a whole bunch of angry officials puzzled by the actions of other officials, including a visiting judge.

    The above basic story, of upset judges and court officials, has not as yet been reported to date in the Ukiah Daily Journal. But, that’s not the whole story which as yet hasnt been fully fleshed out. It’s a story in motion, so to speak.

    Did you miss this observation? “At this point, it became clear that the supervisor was unaware of the complicated logistics done on his son’s behalf by County employees. It’s doubtful he would have sacrificed 35 grand simply to get his son out of the County jail.”

    I read this article out loud to a friend who continues to be a supporter of Hamburg (as am I, given his very good record on the Board). After doing so, he said he enjoyed the vivid writing and the fact that the writer didn’t show any animosity or a sense of moral superiority.

    I can understand your feeling that the angry judge and officials was a sign of something “irregular” going on in the courtroom because after all this should simply be about the condition of a person who was in the Sheriff’s custody AND how the county should proceed in addressing Matthew’s case.

    But, back to my original question: shouldn’t there be reporting on this? I don’t understand this dismissal of McEwen as a “court watcher” or “ambulance chaser”. Shouldn’t the public know what goes on in public courtrooms? And, when judges are angry about the actions of other county officials. Sounds like news to me. Whether the actions of the regular judges are “irregular” and, instead, the action of the irregular judge was in fact more regular (in dealing with this matter right) is up for the public to sort out, imo. But, how can they if this doesn’t get reported.

    Hopefully all energy gets directed to developing a treatment plan that works and getting this case resolved. I don’t see this case being campaign fodder in the end because the surrounding history related to Matthew is well known and people are sympathetic. And, the story of a Dad trying to get help for a distressed son, reportedly difficult to deal with in custody, is a story that people will understand in the right context, I suspect.

    So, this is what the AVA means by not letting friendships and sympathies get in the way of reporting. (You noted that Carrie Hamburg liked McEwen. I know the feeling was mutual! And, I know he has no personal animosity towards Dan Hamburg or his family.) What this story does for me is show the god awful state of mental health services in this county. The behind the scenes dealing, resulting in pissed off judges and court officials, is also a legitimate news story and in fact is a surefire sign itself of the pathetic state of affairs of mental health in this county.

  5. Mike Jamieson Reply

    July 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Just noting for the record that the AVA yesterday updated via Mendocino County Today column its developing understanding that Dan Hamburg was NOT aware of the various actions by the County Counsel and Dept. of Mental Health, etc. An observation that was already by Bruce McEwen in the second news article on this story, it seems. He pulled no strings.

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