Let’s Play Doctor
by Bruce McEwen, March 5, 2014
Last Friday the District Attorney and one of the Judges added medical doctor to their usual job descriptions. It was pretty amazing, really, but all kinds of fantastic changes are underway in the judicial system, with the jails being transformed into hospital wards, probation officers working as outpatient medical professionals, and judges doubling as doctors.
The entire performance put me in mind of the stories grandma used to tell us kids of an itinerate patent medicine show featuring a garrulous, melodramatic old quack called Dr. Stupenagle, and his dour assistant, Nurse Sauerpusse.
As the day wore on, I imagined that Judge Ann Moorman had cast off her black robe and donned a white lab coat, affecting the character of Dr. Stupenagle; DA David Eyster appeared in green scrubs as staid Nurse Sauerpusse.
“This sets a dangerous precedent,” one defense attorney grimly commented on the conversion of the courtroom to outpatient clinic.
The lawyers have been recommending, and the judges have been ordering, compulsory medications for quite some time, but never so brazenly as last week.
“You are certainly looking a lot better than you did the last time you were here,” Dr. Moorman said to a shackled female patient. “Now, stay on your meds and I’ll see you back here next week, okay?”
The armed orderlies led the patient back to the new hospital at Low Gap General, formerly the Mendocino County Jail. Dr. Moorman called the next patient, Lisa Schrage (pronounced Shroggy, not Schrage), a heroin addict.
“Angelina Potter of the Public Defender’s Office for Ms. Schrage who is present and coming forward. Your honor, we don’t have a problem with the 180 days jail time or the surrender date of next Tuesday, but we need to get an order for her medications because even though the jail doesn’t have a problem with it — they don’t want Ms. Schrage to go cold-turkey, they want to detox her slowly — she has been cutting back on her own volition in preparation for the surrender date."
“I started cutting my dose on my own,” Ms. Schrage explained her neo-austerity, “even though my doctor didn’t want the dose to go down that fast.”
“I don’t want her to go cold-turkey, either,” Dr. Moorman agreed.
A discussion of heroin addiction broke out, with all the lawyers, many of them also drug school post grads, expressing second opinions until Dr. Moorman interrupted to say she didn’t want any of these comments on the record.
Ms. Potter said she would ask Ms. Schrage’s doctor to meet with the medical staff at the jail to work out the details of Ms. Schrage's downsized dosage. The topic changed to fees and fines, and while the lawyers hammered out the money matters, Ms. Schrage nodded off.
Heroin seems to be deserving of careful legal handling, but alcohol is not. James Avants is an alcoholic undergoing treatment and recovery at the jail, but his time was up and he was due to be released. This caused Dr. Moorman some concern. “He needs housing. If he’s released and goes back on the streets he is more likely to re-offend.”
Living on the streets is definitely more endurable with a radiator full of antifreeze, although most doctors say that alcohol is the worst thing to take when faced with the prospect of hypothermia. But most doctors have never lived on the streets.
Dr. Moorman asked, “Are you going back out to the Coast, Mr. Avants?”
“I’ll have missed the bus by the time I get out.”
“But can’t you stay at the Buddy Eller shelter?”
“No, not anymore.”
“Have you been 86’d?”
The doctor threw up her hands in exasperation. “What good is it to have a shelter if nobody — especially the people who need it most — can’t stay there?”
There are many reasons you can be denied entry to the Ukiah shelter, most of them deriving from Demon Rum. But there's also not being able to prove you are a county resident. This rule was overlooked in my case five years ago because I needed out of the cold on Christmas Day, and the liberals who run these programs seemed nicer then, a tad more compassionate. But I’ve heard the rules are stricter, now.
It is also a Ukiah city ordinance that second-hand stores cannot sell sleeping bags and rain covers to the homeless — and if you are found sleeping under a bush somewhere, you will be charged with “illegal camping” and fined a minimum of $600. The courts rarely impose the $600 for the simple reason that if a homeless wight had that kind of money, the poor devil would have rented a room. My friend Misha Crockett was caught sleeping under the porch at WalMart on a stack of wood stove pellets a few years ago. She was given the $600 camping ticket and has since fled the county. Misha never drank or used any drugs but pot, for which she had a 215 card, but she would rather take her chances on the streets than stay at the Buddy Eller. She knitted hats and scarves, which she sold on consignment at a few local stores, but rent is exorbitant in Mendoland even in the crowded and dismal Laws Avenue low-income housing projects at the south end of the County seat. And don't look for the NPR libs dominant in County government to agitate for rent control any time soon.
“This is getting to be a serious problem,” Dr. Moorman said, circling back to the subject of the absence of shelter for drunks and the rest of the walking wounded. “And I want probation to address it,” she added, turning to Probation Officer Monica Vargas.
Ms. Vargas didn’t seem to know what to say, but Nurse Eyster came to the rescue: “Where’s he going in Fort Bragg?”
“I can stay with my brother at the Riptide Motel,” Avants said.
“I’ll have one of my investigators drive him over there when he gets out,” Eyster said, and name another DA anywhere who would dare, in plain public view yet, commit a comparable act of Christian charity.
“Okay,” Doctor Moorman said. “But no alcohol — don’t go near it! And no fighting! You are a big guy and sometimes people think you want to fight even if you don’t, so avoid all places where alcohol is sold. And keep away from Mr. Glover — who is this Mr. Glover, anyway?”
“He’s the manager at The Oaks Apartments. They still have my things there.”
“Okay, I want that in the minutes, that he can go there with an officer and get his things back. And I’ll reserve restitution on the vandalism charge.”
At this point the case of Christopher Beam was called and what happened next will undoubtedly put the medical marijuana community on the warpath for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Beam pled to cultivating marijuana with an arming allegation and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He had already been in jail long enough that he was about to be released and have his probation reinstated. His lawyer, Keith Faulder, had gone over the terms of the probation with him, but DA Eyster wanted to amend one of the terms, number 10.
Term number 10 is required in all pot bust probations and says something to the effect that the probationer may not possess or cultivate any marijuana, unless he or she has a valid doctor’s recommendation, and that he or she must follow the Sheriff’s (defunct) ziptie rules, et cetera. Eyster said he wanted the comma after the word “marijuana” replaced with a period, and all the rest stricken out.
“It’s just not working for Mr. Beam,” Eyster said. “Even if he has some health problems, there’s other ways to treat those things, and not just pharmaceutical treatments. There are things such as acupuncture, and herbal treatments and lots of other alternative treatments.”
Mr. Faulder said, “The DA shouldn’t be getting between patients and their doctors.”
Dr. Moorman said, “I like the idea. The guy’s picked up a couple of felonies and marijuana just isn’t working for him.”
“The courts shouldn’t be playing doctor,” Faulder repeated. “It sets a dangerous precedent.”
Dangerous? To the pot people, these are fighting words! “Yes, but pot is still against the law,” replied Judge Moorman and it gets people into trouble, so I’m amenable to prohibiting it in this case, and I am going to make the modification. If I allow you to use marijuana, Mr. Beam, it’s just gonna put you back in the same spot. … Where does he live?”
“In Mendocino,” Faulder said.
“Okay, on term number 10, I’m deleting all the language after the word ‘marijuana’ and we’ll just put a period there instead. We’ll put the time he’s served on credit and sentence him to 120 days for the firearm with 90 days consecutive for the violation of probation, for a total of 210 days, with 208 days credit for time served, and that will kick him out sometime tomorrow.”
There was something in the probation report called “evidence-based practices” that Mr. Faulder said he didn’t understand.
Judge Moorman explained.
“The Evidence-Based Practices Program has a number of components to it.”
“Like what?” Faulder asked.
“Well, it can mean that your probation officer can ask you to accomplish something like a job-search program, for one thing. It is broad-based and gives the probation officers something positive to do; it can mean anything, really, but, in my humble opinion, it’s all good.”
* * *
Across the hall in Judge John Behnke’s court it was standing room only for the sentencing of a Mr. Mota, convicted of a DUI resulting in serious injury to another. At the time of the collision, Mota was on probation for a prior DUI when he was stopped for yet another presumed driving drunk, fled the scene in his vehicle, crashed into a fence, and was finally run to ground by a defensive back from the Sheriff's Office.
Attorney Phillip DeJong was representing Mr. Mota but, with all the people crowding into the largest courtroom in the building, and with Mr. DeJong muttering, it was nigh-on impossible to hear what he was saying. I couldn’t even hear Mota’s first name. (But based on our review of the Sheriff’s arrest logs it’s probably Christian, Christian Mota.)
All I caught was something about Mr. Mota being “a very remorseful, deeply spiritual man in a way, and he understands that any deviation from the probation terms will result in his going to prison…”
Judge Behnke turned to the prosecution: “Mr. Boyd?”
“This is much more serious than defense counsel has characterized it. He was on probation for a DUI, drank and got behind the wheel again, got into a collision, ran home and had another accident on the way. His very poor performance while on probation for the prior DUI and the very high blood alcohol content — and we must remember this was his third DUI — so for all the good letters in support of Mr. Mota, he made a very bad decision and giving him a break today is just wrong.”
Mr. DeJong said, “Yes, but now he will have a probation officer to report to and help get him into a rehab program and if he doesn’t get into it or doesn’t complete it, then he has no one to blame but himself, and I’ll submit it on that, your honor.”
Behnke said, “Mr. Boyd made some very good points. Although it was five years since his last offense, he was still on probation and drove under the influence and caused an injury. He’s been on probation for DUIs two different times and here we are again today. This is a close case to call but I’m impressed that Mr. Mota is, when sober, a pretty good person, and he has a lot of support. I’m a little concerned that his family tends to blame the victims, but once you lose control of your vehicle because of driving under the influence it is your responsibility, and no one else’s. However, I’m going to go along with the agreement. It’s a five year probation, so you know, Mr. Mota, if you violate any of these terms in that time you will go to prison, and you will not be eligible to serve the time locally. I’m going to give you three years in A and three years in B. I can’t impose both, so I’m going to add eight months for the hit-and-run. And the misdemeanors, I think I’m going to stay. So it’s based on 365 days in jail with credit for 180 served. You are not to have any alcohol or have any contact with Mr. Klimpton. There will be 48 months in Lucky Deuce, $3360 in restitution to Mr. Klimpton’s vehicle, a $3390 fine, and $5129 for the hit-and-run.”
Deputy DA Boyd said that Mr. Klimpton was still in treatment and that the restitution wasn’t final, it would be over $20,000.
Judge Behnke reserved further restitution to Mr. Klimpton.
Boyd said there was a separate collision with a fence, and that would be $1556.
Behnke added the fence on to the restitution total, and asked Mr. DeJong, “So you think the insurance will pay the more than $20,000?”
“I do, your honor.”
“Okay, Mr. Mota, when you complete your jail term you are to report to probation and begin a minimum of six months in an alcohol rehab program and if you drive under the influence again and someone is killed you could be charged with murder, do you understand that?”
“Yes, your honor.”
After the sentencing, Mr. Mota’s mother-in-law, the always gracious and charming Cora Lee Simmons, asked me to say hello to her good friend, Bruce Anderson.