- Mendocino County
- Anderson Valley
by Bruce McEwen, February 24, 2016
There are two sides to the State of Jefferson secessionist movement in its Northern California, Southern Oregon heartland, and the two halves of that coin are diametrically opposed, politically.
On the right you have the Don’t-tread-on-me Libertarian cattle ranchers whose Daddies and Granddaddies, circa 1940, came up with the idea for a new state. In NorCal you've got ultra-liberal back to the land pot growers inspired by Earnest Callenbach’s sensational 90s novel Ecotopia, another secessionist fantasy to which many stoners remain entranced.
While the sides are traditional opponents, both are fed-up and on the verge of making concessions to one another for the greater glory of a common cause: The State of Jefferson.
So it’s not all that surprising that every once in a while the in-between wannabe appropriates the brand — for ulterior applications. That appears to be how the State of Jefferson Medical Marijuana Co-Operative turned up in one person in the Mendocino County Courthouse recently: Brian Woodson.
In Dockers and Oxfords, Woodson seemed neither rancher or pothead. He looked like a man with his head on straight. But his lawyer, the unkempt, confused, wheezing pot-asthmatic, Edward Denson of Alderpoint, looked like Bernie Sanders after three days sleeping on the Courthouse lawn.
Mr. Woodson’s trial for illegal cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale has suffered many delays, and his lawyer, the tattered, disoriented Denson, has been fined $500 for causing some of these delays, and it was delayed again on Friday the 12th as two witnesses took the stand during a pretrial motion.
The first was Peter Martin, a Brit, and president of the Martin Family Investment Corporation. They own a tract of land near Ukiah. The land in question was characterized as a cattle ranch specializing in a Scottish Highland breed. The rancher leasing the Martin land was Brian Woodson.
At first DA Eyster was adamant in objecting — well, lemme rephrase that: Eyster objected adamantly to everything Denson said and did throughout — but in the end he was thrilled with defense witness Peter Martin, so much so, he subpoenaed Martin for the trial despite the Brit’s urgent desire to return to the United Kingdom. But to begin with, Peter Martin took the stand over Eyster’s vociferous objections.
DA Eyster: “Why do we have to hear this witness’s testimony now, Judge?”
Denson: “Because he has to leave the country before the trial date, and we need to get his testimony on record.”
Eyster: “I object, judge. This is all over my objections.”
Judge David Nelson: “This is just a conditional examination to determine whether his testimony may be used and is relevant to the trial.”
Denson entered Martin’s passport as Defense Exhibit A, pointing out that it showed he entered the country on November 19, 2015.
Denson: “How long are you allowed to stay in the country?”
Martin: “Ninety days.”
Nelson: “Just a moment, Mr. Martin. We have an objection. Please wait until I rule on the objection before you answer — in future. Mr. Eyster, what’s the basis for your objection?”
Eyster: “Calls for a expert opinion, or knowledge the witness doesn’t have.”
Denson: “How do you know you can only stay 90 days?”
Martin: “The customs official told me.”
Eyster: “Objection, move to strike.”
Nelson: “The objection is sustained, and the answer will be stricken from the record.”
Denson: “What is your understanding of how long a person can stay in the US on a visa?”
Eyster: “Objection — relevance!”
Martin: “My understanding is that it’s 90 days.”
Denson: “And did you enter the country on a visa?”
Martin: “Yes I did, sir.”
Denson had given copies of Martin’s airline tickets (Exhibit B) to the DA as part of discovery, but had forgotten to bring in the originals to show the defendant and ask if they were his. This oversight put Denson in the humiliating position of having to beg the DA to loan him the copies which, after he'd extracted a suitable groveling from Denson, Eyster finally gave up. Yes, they were Martin’s electronic tickets and showed a departure date of February 16 from San Francisco to London.
Having brilliantly established that his witness was due to depart the country, Denson rested.
Eyster: “As to your understanding of the 90-day rule, Mr. Martin — please show me where it says that on Exhibit B.”
Martin: “It’s not on that piece of paper; that’s just an electronic printout of my tickets.”
Eyster: “Did you bring anything with you today to show the existence of this 90-day rule?”
Martin: “No, sir.”
Eyster: “Has anyone from the US government told you you have to leave?”
Martin: “No, sir … except the customs agent—”
Eyster: “Objection, judge, that’s been stricken!”
Denson: “This is not a fabrication, your honor.”
Eyster: “We don’t know that!”
Denson: “He’s a British citizen and he needs to leave the country so he came today so he could testify.”
Eyster: “Not over my objections, judge. He can’t do this, not over my objections.”
Nelson: “He’s about to leave, whether forced to or not, so I’m going to allow it.”
Eyster: “Judge, you’re making the assumption that he’s the owner of the property.”
Nelson: “Do you own property in the Ukiah area?”
Martin: “I have an interest in property in the Ukiah area.”
Nelson: “What does that mean?”
Martin: “The property at 11200 Chingam Road is owned by Martin Family Investments Corporation, of which I am the president, since October of 2011.”
Denson: “And have you leased the property to a tenant.”
Eyster: “Objection — leading!”
Nelson: “The question ‘has he leased the property?’ is not leading, although asking to whom it was leased — ‘a tenant’ — would be; but since a lease implies a tenant, I’m going to overrule the objection.”
Denson: “And who was that?”
Martin: “Fraser Nelson.”
Denson: “Did you have a written agreement?”
Martin: “No, sir.”
Denson: “How long did the lease last?”
Martin: “Well, it was for a year, so through 2012, but his rental payments were in arrears when his occupancy ceased earlier than that.”
Denson: “Did you have a subsequent tenant?”
Martin: “Yes, sir, Jeremy Fleming.”
Denson: “When was that?”
Martin: “From April 20113 to 2014.”
Again, payment was not forthcoming and Mr. Martin found himself in a Redding café lamenting his difficulty finding a non-deadbeat tenant when Brian Woodson, apparently eavesdropping, offered $10,000 cash up front for a turn at the lease. This time Martin got a written ”agricultural” lease and flew back to jolly old England, a much more sanguine subject of the crown. Woodson soon brought in his herd of about 50 Scottish cows.
He also erected a greenhouse.
Alas, Woodson’s rent ($2000 per month) also fell into arrears. However, over the phone he arranged to sell some of his beef cattle to the Martin Family Investment Corp. to make up the diff and both parties were happy.
But then, those noted Mendo killjoys, Sergeant Bruce Smith and Deputy Jeremy Mason of the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET) swooped down on the bucolic landscape and fully acclimated Scottish cows and busted Mr. Woodson in possession of more than 200 marijuana plants and nearly 20 pounds of processed bud.
Mr. Martin testified that he knew nothing about the marijuana grow, had never looked in the greenhouse or other buildings, and only came to check on the land itself. He approved of the cattle because they kept the grass down, whereas his other landowners in the area had to hire mowers.
(Uh, just sayin' but pot plantations are often arrangements where the landowner gets a percentage of sales, but if the operation is busted the owner says he had no idea his property was being used for illegal purposes.)
Eyster: “Who is the secretary of your investment corporation?”
Martin: “Adam Honeycutt.”
Eyster: “Who are the other officers?”
Martin: “There aren’t any.”
Eyster: “When was it formed?”
Martin: “In 2011. It was formed to buy this property.”
Eyster: “How do you check on the financial health of your corporation?”
Martin: “I don’t check, not in detail.”
Eyster: “Would it surprise you to learn your corporation has been suspended since 2013?”
Martin was more than surprised. He was dumbstruck.
Eyster: “So you have a lease that you entered into after the corporation was suspended by the State Franchise Tax Board?”
Martin loosened his necktie enough to gulp then whispered: “I just learned that.”
Eyster: “Are you educated, Mr. Martin?”
Martin: “Yes, sir, I have a masters in business administration.”
Eyster: “Do you know who looks after corporations in the State of California?”
Martin: “No, sir.”
Eyster: “Do you know your entity number with the Secretary of State?”
Martin: “No… no, I don’t believe I do.”
Eyster: “Who was your lease notarized by?”
Martin: “A land agent across from the Costa Coffee Shop.”
Eyster: “You were present and chose not to sign it?”
Martin: “Yes, sir. I did.”
Eyster: “You approved this lease when it was signed by your ex-vice president?”
Martin: “Yes, sir.”
Eyster: “It’s an agricultural lease… What crops were planted and growing?”
Martin: “To my knowledge, none. Excepting grass — grass for the cattle.”
Eyster: “Let me show you this copy of the lease. See where it says the tenant shall not keep any hazardous or flammable materials on the premises?”
Martin: “Yes, sir, I see it.”
Eyster: “Did you know that your property had been searched by the police and butane for making honey oil was found?”
Martin again seemed dumbstruck.
(Again just sayin', but the man is a citizen of a country world renowned for the excellence of its thespians.)
Eyster: “Do you know what an alcohol extraction lab is?”
Eyster: “What steps did you take to make sure marijuana was not being grown on your property?”
Eyster: “Did Woodson tell you he was found in the greenhouse with Prop 215 marijuana plants?”
Eyster: “Did he mention the 20 pounds of processed marijuana?”
Eyster: “You have a master’s degree in business administration?”
Martin: “Yes, sir.”
Eyster thought the answer amusing, by the look on his face, but before Mr. Martin could leave to catch his flight, the DA’s Deputy Chief Investigator Andy Alvarado papered him with a subpoena.
Martin: “Does this mean I can’t leave the country?”
Alvarado: “Your attorney will explain it to you.”
But Denson was engaged just then: he'd called in Damian Wyzgg of Mount Shasta, the president of the State of Jefferson Medical Marijuana Co-Operative and was trying to get some questions asked over DA Eyster’s steady stream of objections. The contest of wills was uneven — Eyster was like the roar of the lion to the squeak of Denson's mouse. It evolved that everyone in the Shasta co-op showed Mr. Wyzgg their doctor’s recommendation, then they each paid $500 to Woodson to grow their “medicine.”
Eyster asked Wyzgg what he had done to make sure none of the marijuana “leaked” into the black market.
Wyzgg: “We never got any of the marijuana.”
Eyster: “That’s not what I asked you. I want to know what precautions you took to make sure this marijuana wasn’t sold on the black market.”
Wyzgg: “”None. I didn’t do anything.”
Eyster: “Did you do any research before you set up this co-operative?”
Eyster: “Get any legal advice, consult with a lawyer?”
Eyster: “Did you read the State Attorney General’s guidelines for setting up a co-operative?”
Wyzgg looked as miserable and confused as Martin had. He had come in looking somewhat scruffy, his hair hadn’t obeyed the comb, his khakis looked slept in, and he had an awed expression on his face, like a kid at his first rodeo. In fact, he looked a lot like the unprepared attorney who'd called him to testify without, apparently, preparing the poor guy for what he'd be testifying to.
But Eyster, who had earlier been so stubbornly opposed to Denson's pole-axed witnesses, was suddenly delighted with both of them, so much so that he now had no objection to their taking the stand in Woodson’s defense.
The hearing was concluded and the trial set for Tuesday morning. The stranded Brit has had to revise his travel plans.