Dispatches From The Temple Of Justice, Ukiah

by Bruce McEwen, May 12, 2010

Mr. Attila Panczel, Esquire, officer of the court, was looking at contempt charges. He hadn't shown up for work. Esquire spelled his name for the court reporter. It's a trickier spelling than Esquire. He's had to spell it and pronounce it since people first started asking him his name, and then there were all those lame jokes about Attila The Hun. There must be days when Attila Panczel wishes he'd been named Joe Smith.

“P. A. N. C! Z, E. L.,” Esquire said loudly, cutting defiant glances about the courtroom.

Say it loud and say it proud, counselor, and everyone up for the kickoff.

* * *

I’ve made my share of enemies working the crime beat, on both sides of the law, and last week I was scolded in open court by a judge. I can’t seem to do anything right. There are people at the jail and in the prisons who would like to get their hands on my throat, their knives between my ribs and my noble head in their gunsights; and there are many cops who would cheerfully watch someone do me in or even take me out themselves at the slightest excuse.

It goes with the territory, I suppose. But I’m a very insecure person, and not being liked worries me more than the threat of a slow, violent death. For this reason, I’m particularly distraught that everybody at the Public Defenders Office absolutely despises me.

I'd be even more distraught if they didn't.

“So, are you going to write another encomium to the Police State this week, McEwen?”

This jibe came from Dan Haehl, a senior public defender. Dan and I used to be friends. He’s a devoted gun-nut with a celebrated collection of sporting arms and home protection units. I used to be a gun magazine editor. Haehl and I have shared many deeply emotional reveries in our shared delight for blowing leaden projectiles through the vital organs of an unsuspecting and innocent creature from a safe, comfortable distance.

Now, I fear, Dan uses my profile on his targets when he goes to the range to test fire his arsenal. And Dan Haehl is only one of several lawyers at the PD’s office who collects firearms. Stupidly, perhaps, I took Bob Dylan’s advice long ago and put my own guns in the ground.

It all began long before I arrived on the scene. Linda Thompson heads up the PD’s office. She was appointed by the Board of Supervisors who knew she'd do the job on the cheap, meaning she'd publicly defend the defenseless without spending too much public money on them. She may or may not know what she's doing, but there she is. Linda took some harsh criticism from this newspaper a few years ago when her young client Tai Abreu got locked up for life without the possibility of parole while his equally guilty accomplices in an ugly murder pleaded out. They'll do twenty years and go home to Fort Bragg. Abreu had no case but Linda went to trail, and Abreu, 19 at the time, will never see Fort Bragg again.

I went to Ms. Thompson with a suggestion she clear the air in her own words, that she respond to the conclusions about her performance in the Abreu case and any other disagreements she might have with my newspaper. But it didn’t work. She put me off for a few weeks, and when I persisted, I got a curt half-page of evasive responses.

Then another important case Ms. Thompson was handling went wrong. It was the matter of Glenn Sunkett. I had been involved in that one. Mr. Sunkett finally got Thompson removed as his lawyer, not that Thompson wanted to go, but Sunkett had to go up against the entire Courthouse apparatus to finally get someone to represent him the way all defendants are supposed to be represented.

And then, when the judge starts yelling at me from the bench and the bailiff is reaching for her taser, I have to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong profession.

So keep those cards and letters coming, folks. And forgive me, if you can, for taking some small measure of satisfaction when my sworn enemies land in the dock, which happened this past week.

My most virulent critic at the PD’s office has been the aforementioned Atilla Panczel. But if he hates anyone more than me, it’s law enforcement officers. He recently told me I should attack “those dirty pieces of shit” – in my paper. He was referring to two deputies who’d just walked past us, and one of them overheard Panczel's juvenile insult. Not that Attila cared. He smirked openly at the deputy, Tim Goss, who is generally reckoned to be a pretty good cop. Deputy Goss has fallen afoul of the law himself, and makes no bones about it, admitting he got popped on a DUI, did his time, paid his fine and moved on. But the attitude at the PD’s office is the juvenile Blue Meanie one of yesteryear, circa '68 – all cops are bad cops. When the home invaders crash through your door, dial-a-lib. Better yet, call Panczel. I'm sure he'll rush right over.

And here Panczel was before the judge trying to explain why he hadn't shown up for work, why he hadn't appeared to publicly defend the people who couldn't afford private counsel, which is almost everyone who gets arrested in Mendocino County.

Panczel's boss, Linda Thompson, appeared for Panczel before Judge Richard Henderson. It was like going to the principal's office with mommy, but this was a courtroom and little Attila was charged with contempt of court.

“Pro Bono, your honor,” Thompson joked, as the hearing began.

Ms. Thompson and her pro-bono client were spared the questioning looks of an audience. Besides them and the officers of the court, McEwen the Terrible was the only one there. But then the two uniformed men Panczel had insulted behind their backs showed up. Just to watch, I guess.

Thompson said Panczel wanted to take the oath and explain himself. Which Judge Henderson agreed to. But first, some drama was in order.

“It’s a matter of protocol,” Thompson pointed out. “If the matter could go forward with Mr. Panczel being sworn in to explain and apologize… I’ve discussed the matter with him and he’d be willing to be called.”

He'd be willing to be called? The man must indeed be gentry.

Judge Henderson flashed that dangerous grin of his and said, “First, I just want to clarify the purpose of this hearing. To find out if he was in contempt of court for failure to appear on April 9th, and find out if Mr. Panczel had notice of today’s hearing?”

“Yes,” Panczel said. “I was served.”

“Are you ready to proceed, then,” Henderson grinned.

“Yes, your honor,” Panczel said to his shoelaces.

“This is a quasi-criminal matter,” the judge said. “And it could include the imposition of jail time,” he added, as if he were speculating on the probability of an invasion from Mars.

Panczel could scarcely suppress a grin at this preposterous threat. Jail? For me? Impossible!

But before Panczel could say something stupider than he usually says, Henderson concluded: “But I can’t do that without reporting it to the State Bar Association. I’d also be inclined to impose a monetary sanction, but I can’t do that either for the same reason.”

Panczel nodded happily, demonstrating his total approval of His Honor's mercy. There would be no blot on Attila Panczel's copybook. He’d only be required to stand in the corner a spell with the dunce hat on. Mommy herself couldn’t have been fairer!

“To streamline this,” Mommy, er Linda Thompson, said, “if Mr. Panczel could be sworn in, he could give the court an account of his mindset at the time.”

Mindset. How many defendants publicly defended by Thompson and Co. get the opportunity to explain their “mindsets”?

There was some amusing repartee between Thompson, who wears men's suits, and Henderson who also wears men's suits, about, basically, just who was wearing the pants in this dysfunctional family. Then the lady in the men's pants got her motion granted and Attila took the oath to, uh, explain his mindset.

“Thank you, your honor,” Panczel said. “I want to apologize and say that I take this very seriously. I made a mistake and this is the thesis [sic] of my explanation, an error on my part. I failed to organize my materials. I was given a docket, and I knew the matter was on the docket, but I failed to remind myself; I simply neglected to remind myself that the matter was on for Thursday. I didn’t properly set out my calendar to remind myself. I’m very prepared for the case, but I thought it was Friday. You mentioned today that you reminded me of the hearing, that it would be that afternoon, but I was thinking of an unrelated matter and Your Honor never specified that it was that day, so I thought it was the Stotts matter, which, unfortunately, I was also late for the next day. This is further demonstrated by my discussion with Bert Schlosser who said he wouldn’t miss it for the world. I think this demonstrates that I completely blew it. I was around the Courthouse, heading to my office, when Keith Faulder yelled at me and said I was needed in court. On the way up the steps, I saw my clients coming down. I was flabbergasted and ran to Your Honor’s department, Your Honor, but it was closed. I realized I was too late. I’m gonna focus more on keeping my own calendar and just pay a little more attention to what’s going on. It was a mistake and I apologize for it.”

The farce got funnier.

Ms. Thompson asked Panczel, “When you took over the Diggs case – you made yourself familiar with the hearing dates?”

“Yes.”

“Do you recall how many days you participated in the case?”

“Approximately seven.”

“Did you agree to the setting of the date?”

“Yes. I agreed to it.”

“Mr. Panczel, how many cases are you responsible for?”

Panczel thought a moment, wagged his head resignedly, and admitted, “I have no idea.”

“I’ll submit to the court,” Linda said. “If your honor would like to ask Mr. Panczel anything.”

“I have no questions,” Henderson said tersely. He squared up the notes on his desk and said, “First of all, the court finds Mr. Panczel did have notice, and that further I reminded him of it which he acknowledges. The court also finds beyond reasonable doubt that he had the ability to be present. He hasn’t offered any particular reason other than scheduling. He did not appear and I find a sufficient basis to hold Mr. Panczel in contempt of court. I feel that his conduct should be punished.”

Henderson had explained why he felt Mr. Panczel should be punished but wouldn't be punished.

“This is a civics class,” the judge continued. “Pay attention. In this system we have set up a hierarchy wherein a trial judge ensures that it functions properly and when that system fails to function it shows a great disrespect for the people who come before the judicial system. They expect it to function equitably for everyone. Everybody’s agreed to be part of that system and I find it particularly frustrating when somebody doesn’t show up. I understand that sometimes people have other obligations, and I try not to be unreasonable, but the court system can’t work if people aren’t here on time. They wonder who’s running the system when the judge can’t even get people here on time. It’s frustrating to me, and I will tell you, Mr. Panczel, you’ve had a cavalier approach to your duties. I’ve noticed it myself and so have other judges I’ve spoken to. What makes it particularly irritating to me is that you had already been reminded and then you were late again in the Stotts matter.”

“I understand you sometimes think your preferences should override those set by the judges, but I am not going to hold you in contempt because it would have to be reported to the State Bar Association, and I don’t think it’s a good time to get that mark on your record. So I’m going to continue this until November.”

Linda Thompson wanted to un-clarify the non-punishment, which seems especially reserved for lawyers.

She said, “It’s understood then, that there’s to be a certain time, an opportunity to purge. He would have to be personally responsible for his own calendar.” (Who was responsible for it before?) “There will be six months time in Mr. Panczel’s career to show he can be responsible.”

“Thank you, your honor,” Panczel said.

The deputies Attila had insulted had already left in disgust when it became obvious that the clever little fellow was going to get off.

The lesson of the civics class seems to be that the Lords and Ladies of the Court enjoy a different kind of justice than mere commoners can expect.

* * *

Another example of privilege happened in Judge Brown’s court. The lawyers were amusing themselves variously, one playing with a Sudoku puzzle on a laptop, another checking the Twitter messages on her phone, others chatting excitedly about the latest fashions and judge candidate Ann Moorman’s new hair-do. There’s nothing the least bit unusual about this, and often it’s hard for the people seated in the gallery to hear what is being said by the lawyers who are actually trying a case. Forgetting my place in the hierarchy, I ventured to deliver a newspaper to a corrections officer waiting in a corner for her prisoner to finish his court appearance. Judge Brown was instantly infuriated.

“I won’t have that,” he shouted into his microphone as everything else except that continued.

“Yessir,” I said and scurried out, tugging my forelock apologetically.

* * *

I ran up the stairs to Judge Clayton Brennan’s court, and just as I reached the top of the landing who should step out of the elevator but Captain Fathom in cold irons bound! I followed The Captain and his guard into the courtroom.

Judge Brennan, it must be said, has undergone a change for the better.

His wife left him but he got his humor back. Brennan called Captain Fathom’s case.

Someone bearing a strong resemblance to the Captain recently faked a heart attack in Navarro to get a free ride to Fort Bragg. In the ambulance. Now it appears that the Captain, fresh out of fake heart attacks, is providing his own transportation in stolen vehicles.

The Captain has a voice like a foghorn. He bellowed, “Your honor, I rented that van!”

“Just a minute, Mr. Graham,” Brennan said. “We have to get the Public Defender appointed, first.”

“But I want Mr. Petersen,” Fathom said. “I owe the Public Defender money.”

“Well, you had the Public Defender last time. Can you afford to hire your own attorney?”

“Yes, your honor. I have a farm in Albion. And I’m totally innocent of these charges. I want Petersen!”

Mr. James Griffiths of the PD’s office asked, “Which one of the Petersens do you want? Perhaps I can call him for you.”

“I want the one that joined the IWW,” Fathom said, eliciting a ripple of mirth in the room, which Judge Brennan couldn’t resist joining in.

“Okay,” Brennan said. “I’ll put this over until Monday so you can contact a lawyer.”

“May I sit down, now, your honor?”

“Yes, you may sit down.”

The Captain looked a little scuffed up, his elbows were white like he'd been dragged through fresh paint, and he had a number of scrapes and scratches on his arms. He looked like he hadn’t gone along peaceably.

* * *

The hearing into the shootout on Chicken Ridge finally concluded on Friday.

Judge Henderson went over some of the more obvious contradictions in the testimony. The two remaining defendants are Darvel Blackwell and Clifton Jacobs, both facing two counts of attempted first degree murder for shooting Robert Long and attempting to shoot Jackie Slade in a Covelo marijuana deal that turned violent last Thanksgiving. A third defendant, Marquis Walker, plead to accessory, saying he was only the driver. Walker was released on his own recognizance a few weeks ago.

“It seems to me kind of strange,” Henderson said, “that he (Troy Sims, who'd brought everyone to Covelo for the pot deal) left all these people at his house, and went out to get breakfast. The testimony seems to be that Mr. Long was hung over, or something, after driving all night from Sacramento, and was lying on the bed where he was shot, and that Walker had gone out to the van to sleep and was not involved. From that point forward, I have a hard time figuring out what happened. Blackwell and Jacobs, according to the prosecution, came with the intent to steal the dope from whoever Long put them in touch with… That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The testimony seems to be that there wasn’t much dope on the site, so I wonder why they’d go ahead and try to steal whatever minimal amount was there. If they were going to rip off the dope it seems like they’d have waited for Sims to return with it. And there was no dope found in the vehicle at the time of the arrest.

“The other alternative was that Sims, Slade and Long intended to rip them off. But if that were the case, I wonder why they didn’t do that initially, when they got up there. Why wait until Sims left? Also, there’s no testimony that anyone saw any money. I didn’t find the testimony of Mr. Slade to be of any particular import — whether he was a victim or participant, it’s still the same. And Mr. Seto’s testimony was of no value to me.”

Mr. Joshua Seto, a jailhouse snitch, had come forward to testify after hearing that the defendants were offering $10,000 for anyone who would take the stand on their behalf.

The prosecutor, Deputy DA Matt Hubley, said pieces of Slade’s testimony could be corroborated by a target and some shell casings laying about the site.

“And Deputy Arrington testified that Slade was crying. Something happened to cause that man to cry, Your Honor. And a bullet was found right next to the path Slade said he took running down that hill.”

He said, “I agree with the court’s opinion concerning Sims. It’s hard to conduct a rip off when one of them leaves. I think they started to get nervous when Sims didn’t come back, thinking they were being set up. We’re not sure why Jacobs was brought along. Walker and Blackwell had bought marijuana together in the past, but that didn’t happen this time. Everything was found in the car at the time of the arrest. No money was ever found.”

Clifton Jacobs’ lawyer, Barry Robinson said, “Somebody may be the victim of a gunshot, but I’m not sure any crime has been committed. All we know is that Slade and Sims say Long remembers everything, but he never came to testify.”

Robert Long was shot in the left temple, but the bullet went across his skull just above his eyes and exited into the bed he was laying on. It was rumored he would appear on the stand, but he never did. Presumably, Robert Long knows who shot him.

Robinson said, “One of these sides intended to rip-off the other.”

Henderson said, “But there’s no marijuana and no cash.”

Robinson: “Well, we don’t know that. They were given samples in Sacramento. Now, it’s true nobody saw any money – everybody says they saw no money – and I know nobody credited Mr. Seto’s testimony, but he did say he saw Slade at his mother’s house the next day and when he asked about the money Slade said, ‘It got took’ is the answer he gives. I know Seto isn’t the most cooperative witness, but he said he saw Slade the next day with a gun and a wad of cash. Slade says he was there to do clean up, but I don’t believe anything Slade says or Sims. They’ve lied from the beginning. If they were truly victims, they’d have no reason to lie. I feel bad for Mr. Long, but for all we know, Slade shot him. There’s no reason to believe he didn’t hide the money and gun before he found the passerby and called 911. When Sims left, he knew Slade and Long were armed. Walker said he saw them putting rounds in their pockets. The prosecution wants to use the absence of facts to say why Long was shot. If this wasn’t a rip-off, why wasn’t Sims making calls from Sacramento to line up the marijuana? It’s also far-fetched that three people from LA would plan a rip-off when they don’t even know where they are. They thought they were going to Stockton, then ended up in Covelo. The real conspiracy is on the part of Long, Slade and Sims. And why isn’t that charged – conspiracy to sell marijuana?” Robinson added this as if it had just occurred to him. Then he concluded his theory of the case:

“So, I think the evidence shows the defendants were intending to buy marijuana and got ripped off.”

If Robinson is right, Jacobs and Blackwell not only got ripped for over $30k, but took the rap, a two-strike felony, for it. Somebody – whoever put up the money – is going to be hugely disappointed in these guys.

One statement early on was that Blackwell’s “uncle” in Las Vegas bankrolled the botched expedition to Covelo. But Deputy DA Hubley said it was a gang deal, that Blackwell and Jacobs were gang-bangers from LA. He even brought in a gang expert from LA to establish gang affiliation suspicions. Mr. Hubley told me with a shudder of concern that he doesn’t like the idea of Crips and Bloods moving into Mendocino County.

But Judge Henderson wasn't buying the gang hook. “I can save you a lot of trouble, counsel, by saying I’m not too convinced of the gang connection in this case.”

Robinson hoped to defuse the gang allegations completely. The gang connection, along with the two counts of attempted murder, would send the defendants away for a long time. And Blackwell’s lawyer, Carly Dolan of the Public Defender’s office, agreed with Robinson’s dismissive remark concerning the gang expert from LA,

Robinson said, “These gang cops always come to court, and if they don’t say the defendant is a gang member, they’re out of a job. By Detective Shear’s testimony, everybody’s a gang-banger in East LA! And most of the gang allegations are based on the lies of Sims and Slade.”

Robinson thought the evidence that the rental car they’d come in was blue – a Crips color – was particularly preposterous, and Henderson said he agreed it was a little far-fetched.

Ms. Dolan supported and seconded everything Robinson said, and added her opinion of the Chicken Ridge events.

“It’s possible,” she said, “that Slade could have been a lone actor. It could have been just Slade with the idea of the rip off. He continues to deny that he was in that house when Long was shot, and he testified that he wasn’t armed, but his fingerprints are on the ammunition box. The prosecution makes an issue over the fact he was crying, as if this proved his innocence. But he was involved in some behavior that caused his girlfriend’s brother to get shot – nearly fatally, and he continues to lie.”

Mr. Hubley had the last word, but it was mostly the gang stuff that Henderson wasn’t taking too seriously, despite Hubley saying he hoped the court wouldn’t find the blue car angle “laughable.”

The judge said, “Humph… The standard I use is strong suspicion. And it looks to me like there was a dope deal that didn’t work out in Stockton. Things went sideways for some reason. Now we’re left with two buyers and three sellers — Walker being by all accounts out of the deal – and Long was lying on the bed most of the time. I don’t see any motivation to start shooting. And Long was laying down when he was shot. So I’m looking at Slade, out in the garden. Someone took shots at him. He said this was Jacobs. One shot, arguably, hit Long. When the weapons were recovered, one had one bullet missing, the other had six or seven rounds missing. So I have a strong suspicion that Blackwell and Jacobs started the shooting. Based on the evidence I’ve seen so far they were the ones responsible for the shooting.”

The judge held them both over for trial on the attempted murder of Long and Slade, and dropped the robbery charge, as well as the gang tag.

Mr. Hubley’s gang-alarm may have more resonance with a jury though, so it should be a pretty exciting trial. It promises to be a long, hot summer for Darvel Blackwell and Clifton Jacobs. If they get out of this one, I’ll bet the beer money they never try to buy weed in Covelo again.

* * *

Special Agent Peter Hoyle and Attorney Omar Figueroa faced off again on the Fermin Robles case. This time Figueroa tried to suppress the evidence, but again Hoyle won. The case is going forward. I talked to both men after the hearing, much of which I missed because it unfolded while I was covering the Chicken Ridge shootout.

Hoyle said, “Derek Hendry’s father is NOT a cop! Get that straightened out, would ya?”

“Sure. Consider it done.”

He was referring to an unrelated matter, the Fairy Ranch report I’d filed a few weeks earlier.

“Where did you find the money,” I asked, referring to the Robles case.

“In the light fixture,” Hoyle said.

“But I thought it was in the shipping container –?”

“That was the $300,000 the three guys from Chicago brought. Mr. Robles had the $70,000 in the light fixture.”

I was all confused. I said, “But wasn’t the gun in the shipping container?”

Hoyle nodded.

“In a tool box?”

Another nod.

“Wasn’t it broken?”

“Say, you remember this case pretty good!” His eyes danced like a fighter’s. He said, “The gun wasn’t broken. It was a .25 Browning.”

I know from first-hand experience that Browning makes a pretty reliable gun, so I didn’t recite testimony to the contrary. Mr. Figueroa came by with his usual happy greetings and we went down the hall to chat. He introduced me to his eager young colleague, a Mr. Bradford, and I asked Figueroa what he thought of Hoyle’s skill on the witness stand. Omar admitted that Hoyle was all sincere and forthright when Ms. Kitty Houston was working him – those two go wayyy back.

“But,” he added with the mirth of a man playing his trump card, “you must have noticed how he comes off on cross-examination, all sour and up-tight–?”

“That doesn’t play well in front of a jury,” Mr. Bradford said with a knowing smile.

I’ve never seen Special Agent Hoyle before a jury. Figueroa gave me the distinct impression that this case might well go that far. The seeds are in the ground, the soil lush with providential rainfall and the court could blossom with all kinds of amazing fruit this summer.

* * *

Philip Frase, accused of the murder of Michael Schmidt, has been in court a couple of times. Frase is distinctive looking, about six-one, thin, not unpleasant-seeming with his long gray groovie guy beard done up with several bands holding it like a necktie in front of his custodial orange pyjamas.

Mr. Schmidt’s remains were found by the Sheriffs Department’s cadaver dog under a pile of brush on Frase’s property near Laytonville. There were hammer blows to the deceased's skull. Frase told the cops he had no idea where Schmidt was, but then Deputy Dog found Schmidt under a bush on Frase Acres. Frase is scheduled to appear for pre-trial motions on May 13th.

Valerie Williams, so drunk she couldn't keep her car on her side of 101 on the Willits Grade, crossed into the oncoming lane and Larry King head-on collision. Mr. King is hugely missed, and the people who miss him are always in court for The People vs. Valerie Williams.

Ms. Williams was in Judge Cindee Mayfield’s court, trying to get her sentence reduced.

“A minimal reduction,” her attorney, Peter Goldbeck said. He said that Ms. Williams had been attending AA and NA, had even got her GED. “She’s been doing a good job in jail on her road to recovery,” her lawyer said.

DDA Matt Hubley objected to the lawyer’s use of the word “minimal.”

He said, “She’s scheduled to get out next month. A reduction of two-thirds of her sentence isn’t minimal.”

Judge Mayfield agreed and imposed Judge Brown’s original sentence, which was County Jail time plus fines and a few stipulations.

Ms. Williams got off light, real light.

Larry King’s friends and family, attending the hearing in their black memorial T-shirts, were relieved by Judge Mayfield's decision to keep Ms. Williams inside jail, outside the bottle.

My fetching friend Tammy from Fort Bragg was in court working out her child custody case. I told Tammy that I’d seen another friend of ours on the docket, Franz Wittenkiller. We ran up to the arraignment department to see him, but he’d been hauled off to see Judge Lehan at the Ten Mile court in Fort Bragg.

Franz, a homeless local, has a long series of disorderly conduct and drinking in public arrests on his rap sheet. He can’t go home to drink, like so many other local sports, but the comfortable folks on the Coast want Franz to go away. Franz, however, loves his hometown. And he’s always a gentleman. I’ve seen him busted more than once – more than twice, actually – and Franz always goes peacefully.

Once, we were sitting in the park where the old Fort Bragg Library used to be before the well-connected crooks burned it down and DA Susan Massini let the case sit until the statute of limitations had run and the crooks are still laughing about how they got away with burning the library, the old Piedmont Hotel and the old Ten Mile Court itself all in one night back in 1987, and how's that for un-prosecuted brazen Mr. and Mrs. Mendoland?

That day on the lawn where the library used to be, Franz was sipping his first beer after a stint in jail. It was early in the day and Franz had been turned out just after midnight without his hoodie, nothing but a T-shirt to hitch home in. He was shivering in the pale morning sun, but he didn’t care. He was that happy to be home.

“This is God’s Country,” he said. Then Elsa The Cop came around the corner of the old Town Hall building and busted him. He pled with her handsomely, but she cited him for an open container and Franz went back over the hill like a lamb.

But, gentle reader, never mistake kindness for weakness. Franz’s father was a legendary biker and his grandfather a Waffen SS officer in World War II, and Franz has the lightning-bolt S’s tattooed on his neck right about where they would have been on his grandfather’s uniform collar. What’s more essential is Franz has a shocking reach of arm, a lightning-quick knockout hook and a fast jab to set it up with, and an insistence on proper conduct.

Mendocino County's street people walk softly around Franz.

All kinds of sleazy deals go down in Fort Bragg – locals call it the Underbelly of the Coast. Many readers of the AVA know the score, as does Franz. So it’s not surprising that every year at the beginning of tourist season the bourgies press the FBPD to send Franz away for the summer for a little homeless-man’s vacation in the County Jail. It would be cheaper to give him a job, but Fort Bragg seems to prefer Franz in Ukiah.

Anyway, that’s my take on it, although I was only there a short time and my judgment’s poor. But if I had to choose between Officer Cottrell, the famous “Onion Head (as Franz so appropriately nicknamed him) and Franz, I’d go with Franz.

It was Officer Cottrell’s family, you may recall, who got away with ripping off Skye Nicklel’s redwood grove a while back, and darned if Ed Colombi Jr. isn't in the process of getting away with a similar theft in the same courtroom – Judge Lehan's – that Skye lost in.

2 Responses to Dispatches From The Temple Of Justice, Ukiah

  1. Wow! Reply

    May 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Wow! What a tour de force here Bruce! I’m no phd or professional critic but this article here is some grade a number 1 journalism my friend. Thank you very much and I’m very happy we have someone here to shine a little light on the day to day workings of our so called justice system here in MendoLand :)

  2. Jeff Reply

    July 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    If only the rest of us could understand what Bruce was talking about.

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