A Letter to the Defense Bar

by Bruce McEwen, December 6, 2017

A number of the lawyers at the Office of the Public Defender have communicated certain innuendos about your trusty courthouse correspondent, namely that I am too friendly with law enforcement personnel and the lawyers from the District Attorney’s Office; the public defenders think I’m naïve about the methods of cops, and how low-level offenders are routinely treated, shall we say, less than fairly.

In fact, I do know what the defense lawyers are talking about from first-hand experience, as a primary source, as us journalistas are fond of saying, and just to show what I mean, here’s a little narrative of what happened to me in Laramie, Wyoming, as I was hitch-hiking out here to work for the mighty AVA. It was early spring in Wyoming, the wind blowing a fine hard snow and I was sitting on my suitcase, shivering, trying to catch a ride outside a truck stop on Interstate 80, when a cop pulled up and got out of his patrol car. He came over and introduced himself holding out his hand, which I naively took, and that’s when it all began. Instead of shaking my hand he twisted my arm behind my back, shoved me against the patrol car, pinned me there, and snapped on the handcuffs. All this time I was shouting in a state of shock, “What’s going on? Why are you arresting me? What have I done?” No answer. The officer shoved me in the back of the patrol car on a smooth plastic bench and I tried to block his shutting the door with my foot a couple of times and, as he was busy trying to bundle me into the car, my foot came in contact with his leg. This angered him and he grabbed my hair and wrenched my head painfully around — all very legal – until I came into compliance with his wishes, whatever they were.

There must have been some kind of roller coaster course nearby, or maybe just the back streets of Laramie, but we went on a high-speed trip that included lots of sharp turns, first one way then the other, so that I rolled back and forth across the hard plastic bench on my manacled wrists, banging into first one door then the other.

The ride went on for a while, and I caught the occasional glimpse of the officer’s face in the rearview mirror; he appeared to be hugely enjoying himself. At length we came to a screeching halt at a clinic of some kind, and with the aid of two more officers, I was hustled into an examination room by a big guy, about six-five, maybe 280 pounds who further manhandled me, twisting my arm, in an attempt to attach something to my hand.

“You don’t have my permission to treat me,” I shouted and jerked my hand away. I was being held down by the officers and the big guy went to my feet and pulled off one of my boots, and tried to attach his clip to my toes. I jerked my foot away repeating, “You don’t have my consent to treat me! Stop it!” Finally, they gave up and took me to jail. After a day or two, I went to court and learned that I was being charged with a couple of felonies for kicking first the arresting officer, and then a nurse. The prosecuting attorney told the judge that I had willfully kicked an officer, “You can ask anybody, judge, this is the nicest officer on the force. Also, judge, the defendant then kicked a nurse.” The judge looked at me like I was something that had just crawled out of a snake pit, and appointed a public defender to represent me. After a couple of weeks, this lawyer came to see me at the jail. He told me I should just plead guilty to the charges, and he could probably get them reduced to misdemeanors and a couple of years on probation. I protested that I hadn’t done anything wrong. He found my claim of innocence amusing. I told him how the prosecutor had made it sound like the officer was a lamb and the “nurse” a nice little old lady. My lawyer said there was nothing to be done about it; if he pointed out that the nurse was a man, a very large man at that, the prosecutor would object on the grounds of relevance, and the judge would sustain it. As for the treatment by the officer, it was my word against his, and it was true I had been drinking, so who would a jury believe?

“Why,” I asked, “did the officer arrest me in the first place?” “Someone called and complained you were making a nuisance of yourself.”

As it happened, I’d read the police log from the local paper, which came to the jail each day looking for any report about my case (perhaps someone had seen me take a nip of antifreeze from my hip flask), but there was no record of my arrest. My lawyer said that would make no difference to the judge, and I have since learned that he was right. But at the time I thought it was a significant piece of exculpating evidence. There were other things I thought were to my advantage in the case, but my lawyer disagreed, and stuck with his take-the-plea advice, which I finally agreed to.

With this experience, and a few other similar brushes with law enforcement – and by the grace of God, I’ve been improved by it – I came to realize that the officer and prosecutor were only playing their roles in a highly developed game, called the adversarial judicial system, and that nobody meant me any personal harm or insult by any of it. After a month or so in the slammer, I was released and one of the correctional officers offered some friendly advice: “Don’t come back to Laramie.”

Fair enough. My cellmate for that stint in jail was a college wrestler who had come to Laramie from Fort Collins, Colorado for a wrestling tournament. Out drinking one night, he’d been approached by a Laramie cop with a drawn pistol. The wrestler adroitly snapped the gun out of the officer’s hand and tossed it up on the roof of a building, then tried to lure the cop into a match, but of course the cop called for back-up and my celly got more than he bargained for in the form of “pain-compliance measures,” as near death pacification measures are euphemistically called.

The lesson I took from it was that the cops have a job to do, and they want anyone who comes along to understand that they are going to play rough if they have to, to get that job done – and the rougher you want to play (like trying to block the door with your foot will get you a roller-coaster ride until your wrists are sore and swollen, disarming a cop will get you hurt a lot worse and possibly killed) the rougher they will play. So yes, there’s a lot of indignation on the part of public defenders when it comes to the way their clients are treated, and little white lies about kicking nurses, and how “Officer So-&-So is the nicest guy you’d ever care to meet,” are just a part of the game – a game in which the defendants are not always completely truthful, either, it should be noted. And – let’s be honest: If the cops were as nice and respectful and truthful as the public defenders, none of whom have ever been on the receiving end, seem to wish, there’s not a case the prosecution could ever make stick, and all the petty criminals and professional thugs would go around thumbing their noses at the cops and taking whatever liberties they wanted at the expense of an otherwise law-abiding populace.

This little confessional should put me in a better light with the lawyers at the Office of the Public Defender, but if not, no big loss, as they don’t seem to be too anxious about pleasing me, or promoting mutual understanding and respect with my office, in any case. Also, it helps their egos, professionally, if they can dismiss me as biased rather than accept that they usually don’t present much of a defense for their clients.

* * *

SLOTTE UPDATE Jesse Slotte was released from further proceedings in his child endangerment and domestic abuse cases this morning (November 30th) by Judge Leonard La Casse, in order that he might enter a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment program in Menlo Park, the Men's Trauma Recovery Unit, one of the best in the country, according to Veteran's Administration Court Representative Lee Van Zant. Deputy DA Elizabeth Norman would not relent in the child endangerment charges against Mr. Slotte even though the felony assault with a deadly weapon charges were not pursued after the recent preliminary hearing that showed no more evidence than the victim's word for it that Slotte had held a knife to her throat, threatened her life, thrown her to the ground and kicked her in the ribs. The evidence also indicated that the older child was trying to get away from his enraged mother, and that the baby was safe and sound asleep in the car seat when Slotte was pulled over in Lake County. Judge La Casse said he found unusual circumstances in postponing Mr. Slotte's trial on the child endangerment charges, until May 21st, 2018, when Slotte will have completed the treatment program arranged by the Veteran's Administration.

* * *

I hasten to apologize for missing two trials of the century this past week, a DUI and a 647f, the former because I knew one of the jurors from Boonville, and the latter because I knew the defendant, and have to deal with the guy on a daily basis, since we both live in downtown Ukiah, and he, Alan Holliday by name, and I have been acquainted since back in my homeless days and I, by God’s grace, have improved my lot while Alan has slid farther down the road to ruin – supposing you can get any more ruined than to live on the streets of Ukiah with only a plastic bag of rags to your name.

Anyhow, Al was charged with drunk and dirty, don’t you know (to quote the poet), and as he refused a reasonable plea offer, the county was put to the trouble and expense of a jury trial, and his jury, somewhat put out, no doubt, over having their lives interrupted for such an idle prank, duly convicted him out of hand, since he had no defense and, apparently, nothing better to do with his time. Now, the DA and the judge will throw the proverbial book at him. A cry for help, the pious would interpret the whole act, whereas the cynic would laugh the idea to scorn.

As for the DUI, the verdict only took a record 10 minutes.

On the first day of the DUI case, I saw a friend from Boonville in Schat’s Bakery – I used to see him daily at Mosswood Market Bakery in Boonville – and, since he hadn’t yet been issued a jury duty badge, I joined him for coffee. Before I could stop him – my mouth full of pastry – he told me all about the case he was going to be on. This won’t do, as jurors must not talk to the press, so I couldn’t cover the case without accusations of having suborned a juror, so I ordered a ham & cheese croissant and refilled my coffee. He said the judge, while highly engaging had, in his view, taken altogether too much time, trying to convince potential jurors to stick around and enjoy the trial experience, as it were, but all the people in the jury pool wanted nothing more than to get it over with and get back to their idylls in Boonville. (People who don’t live in Boonville don’t understand how crucial it is to get “the Ukiah trip” over and done with, and get back to the Anderson Valley pronto.) So this friend was a mite – I won’t say, “a lot” – but a mite put out with Judge Faulder’s judicial entertainment portion of the jury selection (my favorite part, but then I don’t have a life either) process.

* * *

Jury Convicts Drunk Of Being A Drunk 

UKIAH, Tuesday, Nov. 28. — Working through the lunch hour, a Mendocino County Superior Court jury returned from its deliberations early Tuesday afternoon with guilty verdicts against Alan Clair Holliday, age 48, generally of the Ukiah area. Holliday was convicted by jury of disorderly conduct (public intoxication), unlawful possession of alcohol in a city park (Vinewood), and the unlawful littering of the same park, all misdemeanors. Deputy District Attorney Melissa Weems was the prosecutor who presented the People's evidence and argued in support of the convictions. A new prosecutor on the District Attorney's team, this was DDA Weems' first jury trial so congratulations are in order. The law enforcement agency that investigated this matter was the Ukiah Police Department. The judge who presided over the two day trial was Mendocino County Superior Court Presiding Judge John Behnke. (DA Press Release)

Ten Minute Deliberation —

UKIAH, Tuesday, Nov. 28. — Deliberations by a Mendocino County Superior Court jury took just ten minutes at end of the afternoon before the foreperson notified the Court that the jury had reached a verdict in the case of The People of the State of California versus Lewis Michael Riley, age 65, of Calpella/Redwood Valley. Riley was found guilty of driving a motor vehicle in June of this year with a blood alcohol of .08 or greater. Evidence presented at the trial disclosed that he defendant was driving with a blood alcohol of .13. The prosecutor who presented the evidence on behalf of the People was Deputy District Attorney S. Houston Porter. The law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation of this crime were the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the California Department of Justice Crime Laboratory in Eureka. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder presided over the two day trial. (DA Press Release)

One Response to A Letter to the Defense Bar

  1. Eric Sunswheat Reply

    December 13, 2017 at 8:05 am

    So McEwen, now I understand why you curry favor with local Mendocino courthouse prosecutors and law enforcement, so they don’t kick your proverbial butt, and give you the ‘Peter Hoyle’ treatment with alleged falsified testimony.

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