Book ‘Em, Clown-O!

by Bruce McEwen, October 7, 2010

With the film crews from National Geographic buzzing around in Mendoland last week doing a documentary on the local drug war, all the big shots at the courthouse were scrambling to get themselves in the movies. A bunch of high-profile busts of low-level pot people, most notably in Covelo, hauled in several dozen trimmers to impress the Big Media guys and their expensive cameras, and the DA, facing an iffy re-election only a few of weeks away, ordered ‘em all booked on felony cultivation charges.

Which will be tossed or busted down to misdemeanors as soon as the cameras go away.

DA Meredith Lintott seems to go for body counts. Grab those headlines. Make it look like marijuana is on the run in the Emerald Triangle when every third household's got a garden going either in the kid's bedroom or out in the back yard. Nobody will be around when the penny ante cannabis crews go to court, if they even get that far, and the judges set them free. The media are never around long enough to see how these stories turn out.

Of course when they book a big sweep of trimmers, like the 19 Mexicans that were caught at that Ukiah warehouse working on an estimated 700 pounds of prime bud, the first thing that happens in the Courthouse is they run out of lawyers. True, there are a lot of lawyers at the public defender’s office but they’re only supposed to get one defendant from any given case — to avoid a conflict of interest, you see.

Ignoring this legal nicety the other day, Judge Clayton Brennan, a man observed at local social gatherings contentedly pulling on reefer, assigned six or seven defendants to the public defenders. Berry Robinson of the Alternate Public Defender’s Office objected strenuously, saying Brennan was basically coercing the defendants, most of whom didn’t speak English, into waiving their right to have an impartial lawyer.

“I am not coercing them,” Brennan sniffed. “They’ve been read and understand their rights.”

“Yes you are, you honor,” Robinson insisted.

“Not either!”

“Are too!”

“Nope!”

“Yep!”

I got the disagreement second-hand so that may not be verbatim. One or the other of them might have gotten in a last "Neener!"

By the time I came through the door, Brennan had slunk back into his lair while more lawyers were rounded up.

The warehouse case has come to be known as “The 19.”
Everybody's talking about it.

“Was it really 700 pounds?”

“Yes, that’s what they’re saying!”

Everybody was trying to calculate the 700 pounds at $1,500 per pound. Some of the lawyers were The 19 and the 700 pounds might spoil the DA’s plans for a speedy prelim on October 6th.

These 19, a forlorn-looking bunch of old guys, are also all on ICE holds. The felony charges lodged against them will insure they are each deported, thus delighting a large segment of Mendocino County voters. Despite a lot of local angst over racist immigration policies in Arizona, California liberals don’t lose much sleep over seeing their own field-hands and housemaids deported.

Latent racism might be what our incumbent DA is banking on to get herself another dithering term as Mendocino County's lead law enforcement officer. Rounding up a bunch of sitting duck Mexicans is a sure-fire vote getter.

The DA's campaign slogan, Leadership With Integrity, certainly means there's a deficiency of both. I mean, when you're left to advertise yourself as honest, well, that discreet knock on the door is probably a man with a nice bag of cash for you. The old girl's already running an illegal lottery on her website, not that Lintott’s opponent, David Eyster, seems to have noticed. But Eyster's campaign has been oddly quiet all summer. Perhaps he’s too busy with his new client, Glenn Sunkett.

At long last, Mr. Sunkett’s motion for a new trial came before the court. Months ago, Sunkett was found guilty of a home invasion job that featured a blow-torch as the persuading mechanism. Some law-enforcement sources suspect Sunkett was also involved in an earlier home invasion robbery in Anderson Valley that netted over $100k in cash.

Sunkett says he didn’t do the blow torch job out in Fort Bragg, and no one was ever charged in the Anderson Valley job. Sunkett says that the cops got the wrong guy in the blow torch case and that he’d have been acquitted if he had had a better lawyer who put up a better defense. So he went through a series of about half a dozen Marsden Motions to get the Public Defender, Linda Thompson, off his case and a better lawyer appointed.

Sunkett finally succeeded in dumping the famously incompetent Thompson early in the summer and David Eyster was appointed. All summer Mr. Eyster worked on the case and after several delays it finally came on for the judge to hear the motion for a new trial. But first, Judge Brown had to hear another Marsden Motion. Apparently, Sunkett isn’t happy with Eyster, either. We don’t know why because Marsden Motions are closed to the public.

A not altogether unsafe guess would be that Sunkett was making the move hinted at previously to get big-city lawyer Stuart Hanlon from San Francisco to represent him, but after about 40 minutes the hearing for the new trial was resumed, so this latest Marsden Motion must have been denied.

The burden was on Sunkett to show that certain witnesses that weren’t called should have been called to clear him. But first, Eyster had some housekeeping to take care of. He had a series of declarations to submit to the court. These were signed declarations by people such as Sunkett’s father, his brother, a couple of the legal secretaries in Eyster’s office and others. Sunkett is a very smart guy, way too smart to do a home invasion without a mask on. The other two guys in on it wore masks, he didn't. The one witness who identified Sunkett launched into a lot of pseudo-anthropological hooey about "Negroids and Caucasoids," but of course Thompson was unable to unravel him.

Anyway, the Courthouse apparatus does not like outside criminal defense attorneys riding into Mendocino County to rescue defendants doomed by local inepts like Thompson.

Jill Ravitch prosecuted Sunkett. Ravitch is good at her work. She rolled right over Thompson. Ravitch has since been elected DA in Sonoma County. She is not enthusiastic at the prospect of prosecuting Sunkett a second time, especially if it stretches out into next year after she takes office in SoCo. Ravitch has taken exception to any and all of the many delays the motion for retrial has been snagged on. She wants to move on. She objected strenuously to the declarations Eyster was seeking to give the court.

“I’m taken aback,” Ravitch declared. “I first heard of these yesterday, and some of them were presented to me only this morning when they are dated as far back as September 10th. And there are relevancy and competency issues. These declarations are rife with second- and third-hand hearsay. I’m aghast by this declaration by someone named Allan Gordon. I didn’t know who Allan Gordon even was until his declaration was dropped on my desk this morning. I’m asking that the court not accept Allan Gordon’s declaration and perhaps some or the others. I think it’s highly improper to try and slide these things in at the last moment.”

Judge Brown blandly intoned, “So your objection is timeliness, relevancy, competency and hearsay?”

“I would need to time to go through them line by line,” Ms. Ravitch said.

“The Allan Gordon Ms. Ravitch dismisses was on the witness list provided to prosecution,” Eyster pointed out. “So from those standpoints, if these declarations are not going to be accepted, then I’ll have to ask for a continuance.”

No one, it seemed, wanted any more continuances.

Brown said, “I’ll allow them entered and take them under submission if counsel wants to submit written objections. Is two weeks enough time,” he asked Ravitch.

It was.

“And how much time will you need to respond,” he asked Eyster. “A week?”

A week was fine. Ravitch would have her objections by the 15th and Eyster would have his responses by the 22nd.

The next order of business was a sealed envelope containing Public Defender Linda Thompson’s “work product,” the object of a subpoena duces tecum or demand for evidence. Judge Brown gave it to Eyster and Eyster tore it open – causing Ms. Thompson to audibly gasp at Eyster's rip and tear approach to her documents.

Eyster said, “There’s a large amount of documents here, some I’ve never seen before… if the court could order these documents released to me I think”—
Thompson replied, “Just for the record, I submitted a document claiming attorney-client privilege and I was frankly surprised to see counsel open it.”

Judge Brown said, “I’ve seen nothing in writing.”

Thompson: “I submitted it with the envelope.”

Brown: “I’m sorry”—

Eyster: “Gimme one second, judge.”

Eyster whispered something to Sunkett and Sunkett nodded.

Eyster: “It’s my understanding when a client submits a Marsden Motion, that client waives the attorney-client privilege.”

Brown: “I’m wondering if 958 of the Evidence Code would be applicable…”

At this point the judge and his disciples went on a little scripture-chase through their holy books. After a few fervent minutes of bible study, they agreed on the required steps and danced around daintily enough that Ms. Thompson didn’t get her toes stepped on. Which is to say, Eyster and his client would be allowed to go over her work product, and that of her investigator, Will Kidd, as well, but they mustn’t disclose or share any of it with anyone else.

Eyster finally got it: “So you’re asking him [Sunkett] to release ‘em to me so that I can show ‘em to him?”

Brown smiled. “Ms. Thompson, as keeper of the records, do you have any objection?”

Thompson shrugged. “Mr. Sunkett is the holder of the privilege, your honor. If he wants to release ‘em, I’ll submit."

Next order of housekeeping was Sgt. Greg Van Patten, called by Eyster to be custodian of a 14-page document that deals with complaining witnesses in the case.

Ravitch said she’d seen the pages and asked that they be sealed because they had e-mail addresses of some of the victims.

Brown ordered them sealed, stipulating that “either side will have access with the understanding that the information is not to be shared or given to anyone outside the court.”

At this point, they’d run out of time. Ms. Thompson had somewhere to go. They started casting around for a date to continue and came up with October 7th at 2pm.

Ms. Thompson checked her calendar and began to fidget nervously. What was the problem? Brown wondered.

“Well, you see, your honor, Judge Henderson will be handing down a written ruling in the Timothy Elliott case on the 7th at 1:30pm.”

Mr. Elliott, recently convicted of second degree homicide in Hopland, also wanted a new trial; and for the same reason, that his lawyer, Ms. Thompson, had provided him with ineffective counsel. She would get Henderson’s ruling on Elliot's Marsden Motion a mere half an hour before she would have to face Judge Brown’s ruling on her “work product” in Sunkett’s case.

Eyster readily comprehended the delicacy of the situation and said he wouldn’t think of putting Ms. Thompson through such an ordeal. The date was moved to the 15th, which meant the objections over the declarations had to be ready on the 8th and Eyster’s responses heard on the 12th.

Mr. Sunkett’s fate, so long in question, has suddenly been moved to the front burner and put on high.

Ravitch The Merciless was all for it.

“If the motion for a new trial is denied, will sentencing take place that same day?”

“It could,” Judge Brown said, perhaps too optimistically for Glenn Sunkett’s comfort; he’s looking at 90 years in prison for the blow-torch business and related counts.

Ravitch very confidently made sure the sentencing ducks were all in a row for the 15th and Brown told Eyster if he had anything to add to be sure and have it ready by then.

Come this time a week from now, Sunkett will know whether he’s going back to trial or off to prison until he's a very old man.

Ann Moorman, elected to the Superior Court but still functioning as an attorney until her coronation, appeared for a family of pot growers based in Springfield, Oregon. Thanks to Moorman, Richard and Jamie Travers, father and son, looked about to skate.

Richard Travers

Between the two of them, father and son were facing a dozen charges, but Ms. Moorman had whittled them down to two apiece: Dad would plea to cultivation of marijuana and Son would plea to accessory to cultivation (read ‘trimmer’); and both would plea to being felons in possession of guns.

Judge Brown wanted to know if there was a factual basis to the deal. Deputy DA Brian Newman said he’d just submit the information from the prelim, but Brown hadn’t heard it. In the prelim, it came out that the Travers had bought a property at Spy Rock in northern Mendocino County where they were growing weed and, as instructed by President Bush, stimulating the economy by buying new trucks, motorcycles and guns, lots of guns, even though they were both convicted felons and proscribed from owning any guns.

Brown said, “You understand that by making this plea you will be giving up the right to possess any firearms and ammunition for life?”

“Yes,” the Travers said. They understood.

And we came to the matter of Mr. Luke Jacobsen who came within the proverbial hair’s breadth of going to prison. Jacobsen, no gent, had a long history of violence toward women and Judge Behnke was itching to put him away.

Insert pic of Jacobson

His Honor said, “Considering how soon after you were released and went right back out and committed a new offense” – the charge was throwing a caustic substance on his girlfriend, causing corporal injury to a spouse, which is illegal no matter how much the “spouse” may have wanted to get doused with lighter fluid and threatened with the spark of a Bic.

The judge sounded like a man who has daughters.

“I personally thought prison was appropriate, so I sent you out for the 1203.03 report.” Twelve-oh-three-oh-three is how the legal beagles pronounce it. Behnke pronounced it with a forced smile. He said, “It suggests we give you another chance on probation. Having said that, I want to remind you that you have a long history of violence and violence against women. The recommendation is for an alcohol and drug program. That’s an opportunity. And what I mean by that is that it’s an opportunity for you to stay out of trouble and, well, if you can’t do that you should be sent to prison.”

Deputy DA Shannon Cox was prosecuting Jacobson. Having married a cop about a year ago, Ms. Cox, nee Hamilton, seems tougher than ever.

Or so I thought.

But here she was saying, “I think he’s an appropriate candidate to go on probation. The diagnostic report indicates he has the ability to turn his life around. However, we are asking the criminal protective order stay in effect.”

'Turning his life around.' Isn't it about time we retired that one? If all these characters ever really did turn their lives around 101 would be backed up to Oregon.

Probation officer Timothy King’s chipped in.

“Well, he says he doesn’t want anything to do with her, but she can be pretty persuasive.”

She might also be pretty self-destructive if she likes men who might send her up in flames.

“Okay,” Behnke said. “I’m going to leave the protective order in effect. Now, if you get hung up with her the risk you’ll go to prison is high. One other thing is the 52-week anger management program. I’ll give you the 130 days you’ve already served but the residential treatment program is something I would very much – strongly – recommend. You are to stay completely away from the victim and if there is some conflict between the 52-week program and the drug treatment program, I think the drug program should take priority. Like I said, this should have been a state prison sentence.”

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