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Courthouse Year-End Awards

Now that Coast prosecutor Tim Stoen has retired, The Eldest Practicing Lawyer in the Criminal Defense arena would have to be Albert Kubanis, a guy on the cusp of 80. Having moved to Ukiah back in the early 1970s, Mr. Kubanis still gets up at five in the morning to play racquetball at his health club before turning out for a day’s work at his office high atop the Marks Building next to the Courthouse. And he routinely blisters the ears of his peers (Al’s the only openly Republican lawyer at the courthouse) with Neoconservative claptrap; he even wears the long-outmoded bowtie, that quintessential hallmark of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, from yesteryear, when Al was young and impressionable and, yes, although it’s an embarrassment for him to admit it, Al was once a liberal – back in the Reagan-Era when the L-word was a veritable scarlet letter. Even in politics, let us remember, it is the recent convert who is the most fervid zealot. Along with his views, Al’s taste in clothes has become classically conservative. He is remarkably well-dressed, which is perhaps easy enough to accomplish, in this age of slovenly fashions. But it is advanced age, not natty suits, nor yet noisome politics that entitles him to this prestigious Eldest Practicing Lawyer in the Criminal Defense Arena Award.

While we’re on the subject of slovenly fashions, let’s dispense the Longest Trouser Length Award. This one is a matter of intense competition among male lawyers at the courthouse. It used to be thought not only in good taste but also a matter of good sense that the trouser should end at or just above the top of the shoe. Such is no longer the case. The current style is to have the trouser leg cut to such a lavish length that it bunches down around the shoes, obscuring the laces in a muddle of rumpled fabric that builds from mid-calf on down until a yard of it drags through the detritus of filth on the streets and sidewalks. We may attribute some of the popularity of this parody of taste and sense to the sagging fad; that is, the way young guys have of fixing their waistbands well below their waists, prison style, which causes their pant legs to bunch up around their shoes. But whatever the origin of this ridiculous fashion, the Award for this year goes to Sr. Deputy District Attorney Joe Guzman. (Hint: It only costs $25 to get your trousers properly cut and sewn at the local dry cleaners, but you have to undergo the ordeal of having your inside seam measured accurately by a tailor or seamstress.)

The Award for Rhetorical Style goes to Anthony Adams of the Office of the Public Defender, for the third consecutive year. Other lawyers, as they divert themselves with video games on their smartphones, still look up and listen when Mr. Adams addresses the court on behalf of one of his clients. And keep in mind that lawyers are supremely smug wights, with no notion of self-improvement, already perfect in their own estimation, too smart to learn anything new, too independent to take a page out of anyone else’s copybook — all of them, to use a Britishism, too clever by half. But they all pause to listen when Adams speaks. And they listen with ill-hid envy. It would be nice to display a few lines of Mr. Adams’ eloquence for the readership’s admiration, but it’s no use trying to get it down without a transcript. At best, all I ever get in my notepad is a bit of it, even though I’m improving in my note-taking. But the effect is lost if a single word is lost or out of place. And that is the essence of rhetoric, to get every word just right, to build up an harmonious set of principles to precise pitch, and let them spill over (seemingly effortlessly) into a loquacious crescendo. Sadly, rhetoric has gone out of vogue. It is nowadays considered artificial and passé. Those who take this fashionable attitude are ignorant of what the word rhetoric once referred to and how it affects them, manipulates them, even, without their being conscious of it; that is to say, such smarty-pants are dolts and eejits; and they would all do well to sit at Mr. Adams’ capacious knee and study his style.

The Award for Humility & Deference for the Ego of Others goes to the long-suffering Judge Keith Faulder, the only male left on the Mendo Bench, who has become something of a laughingstock among the prosecutors. For one thing, it is rare that anyone of any standing from the DA’s office will show up in time to stand up when Judge Faulder emerges from his chambers and glides up to the bench, as the bailiff intones, “All rise…”. This would be too much to ask, like a senior staff NCO in the military having to salute a shave-tail 2nd Lieutenant. Having to get to your feet for the likes of Judge Faulder – so the reasoning must go (or perhaps it’s a memo from the DA, Faulder’s long-time antagonist) — could only be carried out with a small smile, not to say a smirk, of contempt, or so it seems to this observer. Not only do the senior prosecutors forego this ceremony in favor of another cup of coffee and a purely gratuitous extra doughnut, but they all, most generally, have better places to be even when their cases are called, much later on, for the umpteenth time, and several calls have already gone out, begging the deputy DA in question, to please put in an appearance, so that the corrections officers, already backed up, can return one file of prisoners to the jail and transport another. And yet Judge Faulder, ever the Statue of Patience, deferentially bides his time, cautiously holds his temper, modestly confuses his authority with subservience, demurely characterizes his sublimated fury as frustration and never holds any of these lackadaisical lawyers in contempt – which is clearly what the senior Deputy DAs intend to communicate to His Honor. It has gotten to the point, in fact, where the dignity of the court is in dire peril. All we can say is that if we have to give this award to the same judge next year, then perhaps someone needs to spend his vacations at a military academy learning how to climb the chain of command, instead of far off mountains.

NATO has the Napoleon Bonaparte Award for enterprising generals. The mighty AVA has the Hamilton Burger Award for outstanding prosecutors. This year’s HBA goes to Deputy DA Luke Oakley.  Like Hamilton Burger in his Sisyphean struggle against the unbeatable Perry Mason, Luke Oakley has battled some of the best criminal defense lawyers in some sensational jury trials.  Yet Mr. Oakley never loses his equanimity – even if he loses a case to acquittal or, more to the point, when he wins a no-win case and the defendant gets off on an eyebrow-lifting light sentence. 

Consider, for example, the two cases of assault where the victim died as a result, but the charges brought against the defendant were not murder, or even voluntary manslaughter, but merely assault.  

The first was when Kenny Fisher was killed by Charles Reynolds in Boomer’s Bar’s parking lot in Laytonville with a single punch. Mr. Oakley was up against the very accomplished Justin Petersen.

The second was more recently when Isaiah Bennett killed the homeless blind man with a kick to the face, Jimmy Isenheart in Ukiah.  

These were not popular cases to prosecute since, by the nature of the charges, the defendants were not going to be exposed to lengthy prison sentences.  In the event, Mr. Reynolds got six years and Mr. Bennett got eight years in prison. 

These and other cases where the prosecutor is forced to play the unpopular role, the bad hat, as it were, like poor old Hamilton Burger, always going up against Good Guy, Perry Mason – I say, these kinds of cases require a prosecutor to put away his ego and perform his duties to the best of his ability in the face of public opinion that will be nothing short of opprobrious.

The Award for Most Experienced, Respected, Effective & Resilient Criminal Defense Lawyer goes to Jan Cole-Wilson. 

Ms. Cole-Wilson has fewer years in service than Al Kubanis, but she has defended more murder cases alone than any other local lawyer still practicing and she has worked for both the Office of the Public Defender and the Alternate Public Defender. Whereas Kubanis has always been in private practice, with third-tier court appointments making up his bread and butter.  

Recently appointed Assistant Public Defender, for the same office she started out in nearly 30 years ago, Cole-Wilson must surely have a feel, that is to say, an intuitive knowledge of the local underclass, the indigent and their chronic criminality, whether drug-induced or caused by the desperation of poverty, than anyone else in the county, social science professionals included.  Of the many unacceptable oversights to be laid on the conscience of County CEO Carmel Angelo, passing this good woman and excellent attorney over for the top job at the OPD, in favor of an outsider, must be one of the more grievous. 

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