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Judge Dolan Goes Light Too?

On Friday of last week, January 3rd, your trusty courthouse correspondent saw colleague Mike Geniella’s SUV parked nearby and realized that Mr. Geniella would be working closely with DA C. David Eyster to deliver another fair and balanced press release regarding the judgment and sentencing of Jakell Malik Watts. 

With the Watts case being so adroitly handled by consummate professionals, I was freed-up to go upstairs and see how Mendo’s new judge, the Honorable Carly Dolan, was doing on her first day on the criminal bench; and Oh my gosh! What a disappointment it’s going to be for the DA when he hears that, like Judge Keith Faulder, whose judgment has been derided as entirely the wrong message to be sending to the public by granting probation to two of the three Willits drug bandits…

“When asked to comment, DA Eyster emphasized — as he did in December [regarding codefendant Eural Strickland] — that Judge Faulder's decision to grant probation to yet another pharmacy robber, one who targeted victims far from Sacramento, continues to send a completely wrong message to criminal elements locally and those looking in from other areas.

"Decisions like this send a message that crooks can commit violent crimes in Mendocino County and avoid prison. Law-abiding citizens and local law enforcement agencies all agree that this sort of thing doesn't help make Mendocino County a safer place," lamented Eyster.

Judge Dolan bridled against following the guidance of the prosecution in sentencing criminal convicts as well, either in solidarity with the Honorable Faulder, or out of cussedness, perhaps. But we expect the DA to retaliate for Her Honor's independence in much the same way he’s been cranking out press releases criticizing Judge Faulder.

As we know from long experience, C. David Eyster carries a big stick. And not just around the courthouse. He even ran to ground and apprehended a shoplifter at Safeway, recently. We have seen him in some very doughty actions in the courtroom, always on the offensive in the fight against crime, dismissive of defense lawyers, and casual to the point of impatience with the judges. He is not what we’d call reluctant to speak his mind to authority, not by a long shot.

So it is with considerable trepidation that way the forces of law and order look at the way the Mendocino County Bench is shaping up — two relatively young women, judges Carly Dolan and Victoria Shanahan; and the very likely possibility that a Coast lawyer and volunteer fireman (who his interviewer described as boyish in his enthusiasm to please), Patrick Pekin will become a judge in the next election.

In short, we fear the DA will walk all over these new judges, like those new imitation-wood floors, for years to come.

As I entered Judge Dolan’s court, Her Honor was in the process of sentencing Jennifer Sutherland for a felony and several misdemeanors. 


Ms. Sutherland had stolen merchandise (a bottle of booze, presumably) from Safeway in Willits on New Year’s Eve and gotten so drunk by the time she was arrested on Waugh Lane in Ukiah that her blood alcohol content (BAC) was an astronomical 3.5 (.08 being the minimum for DUI). The theft and the DUI were both misdemeanors, but by having gone on a bender and left the dependent elder it was her job to care for unattended, Ms. Sutherland had committed a felony, elder abuse. Among the rest was a driving on a suspended license – this was her second violation of this law (14601.2) — while intoxicated.

Deputy DA Joe Guzman had asked that Ms. Sutherland be proscribed from ever again working at the In-Home Support Services (IHSS) for dependent elder adults, as a part of her sentence. Robert Smith, an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender, said his client had no problem with that; she had medical training and would find work elsewhere. Deputy DA Guzman said he’d spoken with someone in a position of authority at IHSS and learned that a felony conviction would not preclude Sutherland from working there; that it had to be an order from the court. Mr. Smith added that the court would be “surprised [in a tone of arch understatement] at the kinds of people that worked at IHSS.”

Ms. Sutherland was going to be sentenced to local jail and the misdemeanor sentences would run concurrently with the prison sentence, but the question was, what was the appropriate prison sentence? Defense thought the low term of 16 months was appropriate; prosecution argued the mid-term of two years was the only appropriate option. Mr. King of the Probation office agreed that the mid-term was “the appropriate” decision the new judge should take. (They really overdo the application of this pallid, insipid and unutterably vapid word, “appropriate.”) 

King’s report said the high BAC was an aggravating factor. Mr. Smith objected that it was usually the case that being drunk out of your mind was a mitigating factor. Smith complained again that probation was citing the fact that his client had been to rehab once before for her alcohol abuse — citing it as an aggravating factor — whereas Smith argued it only went to show how serious her “disease” [alcoholism] was; and that, if anything, it was a mitigating factor.

Judge Dolan said, “The court finds that it is in the interest of justice to deny a split sentence. [Defense said it would make little difference in Sutherland’s case and she wasn’t requesting a split, anyway.] The court finds the high BAC an aggravating factor and she’ll have consequences to her medical training [in finding work in that field]. She’s engaged in treatment [for alcoholism] and admitted culpability early. The court finds that the low term of 16 months is appropriate and she’ll be committed to local prison under 1170 (h.) 5 (a.).”

Sutherland already had 202 days of actual credits for time served. Mr. King said she would only get 201 “4019 credits” for a total of 403. Smith objected the number was incorrect; she should get 202 “4019 credits” for a total of 404 days served. Sixty days in jail for the shoplifting would run concurrent. A restitution fine of $100 would be imposed. The time for the 14601.2 [driving on a suspended license] would be stayed. At this point Mr. King emerged from his math calculations and admitted that 404 days credit for time served was indeed accurate.

When Ms. Sutherland gets out she will go on 36 months probation. There would be a $25 screening fee, a $40 conviction fee, a $30 court fee; and Ms. Sutherland was not to work in any kind of care for dependent elder adults.

Mr. Guzman wanted alcohol testing included as a term of the probation and, also, that Ms. Sutherland not be allowed to care for any children, either, because, he said, “She may end up with some child in her care and do the same thing again.”

Mr. Smith objected that “dependent person” had a distinct legal meaning and that including kids in the meaning would be a violation of some case law he named. “We can speculate forever,” Smith said, “about all the different kinds of trouble my client could get into.”

Judge Dolan added the term that she’s to abstain from alcohol while she’s on probation and stay away from the Safeway in Willits. “But,” Dolan said, “the court declines to add the alcohol testing clause”; and the court also “declined” to add the clause forbidding her from caring for children.

In essence, this was no different from Judge Faulder “declining” to take Chief Prosecutor Dale Trigg’s arguments on Jakell Watts; and when Mr. Guzman reports to DA Eyster, we expect a similar quote condemning Judge Dolan in the form of a press release from Mr. Geniella. And, keep in mind, credulous reader, that silence from a judge in these instances, doesn’t denote guilt, because judges are forbidden by law from making any such statements in response to attacks from publicity flacks.

One Comment

  1. David Eyster January 9, 2020

    Bruce M. — Sorry to let you down but there will be no forthcoming “quote condemning Judge Dolan” as you predicted. Your latest article and prediction therein is a failed effort to compare criminal apples and oranges. Not judging, just saying. So please indulge me while I attempt to break it down for you and your AVA readers.

    First, Judge Dolan is doing a pretty good job so far in her debut as a felony criminal department judge. Let’s all continue to wish her well.

    Second, as you noted in your Sutherland story that refers to Judge Dolan, she sentenced that female felon (Sutherland) to PRISON for committing elder abuse, a serious crime but one that generally criminally affects one victim at a time.

    In contrast, the Willits robbery case involved masked robbers from Sacra-tomato who engaged in a planned and premeditated raid on a local pharmacy, who scared the pharmacist almost to death, who stole over $30K of opiates with the intent to distribute those drugs as poison for profit on the back streets of our state’s capitol, and who fled pursuing law enforcement down the highway at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour.

    The drug store customers, the pharmacist, the entire Willits community, families and other travelers driving on Highway 101 that day, and the pursuing peace officers seeking to maintain local law and order were all placed at great risk by these hoods — both of whom have prior criminal records; one was on supervised probation out of Sacto while he was committing a robbery in Willits.

    The two pharmacy robbers sentenced to date — Strickland and Watts — were the two robbers that entered the store and commandeered the drugs (from an “opiates shopping list” they had compiled.) After conviction, both underwent an extensive diagnostic evaluation by prison counselors, psychologists, and associate wardens. The separate opinions returned by the experts (expert opinions sought out by Judge Faulder) was, in short, that each defendant was dangerous and should be committed to state prison.

    Unlike Judge Dolan, Judge Faulder opted to ignore the opinions of the experts that, again, he had selected. Judge Faulder — unlike Judge Dolan who sent defendant Sutherland to PRISON — has now twice sent the wrong message out to the world by granting PROBATION to violent criminals who specifically targeted Mendocino County from afar.

    It is not uncommon for the District Attorney and a judge to disagree on an outcome. Thousands of cases travel through the local criminal justice system each year and get resolved in the local courts. Few make the news. But it is news when a judge grants PROBATION to pharmacy robbers with the backgrounds of Strickland and Watts; IMHO, it is beyond the pale. The public needs to know about such decisions, instead of letting poor judgment be overlooked due to the volume of cases heard each day.

    Granting probation to violent robbers with criminal backgrounds does literally nothing to promote local public safety. And maybe that’s why I’m upset — somebody tapped by the voters to serve in a very important position has forgotten about the foremost need to make decisions that promote and protect public safety in and about Mendocino County. So there’s no confusion — that somebody is not Judge Dolan.

    — DA Dave

    P.S. Thank you also, Bruce, for the kind characterizations you included about me in your story, though I must admit I had to look up the word “doughty.” I think your readers already know that my attorneys and I intend to continue to fight the good fight for victim rights and to protect those who work 24/7 to protect us. My stated goal has always been to work side-by-side with my staff to promote public safety on the streets and in the courtrooms of Mendocino County. If we lose convicted robbers to state prison in the course of fighting for justice, I consider that a good thing.

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