The sad and tragic tale of Rutherford the Innocent was the only newsworthy case over the past week. It sometimes happens that all we find in the Mendocino County Courthouse is a parade of the usual suspects, and last week was one of those parades. Next week, in a kind of judicial fall offensive, there will be five jury trials.
The future looked grim for John M. Rutherford when our guy managed to rack up these charges during a single stop by the Willits Police Department: Car theft, possession of Go Fast powder; the presentation to a law officer of a false ID, and violation of probation for prior convictions.
The Willits police had pulled over a Toyota pickup truck at the Evergreen Shopping Center. It turned out had been reported stolen out of Humboldt County. The driver gave the cop a false name, and a search turned up three syringes filled with methamphetamine and documents belonging to Willits resident, Tasha Wake. Ms. Wake had been seen in the Toyota earlier.
Sheriff’s Deputies took over the investigation and were going through the truck when Ms. Wake came strolling up carrying a backpack. A search of the backpack revealed items boosted from the nearby Goodwill store. Stealing from a Goodwill store is the next best thing to robbing an actual poor person. Both Wake and the driver of the suspect truck, John Rutherford, were arrested.
Mr. Rutherford then got a major break. He was appointed a capable lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender named Heidi Larson, and darned if Ms. Larson didn't magically sort the whole thing out, and sort it out so much to Rutherford's advantage that when Rutherford came to court last Friday, the DA's Office had decided to drop the charges — all the charges.
“It was all a big misunderstanding,” Larson told Judge John Behnke.
'Big' is inadequate to the dimensions of the misunderstanding. The misunderstanding must have been more like colossal.
“I’m going to order you released, Mr. Rutherford, but I am also going to impose a $175 fee for your lawyer; I think you’ll agree that she has earned it.”
Ms. Larson certainly had earned it. The facts indicated your basic slam dunk conviction.
Rutherford readily agreed to pay, but he was released into the clutches of Sonoma County deputies who hustled him off to sort out a misunderstanding waiting for him at the courthouse in Santa Rosa.
Too bad Rutherford can’t take Ms. Larson with him.
We hear a lot of disgruntled comments from the indigent criminals about public defenders who, like Ms. Larson, used to be prosecutors. The cry babies claim that all these lawyers are still secretly working for the DA. If this case doesn’t disprove that particular delusion, nothing will.
Marco Moon, a mentally troubled man whose long history of mental illness often propels him into the arms of law enforcement, has been found competent to stand trial. Public Defender Linda Thompson had drawn this one out past Judge John Behnke's deep reserves of patience with delay after delay. She had disagreed with Dr. Kevin Kelly's conclusion that M. Moon was sane as any of us.
And for once our Public Defender was correct.
How Kelly, the court's go to guy for mental evaluations, could find that Moon was suddenly competent after years of not being competent is, well, we'll never know. Kelly's work is never revealed for independent evaluation by us ordinary mortals.
Moon's case has been in the dock for so long nobody can remember the underlying circumstances, but it promises to turn into Cleone's version of Bleak House. A preliminary hearing is set for September 30th.
In a case involving a term of probation for an ex-soldier by the name of Stone, certain things were prohibited Mr. Stone, “what you must abstain from,” in the pious courtroom vernacular. Even if you have a 215 card, Mr. Stone, the probation people don't want you self-medicating, especially since you're in court in the first place for driving under the influence of the love drug.
But Judge Behnke says "Hey, this guy was separated from the military because of pot use, and that’s what he’s pleading to in this DUI POT case, and it seems the latest in a series of difficulties since he started smoking pot by his own admission when he was only 15 and, like so many of us agree, his perceived benefits from marijuana use appear to be delusional, by rational standards. But as a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, as long as he has a valid 215 card, I don’t see any need for the abstention clause in the terms of his probation.”
The judge turned to the probation officer, Monica Plaza, who had turned scarlet and lost her voice, and asked her why in the world her office had recommended the pot abstention knowing that the soldier possessed a 215 card?
Ms. Plaza said it was indeed a mistake and amended her position. The No Pot stipulation would only apply if the defendant was prescribed Big Pharma meds that don't go well with the miracle drug.
Prosecutor Jonathon Hopkins would have alarmed his physician by the way he reacted to this unique ruling for a troubled person to self-medicate.
“But, your honor,” Hopkins remonstrated, “if you are going to countenance this outrage, the People demand he be limited to no more than eight ounces!”
“Actually,” the judge smiled, “I was thinking of something somewhat less, but if you insist, sure, no more than eight ounces at a time, Mr. Stone. Do you understand?”
* * *
Breaking News From A Slow News Day In Ukiah
by Bruce McEwen
Just returned from lunch, coleslaw and ribs at Romi’s BBQ. Had no more than walked through the door when the waitress exclaimed, "Bruce!" and I have to assume she was pleased to see me. I’m pretty much a fixture in this establishment so I wasn’t surprised at her greeting — until she directed my attention to the back door, the one that opens onto the patio. The glass was gone.
“Cleanest I’ve ever seen it,” I quipped.
“It’s serious, Bruce. We were robbed last night.”
“Was anyone here?”
“No. I came in this morning to open up and found the glass splattered all over the floor, the cash register missing and…”
“Well,” I interrupted in my pedantic way, “it wasn’t a robbery at all then — it was a burglary.”
“Whatever,” she conceded. “But they knew right where to go, the drop box in the back.”
“A Saturday night… must’ve been pretty good haul, eh?”
“Yes, but also breakfast and lunch.”
“So what are we talking, $800?”
"More than that, but hush.”
Just then the new busboy came in from the patio with a tray of plates. The guys at the bar had perked up their ears. One was a pilot, the other an out-of-county sheriff’s deputy. They paid up and left, without hearing the rest of the story.
I stayed on for a beer, and in walked my Boonville friends, Robert and Suzanne. Suzanne in a cast, caused me to make a tasteless joke, the kind I’m famous for: “So, you broke your foot kicking in the glass door last night?”
After another beer, first the waitress, then the busboy, left. The rush was over. A gal who does the evening shift came on duty. Her mother works as a medico at the jail and she [the mom] had been alarmed to find this certain kid working at the place her daughter was working. Mom, of course, cannot make any accusations, but she has a right to warn her daughter that the guy has a serious bi-polar disorder, and when he goes off his meds he can turn rather nasty.
A video shows three men huddled at a table on the patio with their backs to the surveillance cameras for three hours before the pre-dawn break in. I was asked not to report this as it would alert the culprits. However, Eddie had already heard the first waitress’s comments to me, and as soon as I went to the men’s room, he threw my drink out. I came back and ordered another which he filled rather haphazardly and sloshed it on the bar. He started dropping things on the floor, made a communication on his iPhone and said he had to go. He ordered some french-fries and put a full bottle of ketchup on them, then left.
When he was gone, the cooks and waitresses — who I know well — all came out and filled me in. At this point, I cannot say any more as it would hamper the investigation.