The fabulous Allison Margolin of Beverly Hills, who bills herself as “LA’s Dopest Defense Attorney” — and bills her clients proportionately — absolutely bombed at the Mendocino County Courthouse last Friday.
Ms. Margolin is the daughter of Bruce Margolin — the guy who defended Timothy
O’Leary, among many other pioneer dopers. The latest version of Margolin is Harvard-trained, high-priced and glamorous as all get-out, with an estimated 99% courtroom success rate. But she sure blew it in Ukiah, ladies and gentlemen, and in the words of one local lawyer, “If what she did was not illegal, it was at minimum highly damned unethical.”
Ms. Margolin’s Mendo client was the patriarch of the Khairzada family, proprietors of the Rugs, Gems and More rockshop in Laytonville. The “more” seems to refer to reefer because the enterprising Iranian immigrants were busted last summer on charges of selling pounds of pot from their store.
Our local drug raiders must have been intrigued by the Khairzada ads offering “A free stone every Friday and Saturday!” The joke may have been new to the older members of the family, who needed two Farsi language interpreters to understand what was going on. The younger Khairzadas, however, got the joke. They grew up in Laytonville, a community where kindergartners can identify a roach clip. The rockshop and Persian rug store has prospered in the scruffy North County crossroads for 40 years.
The prosecution — Mendocino District Attorney David Eyster — had rested last time the case was in court on October 28th, and although DA Eyster wasn’t present last Friday, Deputy DA Scott McMenomey took over and finished the case up, as the defense put on their marijuana expert, Chris Conrad.
Conrad is well liked and highly respected in Mendocino County, and Deputy DA McMenomey made a point of welcoming him with a vigorous handshake and sunny smile of convincing warmth.
The hearing had begun in the afternoon to give the out-of-towners time to get up here from the big cities down south, and the gallery filled up with local lawyers gathered to watch three glamorous LA gals do their thing.
(A note on glamor as it occurs in the Mendocino County Courthouse. Any male in a tailored suit elicits startled cries of "Get back!" Women in lipstick and high heels cause males to run into walls as they exclaim, "No way! She's gotta be from Cloverdale!")
Besides the dopest Ms. Margolin, there was Jennie Stepanian who was recently inducted into her father’s law firm in San Francisco, a collection of legal eagles known as “The Firemen.” The Firemen are Federal Court “fixers” who are called in when the federal public defenders can’t handle particularly onerous clients. Michael Stepanian pictured with his daughter is well worth a trip to the law firm’s website.
Erin Margaret Crane was another San Francisco lawyer — no online bio here — but she seemed as glamorous as the other two. She was on hand to represent the matriarch of the Khairzada family.
Then there was our local lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender, my neighbor in downtown Ukiah, Andrew Higgins. Higgins Senior is a well-known, Tucson-based lawyer. The junior Higgins seemed a little star-struck to be mixing with the glam gals from the big cities. Higgins' client was the younger Khairzada with the telltale groovy guy pony-tail. Higgins was the only one seated with his client so it was otherwise hard to tell which lawyer went with which family member.
But here are defendant's names: Nasrin Khairzada, Niaz Khairzada, Sair A. Khairzada, Samir A. Khairzada.
There was some delay because the glam gals took their sweet time getting to Judge Cindee Mayfield’s down market courtroom, and they all seemed slightly sniffy at the passé venue as they settled in.
Out on the bleak winter streets of Ukiah, a KMEC DJ made me describe in detail what Margolin and Stepanian were wearing. From memory: Ms. Margolin was in a purple sheath job with big random circles knitted over black leggings and stiletto black velvet heels with 18 carat gold piping. Ms. Stepanian wore a graphite pantsuit, but believe me she didn't look like Hillary in a pantsuit.
The Dopest took charge at the defense table. She had another Harvard hotshot at her elbow, this one a boy in a tailored suit. He functioned as paper passer and general footman to The Dopest and Ms. Stepanian. Word got around what was going on and even the judges started to drop by to take in the show.
The Dopest had cannabis expert Conrad on the stand talking about his textbook, in it’s eighth edition now, “Cannabis Yields and Dosages,” published by Oaksterdam University, the Harvard of pot pharming.
Prosecutor McMenomey listened for a while before objecting that the Khairzadas were not charged with cultivation, and the line of questioning about plant yields was therefore irrelevant. Judge Mayfield sustained the objection.
Ms. Stepanian cracked on regardless, asking about dosages, trying to establish that the amount of pot found on the premises (31 pounds) was scarcely sufficient for the family members’ own medical needs. Conrad said it was 1.6 grams per day, and came out to 6.6 pounds per year, per patient.
Stepanian: “Can you give an example of what you mean by one-point-six grams per day?”
Conrad: “It’s roughly equivalent to half a pack of cigarettes a day.”
Stephanian: “You mean 10 smokes a day?
Stepanian: “How much would that be in a family of four?”
Conrad did the math in his head: “Roughly, you’re talking 26.6 pounds.”
Stepanian asked about how pot compared to Oxycodone as an analgesic. McMenomey objected that it was outside Conrad’s area of expertise as it called for a medical opinion. Conrad confessed he wasn’t a medical doctor and Mayfield sustained the objection.
Stepanian asked about Mendocino prices for the 2015 season. Conrad said they varied but basically $2000 per pound, although buying bulk could save you some money.
“And how long can it be stored?”
Conrad: “Anywhere from two to five years, depending on the method used.”
On cross, McMenomey asked Conrad if it was true that a person — patient, that is — had to be seriously ill to get a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. There are now, of course, more twenty year olds with bad backs in America than there are eighty year olds with bad backs everywhere else in the world.
Conrad: “No, I don’t agree. It’s the doctor’s recommendation that supplies the legal protection, not the seriousness of the medical condition.”
Then McMenomey pulled a fast one. He asked Conrad — just like he would ask a Task Force or COMMET officer on the stand testifying as an expert — if he had an opinion as to whether the pot the Khairzadas were popped with was for sale “…in your professional opinion?”
Conrad froze like a deer in the headlights. Margolin and Stepanian shot to their feet, singing objections in two-part harmony, and the court reporter Elaine threw up her hands. Everyone — but Conrad — was talking at once, and Margolin talks a blue streak anyway. Judge Mayfield finally got everyone calmed down. But before she could rule, prosecutor McMenomey grinned a touché at Conrad and said, “Your honor, I’ll withdraw the question.”
The defense was building a case for their clients’ personal use of the marijuana found at the Rug and Gem shop last spring. The next step in their defense was to put on the doctor who wrote the medical marijuana recommendations.
So Ms. Margolin called Dr. Logan Ford.
The Dopest's questions were about all the medical marijuana recommendations the doctor had written for the defendants. Things were going smoothly until prosector McMenomey began his cross by asking Dr. Ford about his arrest on August 20th for jumping the bones of one of his patients at his Loma Linda office.
This brought things to a screeching halt while Judge Mayfield advised Dr. Ford he had better consult with a lawyer before resuming his testimony. A local lawyer watching the show, Ukiah attorney Jan Cole-Wilson, was quickly appointed to consult with Ford. I walked outside and crossed the street to update my clique of AVA readers at Saucy’s on the sartorially piquant proceedings underway in the temple of justice. When I returned, Ms. Cole-Wilson rose to address the court.
“I’m not from Hollywood, your honor, or Beverley Hills or Wilshire Boulevard — let alone a boutique law firm on the Sunset Strip… Judge Mayfield evinced some annoyance with this I'm just a chicken raisin' rustic preamble, as Cole-Wilson cut to the chase. "But whatever gave these gals the idea they could come up to a little cow-town like ours and… [Again Mayfield made her impatience visible.] But your honor they all knew — all but our local public defender [Higgins] — they all knew about these rape charges and that this witness was no longer a licensed doctor — In fact, one of them represented him in at least one of those cases [collective gasp of indignation in the courtroom]; I’m appalled that his lawyers let him take the stand in this matter. What they’ve done is — if it’s not illegal, it’s at minimum damned unethical, and maybe I’m overreacting, but I’ve advised him [Ford] to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and he has agreed to do so.”
After the ceremony of Dr. Ford taking the Fifth was over, McMenomey moved to have the rapist's testimony stricken from the record, and over vague and barely audible objections from The Dopist, this motion was granted.
Now, everything defense was counting on — the validity of the four defendants’ medical marijuana — was out the window. Mayfield scolded the glam gals. “One of the three of you, if not all three of you, subjected this witness to impeachment and there may be repercussions from that, but the witness’s credibility has been undermined and his testimony will be stricken.”
The glam gals huddled behind the Court Clerk, a mother figure, as they tried to get their exhibits marked. Finally, the judge shooed them away and McMenomey shot down each Medical Recommendation as soon as they tried to get it on record.
After the judicial massacre, as the feathers were drifting away, Judge Mayfield had some fun with the big city lawyers, who hadn’t done their homework, hadn’t taken elementary precautions, as it were. One thing out of line was that they’d simply mailed their client’s medical marijuana recommendations to the court. This caused some difficulty in first finding the documents, and then in ascertaining that they were authentic — which was essential, since the defrocked Dr. Ford had been discredited as a witness.
“There’s a process called chain of custody,” Mayfield dryly noted, as though she were addressing a class at some junior college Evidence 101 law course, “and I would have thought such well-educated and experienced lawyers as yourselves would have been aware of that.”
Ms. Margolin, The Dopist, famed throughout the state for her closing arguments, was reduced to a timid, “I would ask that all charges be dismissed.”
Ms. Stepanian and Ms. Crane repeated this blithe wish to no effect whatsoever.
Andrew Higgins said, “My client said he had nothing to do with it — he had a small amount for personal use and a 215 card, so I’ll submit it on that.”
McMenomey maintained that each and every one of the family members was selling marijuana for profit, and Judge Mayfield held them all to answer on the charges. She added that she would have come to the same conclusion even if the defense lawyers hadn’t screwed up with the Medical Marijuana Recommendations from the libidinous and de-licensed Dr. Ford.
My friends at Saucy wanted a peek at Ms. Margolin’s glamorous threads, but apparently The Dopist slunk out the back and slipped away unseen.
(Note to readers: The Henry Ross hearing described here last week was postponed again until the 26th. I hope to pick up the thread on that one next week.)