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Off The Record 3/31/2010

THE LOCAL JUSTICE SYSTEM is a crap shoot, front to back, and the matter of The People vs. Glenn Sunkett illustrates the point. As does the matter of The People vs. Kenny Rogers. Sunkett first. He was finally able to get Public Defender Linda Thompson removed as his attorney. Then, when she was reluctantly removed by Judge Brown, leaving Sunkett to represent himself in a situation where he's looking at the rest of his life in prison, Thompson wouldn't turn over his case files to Sunkett. Sunkett is trying to get a new trial on the irrefutably true basis that Thompson failed to adequately represent him. Her partisans claim she did her best but her investigator was unable to locate key Sunkett witnesses. Which, having followed several cases of Thompson's, I do not believe. At his most recent court appearance, Sunkett again asked Judge Brown to order Thompson to give him his files. Instead of ordering her to turn over the files, he directed Thompson to informally meet with Sunkett's freshly appointed attorney, DA candidate David Eyster, a typically palsy walsy move that conveniently spares Thompson the embarrassment of not doing what most attorneys would do unasked in the same situation. The judge's casual direction to Thompson to turn over the files also implicitly confirmed that she hadn't turned them over after claiming in open court that she had.

SUNKETT HAD NO TROUBLE getting the well-known San Francisco defense attorney, Stuart Hanlon, to represent him, to pick up the pieces Thompson had shredded his case into. Judge Brown instead appointed local guy David Eyster, although Hanlon would cost the same money as Eyster. If a guy is looking at the rest of his life in prison one would think he would get the attorney he feels most comfortable with, wouldn't one? While the discussion was going on of who would be appointed to represent him, prosecutor Jill Ravitch and Thompson stood together as if they didn't have two different functions while Ravitch lobbed the names of local attorneys to Brown until Brown came up with Eyster, the local guy, the inside guy, the guy Sunkett never heard of until Eyster was appointed to represent him. Which isn't to say Eyster won't do a reputable job for Sunkett. He will. He's smart and conscientious which, as many other local defendants have discovered to their detriment, the Public Defender is not. But Sunkett should have gotten Hanlon.

WHY DIDN'T SUNKETT get Hanlon? Pure speculation of course, but speculation based on close observation of the local courts since 1971. I've been in the dock myself and confined to the County Jail four or five times over the years so I've seen it every which way. And I'm here to tell you it's Insider Baseball all the way, one big club from court clerks to lawyers to judges. Sunkett didn't get Hanlon because the local system absolutely hates it when an outside guy is brought in, especially an outside pitbull type of guy like Hanlon who brings with him outside media interest, which the locals hate almost as much as they hate the outside criminal defense attorneys. I can't even count how many times outside writers and lawyers, emerging from the County Courthouse have asked me, “Where the hell am I? Did that really just happen?” It did, Buddy, because the rules that normally apply are waived Behind The Green Curtain.

SUNKETT IS BLACK. And I can hear the groans go up. “Now you're going to PC us here, Bruce, guilt trip us when the evidence points straight at this guy whatever color he is.” This being America, and rural America at that, race is always in play. Always and probably forever. There were some serious problems with identification of Sunkett, especially the way he was fingered by one of the victims. Today's lead story by Bruce McEwen about the six black rappers on Chicken Ridge in Covelo didn't include elaboration on the difficulty the Willits police had in separating the alleged perps from the one witness they had, all of them black. The cops kept cuffing the witness on the assumption he was one of the perps! Faulty ID's of black people aren't necessarily malicious, but they happen with such frequency that they better be beyond all doubt, and there's doubt in the Sunkett case beginning with the odd fact that he is alleged to have been the only one of the three home invaders who wasn't wearing a mask! The other two mopes were masked but the leader isn't? The cops say Sunkett just got careless. Sunkett says he knows who actually did this crime, but that information was not followed up on, and his ethnic ID witness, his expert on the subject, was not called as Thompson staggered through his defense. There were other irregularities too numerous to list, but Judge Brown ought to get a good going over when this thing finally gets into the appellate courts. And Thompson? If she were my lawyer I'd just drive on down to San Quentin and check myself in.

THE KENNY ROGERS case is positively bizarre. Way back in its odd beginnings, Rogers, of Westport, was offered a plea deal of 120 days in the County Jail. Rogers said no because he was innocent. Period. The case went forward and Rogers has now been convicted of a murder for hire on the same set of facts the DA offered to settle for 120 days. Those same facts, since augmented only by the absolutely nutso testimony of the brother of the alleged hitman, has now gotten Rogers 25 years to life!

A PERFECT EXAMPLE of local political entropy is this week's Great Moments in Public Deliberation. Supervisor Pinches takes the rational stance — don't hand an insurance company $80,000 public dollars to insure against a remote possibility, but everyone else, led around by the nose by the inevitable lawyer, says, “Pay,” which is always easy to do when it's someone else's money. Pinches rightly argued to draw the line at these absurd payouts. Go to jail if necessary. Which is what a private individual would do if he or she was faced with a demand that said, “You've got to pay us $80,000 just in case one third of your house falls down.”

“ANY TARGETED tourism market depends on the local business suppliers to turn an idea or a resource into a product.” Thus spake Tony Smithers, executive director of the Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau, as he spaked to the North Coast Journal last week in the paper's cover story on pot tourism. “We would need … [an] MJ museum, hands-on growing experiences, pot bars, special events, etc. before there would be anything to market. Having said that, if these services do develop then I fully intend to market them ... I will lobby vigorously to serve this market. Marketing is about giving the customer what he wants, and the market will decide whether this form of tourism will thrive. Amsterdam seems to do okay.”

SMITHERS pointed out that the Baby Boomers are a large part of society — a “bulge in the snake.” “Many of them are now retiring and 'reinventing themselves' — recapturing their youth,” said Smithers, “which could include recapturing the '60s.”

BUT SMITHERS wasn’t finished. “An ad campaign tied to evoking the Flower Power movement, perhaps with a tie-dye theme and focusing on the current trend for authentic (not Disney) vacations could bring older, well-heeled tourists with an appreciation not only for the Humboldt weed but for the Redwoods, the beautiful coastline and the delicious local foods.”

A FORMER HUMBOLDT RESIDENT, Debbie Green, suggests these small pot farms with pot tasting rooms could be called “marijuanaries, after the specialty wineries that make up much of Napa and the surrounding areas. With a Proposition 215 scrip, a medically certified client could come out into the hills to stay at a bed and breakfast that offers a clip-your-own-bud experience with the finest local ganja.”

STEVE TALBOT says PBS has given him the go-ahead for six one-hour installments of Sound Tracks, Talbot's world music show slated to be broadcast by PBS in prime time next year. Talbot is probably best known for his work producing Frontline, PBS's investigative program. He's best known locally for his documentary film called “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” In that one, Talbot pointed the finger of primary suspicion directly at Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, presently functioning as both Mendocino County's lead garbage bureaucrat and most successful makeover case. “Me? A Maoist? A member of the Stanford commie cult that became the SLA? A car bomber? The guy who blew up the hangar at the old Navy airstrip in Santa Rosa in 1980?” Why, there must be some mistake. I've got my credentials signed by Supervisor McCowen and Wonder Woman, Mayor of Ukiah! Talbot, by the way, appeared on Belva Davis's long-running public television show, This Week In Northern California, during the Bari Cult's bogus federal case. He said that the late Bari had told him that Sweeney had bombed her.

SPEAKING OF OLD CRIMES, Laurel Krause, the dynamic Fort Bragg lady whose sister Alison was murdered by the National Guard at Kent State forty years ago, says her “goal is to correct history as we record, document, preserve, and honor personal narratives of the original 1970 Kent State witnesses and participants. The truth of what happened at Kent State on May 4th 1970 will finally be available for all to hear, read, see and know as we create a Live Archive to preserve and share the People's Truth.” Laurel is the prime mover behind the Kent State Truth Tribunal, an on-line archive of that atrocity's testimonies supported by a wide variety of well-known lefties from the late Howard Zinn to Paul Krassner. To see for yourself, Google Kent State Truth Tribunal.

DID YOU KNOW how ObamaCare will be enforced? Failure by individuals to get health insurance would lead to tax penalties, starting out minimal in 2014 and increasing by 2016 to $695 per uninsured family member, up to $2,085 total or 2.5 percent of the household income. Pay the insurance companies or we’ll jack up your taxes. Buy my newspaper or I'll shoot you!

ARMY RECRUITERS in Ukiah confirm they've also heard the recurrent rural myth that the Ukiah Brewing Company on State Street near the County Courthouse has refused to serve men in uniform. The Ukiah Daily Journal also tried to track down the persistent slander but found no evidence that it ever happened.

THE MENDOCINO ART CENTER is oddly secretive about its finances which, as a non-profit, it shouldn't be unless its board of directors deliberately intends to arouse suspicion. But try as they might, the suspicious can't look at the Center's books. Further arousing suspicion is the cryptic announcement by the board that a recent audit itself contained “procedural irregularities.”

POINT ARENA UNIFIED has hired a new Superintendent to replace outgoing Superintendent Mark Iacuaniello. Iacuaniello has retired. (Rumors have it that he’s perfectly qualified to replace County Superintendent Paul Tichinin because they both agree that the word “niggardly” is a racist slur, among other comparable inarticulatenesses and incompetenencies.) The new man's name is Dr. Frank Romero. Last week’s Independent Coast Observer noted that “Dr. Romero was most recently with the Mammoth Unified School District in the eastern part of the state, but was terminated due to several allegations of plagiarism.” Jim DeWilder, Point Arena's school board president, defended Romero's hire. “I would ask that the community judge him not on accusations, but his performance,” DeWilder, slipping into his combat boots, prepared for battle. “We want to nip this in the bud. As a military man, the troops going into battle are always the first to know about a change in command. We are going into
battle — a battle against

GIVEN THE GIVENS of Point Arena's school apparat, we're betting on ignorance. The incompetence and pure sloth constituting the Iacuaniello legacy will propel General DeWilder over the bluffs and into the sea.

APPARENTLY parts of Dr. Romero’s weekly edu-column in the Mammoth Times were found to have occasionally been lifted from an on-line source. It’s hard to believe that stealing a few lines of edu-gibberish is grounds for dismissal. Nobody reads this stuff even when it's readable. We suspect there were other reasons. Small rural school districts, as we know from the recent case of Matt Murray’s totally unjustified dismissal in Point Arena, seethe with sloth and petty factionalism. It’s just as likely that Romero got on the wrong side of an entrenched faction who seized on the alleged plagiarism to get him fired. And now he’s landed in Point Arena's educational minefield where, if he seriously tries to lift those fog belt schools from their perennial state probation status he'll again face incoming, to continue General DeWilder's inspirational military metaphor.

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