Saturday, February 8, 2014

Court *Might* Start Charging for Records and Other Services

Posted by on Sat, Feb 8, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Be prepared to pony up for court records.

When the Journal  went into the court records office last week, an employee warned, somewhat admonishingly, that asking for a criminal case file without a case number would cost $15 in the future. "That's new," we thought. For years, court records employees have seemed happy to look up a case file by name — typically a quick process. It turns out that clerk didn't have it exactly right (and neither did we), but enforcement of court records fees is indeed likely to become more strict.

As Court Executive Officer Kerri Keenan explained, the fees have been on the books for almost 10 years — the most recent fee schedule, detailing the costs of all the services court records can provide, was updated in January and is available here.

Keenan’s worked in courts — Fresno County, before Humboldt — for 20 years. “There has always been a search fee — always.” It appears, at last week’s visit, that the clerk was referring to the $15 fee applied to “Searching records or files, for each search longer than 10 minutes.” (Fee number 184 on the fee schedule.) That’s for criminal or civil case files.

“I don’t think we've been executing the statute the way we should be,” Keenan said, adding that the court’s in the “early stages” of talking about how they will better implement the court fees.

For example, Keenan said, the court hasn't been charging people who request old files, which are kept in an off-site storage facility that the county pays to maintain.

“It’s not for profit,” Keenan said. “We’re just passing on the cost it takes us to do additional work. It’s somewhat sad, I suppose, that we can’t just do that for free anymore. With our reduction to the branch, that’s just the way it is.”

If you’re worried about getting charged for a records search, you can head up to the courthouse’s two public access rooms on the second floor. There, you can look up case numbers and view some documents — but not all — online. And take a look at the court’s fee schedule, which shows what you (might) be charged for documents and record requests.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Caltrans and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted by on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 1:17 PM

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Caltrans recently had what amounted to a very bad day.

Specifically, Jan. 30, when Caltrans lost a major appellate court ruling on perhaps its highest profile North Coast project and was the subject of a scathing state report.

First, the California Court of Appeals overturned a trial court decision and ruled that Caltrans must re-evaluate the environmental impact report for its proposed project to widen U.S. Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. Specifically, the ruling found Caltrans violated the California Environmental Quality Act, and that its environmental impact report did not do enough to calculate the project’s potential impacts on old growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove.

The Environmental Protection Information Center — one of six plaintiffs in the case — hailed the court’s ruling as a victory.

“The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated,” said EPIC Executive Director Gary Graham Hughes in a press release. “Our ancient redwoods are invaluable, and we hope Caltrans gets the message that their survival cannot be put at risk by a careless highway development proposal.”

Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger said the agency could not provide an estimate as to how long it will take to revise the project's EIR, but the agency released a brief statement.

“Caltrans remains committed to delivering this important interregional transportation project in a sustainable way and will work to comply with the court’s ruling,” it said. “This project is planned and designed not to remove any old growth redwood trees. Measures are in place to protect the surrounding redwoods in the area.”

While many local businesses have clamored for the widening project — which they believe would decrease their costs by allowing larger shipping trucks to pass through the park — the ruling didn’t seem to cause much of a stir. Officials at both the Greater Eureka Area Chamber of Commerce and the Humboldt Small Business Development Center said they were unaware of it when recently contacted by the Journal.

Caltrans' day got worse when results of an independent review of the agency ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown were released and detailed a host of “long-standing problems.” Specifically, the review found that the agency’s mission, vision and goals are not aligned with the state’s current needs. The review also sharply criticized the agency for prioritizing new projects over the upkeep and maintenance of the state’s highway system. To read more about the report, see the Sacramento Bee’s story here.
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Monday, February 3, 2014

UPDATE(S): Deal Struck in Crabs Manager Marijuana Case

Posted by on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 3:17 PM

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SECOND UPDATE: A press release on the Crabs website says Nutter had been considering leaving the team for two years, and made the decision now to be with his family. 

From the release:

Nutter explained that after a discussion with his family, he decided after 23 years with the Crabs organization that this was a good time to take a break. “My daughters are nearing the time when they will go off to college and I haven’t had a summer with the family in a very long time,” Nutter said.

“The Crabs want to thank Matt for all his years not only as the manager, but as a former board member. Fortunately, Matt had warned us the past two years that he might make this kind of decision and he decided that this was the opportune time, especially after his phenomenal success as our skipper,” [Crabs President Vikki] Rossi said.

UPDATE: Tyson Fisher — a former Crabs assistant coach and current Fortuna High baseball coach has been chosen by the Crabs board of directors to take over the manager position. Via the Crabs Facebook page


Crabs Manager Matt Nutter — who was arrested shortly after the end of last year’s baseball season on suspicion of growing and possessing marijuana for sale — appears to have reached a deal with prosecutors that could see the arrest and charges wiped from his record.

The deal, a diversion possible through section 1000 of the California Penal Code, is awaiting approval from a judge. Nutter had no prior convictions for drug offenses involving violence, or threatened violence, according to his attorney, Patrik Griego. And while police reported finding 265 marijuana plants at Nutter’s rural Blue Lake home in August, Griego said diversion was allowed if the plants were being cultivated for personal use.

“If you’re growing for purposes of selling you don’t qualify for PC 1000 diversion,” Griego said.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

4th Amendment Rights and SCOTUS SWAG

Posted by on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 10:52 PM

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When the United States Supreme Court took up the only criminal case on its calendar this year, a local attorney was at counsel table.

Arcata attorney Jeffrey Schwartz — husband to the North Coast Journal’s Media Maven, Marcy Burstiner — didn’t argue the petitioner’s case, but was asked to sit in and advise by appellate attorney Paul Kleven, who argued the case of USA v. Navarette before The Nine earlier this week. Schwartz, a former Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney, was the trial attorney on the case, which saw two brothers, Lorenzo and Jose Navarette, plead guilty to marijuana possession charges after a 2008 traffic stop in Mendocino County.

The traffic stop occurred after someone in Humboldt County called 911 to report they’d been run off the road just north of the Mendocino County line by a pickup truck driving recklessly while heading southbound. Police issued a “be-on-the-lookout” through dispatch, identifying the color, make, model and license plate number of the Navarettes’ truck.

A California Highway Patrol officer spotted the truck in Mendocino and tailed it for several miles. The officer didn’t see anything reckless or out of the ordinary about the way Lorenzo Navarette was driving, according to court records, but decided to pull him over anyway, based solely on the anonymous tip provided to 911 dispatch. After stopping the truck, the officers smelled marijuana and searched the vehicle, finding 30 pounds of marijuana, trimming sheers and plastic bags in the truck bed.

In the Mendocino County trial court, Schwartz argued the traffic stop was illegal and that an anonymous tip didn’t give officers probable cause to effect the traffic stop. Schwartz’s take on the case was if an anonymous tip is all cops need to pull someone over, then what’s to keep a disgruntled neighbor or a jilted lover from simply calling in a fake reckless driving complaint? It opens the door for all kinds of violations of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, Schwartz argued.

The judge disagreed, as did a state appellate court. But Kleven kept pressing the issue and ultimately petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

When it came time for oral arguments in the case Tuesday, Kleven asked Schwartz to join him at counsel table.

“It was mostly for the moral support, and he needed to fill that side of the counsel table because the other side was going to have a bunch of people,” Schwartz said with a chuckle, adding that he wound up slipping Kleven a number of notes during arguments.

According to news reports on the hearing, the Supreme Court justices peppered Kleven with a bunch of hypotheticals and genuinely seemed to have fun probing the issue, asking about nuclear bombs and babies stuffed in car trunks. Justice Sotomayor even weighed in on her mother’s critiques of her driving.

To get a full picture of the arguments, check out the Associated Press story here or the official Supreme Court Blog story here. For those who want to hear the whole thing, the court posts audio of all oral arguments here, though it hasn’t gotten around to posting the Navarette case just yet (maybe check back in a few days). And finally, you can read a transcript of the hearing here.

For Schwartz, the trip was a chance to get a first-hand look at the most hallowed institution in his profession, something few lawyers get to do. While milling around the court after the hearing, Schwartz said he was surprised to see Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Clayton Brennan, who had denied Schwartz’s motion to set aside the charges against the Navarettes — the very denial being appealed to the Supreme Court.

“He said, ‘I figure the likelihood that any ruling I make goes to the Supreme Court is pretty slim, so I thought I should be here,’” Schwartz recalled.

And, it turns out, Schwartz walked away from the court Tuesday with more than just memories and, possibly, a hand in changing United States law — he walked away with some SCOTUS SWAG. Turns out everyone who sits at counsel table gets a white quill. Who knew?
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Updated: Feds Investigate Loleta Elementary

Posted by on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 1:01 PM

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The federal government is launching an investigation into allegations that the Loleta Elementary School District has discriminated against Native American students.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union of Northern California received a letter this week from the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informing it that the office has officially launched an investigation in response to the ACLU’s complaint alleging systemic discrimination in the district, including the verbal and physical abuse of students by district staff.

“Please note that opening the allegations for investigation in no way implies that (the Office for Civil Rights) has made a determination with regard to their merits,” the letter states. “During the investigation, the OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient and other sources, as appropriate.”

The ACLU filed the complaint last month alleging that the district has engaged in a pattern of discriminatory discipline against Native American students and put up barriers to disability and special needs assessments. Further, the complaint alleges that staff — and specifically Superintendent and Principal Sally Hadden — has been physically and verbally abusive of students, detailing instances when Hadden is alleged to have grabbed a Native American student by the ear and said, “See how red it’s getting?,” hit students with a clipboard and another in which she allegedly referred to a Native American student as a “saltine” because he “looked white.”

Hadden was not immediately available this morning, but the Journal will update this post if she returns a call seeking comment. A call seeking comment from the Office of Civil Rights was also not immediately returned this morning.

In the letter to the ACLU, the Office of Civil Rights indicates it intends to investigate each of the claims raised by the group and requests a meeting with ACLU attorneys to discuss the situation.

For more information about the complaint, as well as a lawsuit the ACLU filed against Eureka City Schools, see past Journal coverage here and here.

UPDATE: U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw returned the Journal's call Friday morning and sent the following statement:

"OCR received a complaint against the Loleta Union Elementary School District alleging that: Native American students are subjected to harassment based on race and the district has failed to respond appropriately to notice of the harassment. Also, that Native American students are allegedly treated differently than non-Native American students with respect to discipline; that the district denies Native American students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE); and the district discriminates against Native American students with disabilities by refusing to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.

The complaint is under investigation."

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bullock Will Stand Trial for Murder of Eric Freed

Posted by on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 12:51 PM

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  • Bullock
A Humboldt County judge ruled today there was enough evidence to hold Gary Lee Bullock to answer for the torture and murder of St. Bernard's Pastor Eric Freed on New Year's Day.

Bullock will be held to answer for vehicle theft and attempted arson charges as well, stemming from an alleged attempt to burn Freed's body and the church rectory where Freed lived, according to the Times-Standard and Lost Coast Outpost, which also gave detailed reports of detectives' testimony about the crime scene last week. He's scheduled to be re-arraigned on Feb. 5.
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Monday, January 13, 2014

Former Yurok Official Sentenced in Embezzlement Case

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 5:33 PM

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Former Yurok Tribe Forestry Director Roland Raymond was sentenced to serve three years in federal prison today for his role in an embezzlement scheme that bilked nearly $1 million in federal funds from the tribe.

Raymond, 50, faced a maximum of five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a single count of conspiring to embezzle from an Indian tribal organization, but received a lesser sentence, in part, due to his cooperation with a federal investigation that led to the charging of one of his alleged co-conspirators, Mad River Biologists founder Ron LeValley. Read the Journal's previous coverage here.

Today, U.S. District Judge William Alsup handed down Raymond’ sentence and ordered him to repay $852,000 he stole from the tribe — money Raymond’s attorney, Randall Davis, claims was taken to support his client’s drug and gambling addictions.

In his plea agreement, Raymond admitted to working with LeValley to employ an elaborate system of fake invoices, false purchase requests and money transfers to embezzle more than $870,000 from the tribe during a three-year period of wildlife preservation studies. Under the scheme, Mad River Biologists would submit invoices to the tribe for survey work it hadn’t performed, according to court documents. When checks came from the tribe, LeValley would allegedly route the money back to Raymond after taking a percentage off the top.

The surveys that were allegedly never conducted were primarily looking for habitats for the federally endangered northern spotted owl to determine which tracts of tribal properties could be logged without impacting owl populations. It’s unclear whether the alleged conspiracy impacted timber harvest plans or led to the destruction of sensitive habitats.

According to his plea agreement, Raymond initially told LeValley that the scheme would provide Raymond with funds needed to pay tribal and forest crews, though court documents indicate the pilfered funds were never used to that end. 

Raymond, who served as the tribe’s forestry director for 17 years, developed a drug addiction after undergoing a medical procedure that saw him prescribed opiate pain killers, according to his attorney. He was on house arrest in the case until late October, when he was remanded to federal custody after violating the terms of his release by testing positive for methamphetamine, according to court documents in the case.

In a finding of fact filed prior to Raymond’s sentencing Monday, Alsup determined that Raymond lied to the court at a hearing in November when he said while arguing against a delay in sentencing in the case that he’d been assaulted numerous times while in federal custody.

Alsup held an evidentiary hearing on the subject and found that no such attacks occurred and that Raymond lied to the court.

“In the undersigned’s view, this is consistent with a pattern of misrepresentations that underlie defendant’s offense of conspiracy to commit embezzlement and theft from his tribe,” Alsup wrote.

Federal prosecutors had sought a 20-month prison sentence for Raymond, but lobbied the court for a 27-month sentence after learning of Raymond’s dishonesty. For his part, Davis urged the court to agree to the 20-month sentence, but asked that his client be given credit for time already served behind bars in the case, which would have left Raymond looking at approximately six months in federal prison.

Ultimately, Alsup decided the sentence being pushed by prosecutors wasn’t harsh enough and handed down the 36-month term, according to court documents, though it is not immediately clear if Raymond was given credit for time served.

Meanwhile, LeValley — who also faces a single count of conspiring to embezzle from an Indian tribal organization — is reportedly working toward a plea deal of his own with prosecutors. He is due back in court Feb. 11, when he is expected to enter a guilty plea in the case, according to court documents.
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Friday, January 3, 2014

EPD Assault Case Dismissed

Posted by on Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 4:14 PM

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At the request of the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, a judge today dismissed the assault case against Eureka Police Sgt. Adam Laird.

“Based on new evidence the people have discovered, we don’t believe we can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees told the court.

Immediately following today’s hearing, Rees said his office had a pair of independent experts review a video tape of Laird’s Dec. 6, 2012 arrest of a juvenile suspect and, based on their opinions, decided it should dismiss the charges.

Laird’s attorney, Patrik Griego, said a total of five independent experts have now reviewed the case, with all concluding that Laird’s use of force was “reasonable, appropriate and not excessive.”

For his part, Laird said he’s relieved the criminal charges have been dismissed but he was in no mood for celebration.

“I would just say it’s been an extremely difficult process for me and my family,” he said, adding that he’s grateful the DA’s Office finally pulled the plug on the case. “My only wish is that the DA’s Office would have had independent experts – not just experts provided by EPD – review this case before arresting me blocks away from my daughter’s school.”

Prosecutors had alleged that Laird used excessive force during a Dec. 6, 2012 arrest – kicking a juvenile suspect as he lay on the ground being handcuffed by another officer – and that he then filed a false police report on the incident. Laird pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of assault under the color of authority and knowingly filing a false report in the case and, through his attorney, argued that he was being discriminated against by fellow EPD officers and singled out for prosecution because of his political activities and his staunch support of controversial former EPD Chief Garr Nielsen.

Hired by EPD in 2005, Laird has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 16, 2012. While he was served by the city with a notice of intent to terminate his employment on Oct. 3, 2013, the city has yet to officially fire him.

Prosecutors’ decision to dismiss the case comes just a couple of weeks after Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Miles ordered the DA’s Office and EPD to compile and turn over a host of documents, including citizen complaints, internal affairs investigations and correspondences between a host of EPD commanders and city officials. With the ruling, Miles found that Griego had shown enough evidence of the essential elements for a discriminatory prosecution defense to warrant granting access to the documents that would allow the defense to explore the issue.

The Dec. 6, 2012 incident occurred after Laird and other officers responded to a call of a gang fight in progress and ultimately wound up in a foot chase with a juvenile suspect. An officer had the suspect on the ground and was working to cuff him when Laird arrived and struck the suspect in the lower back with his foot. Prosecutors alleged the foot strikes were excessive and unwarranted, but Griego contended his client acted appropriately in dealing with a combative, dangerous and noncompliant suspect.

Griego has contended from the outset of the case that Laird – who rose quickly through the ranks of EPD amid what some have deemed an insurrection mounted against Nielsen – was being unfairly targeted by his fellow officers, both because of his allegiance to Nielsen and his support of liberal politicians. Further, Griego argued that EPD kept evidence showing Laird’s innocence from the DA’s Office and that the department handled the case dramatically differently than it has handled other excessive force allegations in the past.

Laird himself was at the center of at least one of those prior allegations. In 2011, a federal jury found Laird and another officer used excessive force when arresting Martin Frederick Cotton in 2007. Cotton died shortly after being booked into the Humboldt County jail, and the case resulted in a $4.5 million judgment against the city of Eureka and a $30,000 judgment against Laird.

During today’s hearing, Public Defender Joanne Carter attempted to address the court, saying she represents the juvenile Laird was accused of assaulting in the case. Carter said the victim was never notified of the decision to dismiss the case, which is a violation of his rights. Judge Marilyn Miles told Carter that would have no bearing on the dismissal, and asked Carter to contact the DA’s Office to voice her concerns.

While Laird declined to comment on exactly what his future might hold, Griego said it will likely include a lawsuit if Eureka follows through with plans to fire him.

“He has not yet been terminated,” Griego said. “But if he were to be terminated by EPD, then we would pursue a civil wrongful termination case against the city.”
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Monday, December 30, 2013

Prayer OK-er

Posted by on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 2:36 PM

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A  lawsuit intending to stop invocations at city of Eureka functions was denied last week after nearly a year in court.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson ruled — on Christmas Eve, no less — that invocations at council meetings do not violate the California Constitution, according to a press release issued by the city attorney today.

Eureka citizen Carole Beaton sued the city earlier this year, saying the mayor’s office shouldn't promote prayer. “We’ll take them on,” Mayor Frank Jager told the Journal at the time.

Watson ruled that the writers of the state’s Constitution had not “intended to prohibit legislative prayer,” according to the release. In announcing the city victory, Jager said, “The City welcomes everyone and does not force anyone that does not want to participate in the invocation to join in.”

Here’s the full release:

Continue reading »

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jason Singleton Responds

Posted by on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 10:02 AM

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The most hated man in Humboldt, whose recent threat of an American Disabilities Act lawsuit was blamed for the closure of Porter Street Barbecue in Arcata, reached out to the  Journal with a rebuttal this morning. Jason K. Singleton, who practices law in Eureka, was the subject this week of a viral wanted poster. Calls for vengeance circulating through social media ranged into the cringe-worthy, but Singleton's ADA suits have been riling up the community for quite a few years.

Here's Singleton's press release:

Continue reading »

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