Courts

Friday, March 18, 2016

'They've Got me Dead to Rights': Opening Argument Given in Bullock Case

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 12:45 PM

Gary Lee Bullock.
  • Gary Lee Bullock.
Over the course of 45 minutes this morning, the Humboldt County District Attorney's office gave jurors a preview of the evidence it will present in the coming weeks in an attempt to prove that Gary Lee Bullock tortured and murdered St. Bernard Pastor Father Eric Freed on Jan. 1, 2014.

In an opening statement that was notably devoid of emotional or dramatic appeal, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac explained that he plans to call a total of 11 witnesses and wrap his case next Friday. Bullock’s attorney, Kaleb Cockrum, declined to give an opening statement today, and instead reserved the right to do so before presenting the defense’s case later in the trial.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

TL;DR: Five Things You Need to Know from This Week's Cover Story

Posted By on Sun, Mar 13, 2016 at 11:36 AM

cover-story.gif
Busy week? We get it, and we're not judging. Here are some highlights from “Judged” to get you caught up.

Two respected local judges were recently thrust into the glare of the media spotlight when the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished them for failing to decide their cases on time and, perhaps more importantly, submitting false affidavits to the state and receiving their salary in violation of California law. Humboldt County Superior Court judges Dale Reinholtsen and Christopher Wilson now find themselves under investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office, which is weighing whether to bring criminal charges.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jury Selection Underway for Bullock Trial

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 12:13 PM

Bullock
  • Bullock
Jury selection is underway for the trial of Gary Lee Bullock, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on charges that he tortured and murdered St. Bernard’s pastor Fr. Eric Freed on New Year’s Day 2014.

Because of the notoriety of the crime and the projected length of the trial — it’s expected to stretch into April — it will likely take some weeks to empanel the 12-member jury and a handful of alternates.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Faith in the System: Arreaga's Public Defender Reflects on Murder Acquittal

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 3:46 PM

courthouse_web.png
It was an emotional moment in a Humboldt County courtroom this week when Jason Arreaga was acquitted of murder charges stemming from a 2014 double slaying.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

'A Wake of Destruction:' Warren's Probation Report Sheds New Light on Cruz Waiver

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 5:19 PM

Jason Anthony Warren
  • Jason Anthony Warren
By the time a Humboldt County Superior Court judge agreed to release Jason Anthony Warren from jail on Aug. 24, 2012 to allow him to get his affairs in order prior to being sentenced to a six-year state prison bid for illegally possessing a firearm, the then 27-year-old Warren had already amassed a criminal record that included 18 run-ins with the law.

After being released from custody by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna at the request of his defense attorney — and without any objection for the district attorney’s office — Warren failed to show up for his sentencing hearing two weeks later. Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Warren tortured and murdered Dorothy Ulrich in her Hoopa home before driving to Eureka and intentionally running down three joggers from behind, killing Suzanne Seemann and seriously injuring the other two.

A pre-sentencing probation report filed after Warren’s conviction details how he was born into poverty, the son of a heroin addicted mother and a father he never met in Eureka, and that he has been in trouble with the law since the age of 6. The report also brings into sharp focus old questions about why Cissna agreed to let Warren out of custody in August of 2012, and why the district attorney’s office didn't oppose Warren’s request.

According to the report, Warren was born Sept. 20, 1984, “the product of a casual relationship between his mother Lynn Ann Warren … and Terry Hartman.” However, the report notes that Warren’s mother was married to another man — Paul Warren — at the time of Jason’s birth. “Defendant said he never met either man.”

When Warren was 5, his mother — who the report notes was a heroin addict from the age of 15 — was sentenced to serve two years in prison for drug possession and Warren went to live with his maternal great aunt, Lillian Hickey. While Warren spent his early years in Eureka, he moved out to Hoopa with Hickey at the age of 9. According to the report, Hickey supported herself and Warren with the assistance of a federal welfare program.

By the time Warren relocated east, he’d already been in trouble with the law. According to the report, shortly before his 7th birthday, he was contacted by police for dumping liquid soap all over the bathroom of a Pro Sport Center and attempting to steal a knife from the store.

After the move, Warren seems to have gotten in an escalating string of trouble: at 10, he was contacted for throwing candy at a residence; at 11, he was arrested for taking Hickey’s car without her permission and joyriding; at 12, he brought an unspecified weapon to school and tried to sell it, and later was arrested for stealing several items from the Bayshore Mall; at 13, he was caught placing a 40-ounce bottle of beer under his coat and trying to steal it from Ray’s Food Place in Hoopa.

It was after Warren’s 14th birthday that his behavior began to turn violent, according to the report. In December of 1998, he assaulted someone at Hoopa High School. After the assault and battery, he was removed from Hickey’s care and retained as a ward of the court, which sent him to live at Crystal Creek Regional Boys Camp for an unspecified amount of time. It doesn’t seem to have done much good as he was arrested two months later for again assaulting someone on school grounds — this time twice in one day — and resisting an officer. This led to another unspecified stint at Crystal Creek.

Three arrests followed in 1999, for stealing some basketball shoes out of a student’s locker at Hoopa High, for throwing a rock at a car and for marijuana possession. In February of 2000, he was arrested for throwing someone to the ground, kicking them in the head and repeatedly hitting them in the face with a closed fist. A month later, he pulled a knife on a fellow student at Hoopa High, leading to his first stint in juvenile hall, according to the report.

In 2001, before Warren’s 17th birthday, he was arrested for burglary — breaking into the Klamath-Trinity Unified School District compound yard and stealing gas from a van — and for domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon after he assaulted his pregnant girlfriend. She later gave birth to Warren's son who is now 14.

But all those arrests would pale in comparison to what happened on April 10, 2001, when in a fashion hauntingly similar to the murders in 2012, Warren caught a cab driven by Cid Miller. While riding through McKinleyville, Warren — for no apparent reason — attacked Miller from behind, stabbing him in the back, shoulder and chest before Miller dove from the moving vehicle. Warren then took the cab and attempted to “run down two young men on bicycles in Arcata” before attempting to run down a pedestrian near Blue Lake. For the second time in a year, Warren was sent to the California Youth Authority. While in custody there in December of 2001, Warren attacked another detainee who made some “antagonistic comments regarding [Warren’s] son,” according to the report.

According to the report, Warren was released from the academy in 2006 and resided in Eureka. His first arrest as an adult came at the age of 22, when in April of 2007 he was picked up for being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 32 months in prison. After his release, he violated the conditions of his parole four times, according to the report.

Then, in March of 2012, Warren was accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault with a deadly weapon. After some months in jail, on Aug. 24, 2012, Warren entered into a plea agreement that was a bit complicated due to his request for a Cruz waiver, which allows a defendant who has pleaded guilty to be released from custody until the time of his sentencing in order to get his or her affairs in order before incarceration. The agreements carry the threat of a heftier sentence if the defendant fails to return to jail when they are ordered to.

Under the terms of Warren’s agreement, he pleaded guilty to both the assault with a deadly weapon and firearm charges. If he showed up at his Sept. 7, 2012 sentencing hearing, as ordered, the assault charge would be dropped and he would be sentenced to six years in state prison. If he failed to show up, the assault charge would remain and he’d be sentenced to three additional years in prison.

On Aug. 24, 2012, Warren appeared before Cissna and entered the pleas. According to an article in the Two Rivers Tribune, Deputy District Attorney Zach Curtis, who appeared at the hearing for the DA’s Office, was asked to explain on the record his reasons for not opposing Warren’s release under the Cruz waiver. He declined, and Cissna accepted Warren’s pleas, granted the Cruz waiver and ordered him released from custody, to return in two weeks time for sentencing.

He never did, and on Sept. 27, 2012, he murdered Ulrich and Seemann in what’s been described as one of the most horrible crimes in recent Humboldt County history. In his interview with a parole officer for the pre-sentencing investigation report, Warren declined to discuss the events surrounding the killings, on the advice of his attorney.

“The ripple effect of defendant’s actions have reverberated through this community and will be felt for years, if not generations to come,” the probation report states. “Two young children and their father are without the loving mother, and wife they deserved to have raise them and grow old with. Defendant’s lifetime incarceration cannot heal that void or bring back their loving mother and partner.

… Defendant has contributed nothing to this community or to society as a whole and has left a wake of destruction in his path. These victims were all accomplished, positive, productive members of this community, and this community will forever be deprived of their best efforts to create a better community for all.”

Warren, who is now at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, which acts as a reception center for the state prison system. According to Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming, the prison is currently holding Warren on his case from March of 2012. As soon as it receives his final sentencing papers from the double murder case, he will be transferred to a maximum security prison.

Editor's Note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct the title of the California Youth Authority.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Police: Teen was in Hiding When Hunted Down by Gang Members

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 4:55 PM

Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez. - COURTESY OF EPD
  • Courtesy of EPD
  • Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez.
Fourteen-year-old Jesus Garcia-Romero knew his life was in danger, so he and a friend holed up in an apartment on Eureka’s P Street the night of Dec. 16, 2014, according to a court document.

The document — an affidavit in support of the arrest warrant issued for 33-year-old Nicholas Leigl for the murder of the Arcata teen — sheds new light on the case and explains in detail what police believe happened the night Garcia-Romero was stabbed to death. The affidavit also points to a motive for the killing: Garcia-Romero’s slight of a gang leader’s son.

Garcia-Romero was found dying at about 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2014, bleeding from three stab wounds to the abdomen in the front yard of a small blue house with a red door on Eureka’s 15th Street. It was cold and rainy out, and Garcia-Romero was soaked, apparently having been lying on the grassy lawn for hours. He had no pulse, according to the affidavit, but was gasping for breath. After extensive life-saving efforts, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

At a Feb. 4 press conference, the Eureka Police Department announced it had arrested four men — Joe Olivo Jr., Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez and Nicholas Leigl — on suspicion of murdering Garcia-Romero. Further, EPD officials said the four suspects all had gang ties, and that they believed the killing was gang-related. But when it came to details of the case — where the teen was killed, why, and which of the four defendants stabbed him — officials were silent.

The affidavit in support of Leigl’s arrest, which is a part of his public case file, answers some of those questions. The affidavit begins with EPD detective Ron Harpham stating that he believes there is probable cause to believe Leigl murdered, and conspired to murder, Garcia-Romero.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

UPDATED: DA: No Death Penalty in Gang Murder Case

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 10:53 AM

Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez. - COURTESY OF EPD
  • Courtesy of EPD
  • Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez.
UPDATE:
Eighteen-year-old Joe Olivo III, one of four men accused of the gang-related murder of a 14-year-old Arcata boy in 2014, will be tried as an adult in the case, according Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming.

Olivo III, who police identified as a Sureño gang member, was arrested Feb. 2 in San Luis Obispo and is being charged with the Dec. 17, 2014 slaying of Jesus “Smiley” Romero-Garcia. Now 18, Olivo would have been 17, or possibly 16, at the time of Romero-Garcia’s killing, making him a juvenile in the eyes of the court, which judges defendant’s juvenile status by their age at the time of their alleged offense not when they are charged.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fair Association Ordered to Pay $45K in Attorney Fees

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 11:46 AM

Caroline and Stuart Titus. - FILE
  • File
  • Caroline and Stuart Titus.
A local judge has ordered the Humboldt County Fair Association to pay more than $45,000 in attorney’s fees to a Davis lawyer who successfully represented Ferndale Enterprise Publisher Caroline Titus in her public records lawsuit against the association.

Titus filed suit in April seeking access to the association’s financial records after multiple requests under the California Public Records Act went unanswered. After months of requests and a plea to Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn proved fruitless, Titus retained attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan and filed suit.

In June, the association and Titus reached a settlement under which the association agreed to make its financial records open to the public, as is required by the association’s lease agreement with the county. Boylan then pursued attorney fees in excess of $100,000 for his work on the case.

In a written ruling filed last week, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen determined Boylan’s request exceeded the fair local market rate, which Reinholtsen put at $400 an hour. The judge consequently ordered the association to pay Boylan’s fees in the amount of $44,760 for the almost 1,112 hours he worked on the case “involving an important issue benefitting the public.” Additionally, Reinholtsen ordered that the association reimburse Titus and Boylan for $1,000 in costs they incurred bringing the case.

“What a shame that 18 HCFA board members, their general manager, their attorney and Bohn ignored our requests and forced us to seek a legal resolution,” Titus said in an email to the Journal. “The most important result of our case is that the fair signed a [memorandum of understanding], stating that all financial records will remain open to the public, per the terms of the lease … so no one will (hopefully) have to go through this again.”

Titus said Boylan offered to settle the fee claim back in July for $33,840, but the association’s attorney, Randy Andrada, who represents the California Fair Services Authority (which essentially acts as the association’s insurance carrier), made a counter offer of just $10,000. From there, the parties went to court.

For his part, Boylan said the association’s settlement stance in the case constituted a waste of taxpayer money. He estimated that Andrada likely billed the California Fair Services Authority as much as $40,000 while avoiding settlement and unsuccessfully opposing the Enterprise’s fee motion.

Boylan estimated that the entire affair cost the CFSA somewhere in the neighborhood of $85,000, some $51,000 more than his original settlement offer. "And," he added, "the entire failure was financed with public tax revenues in the form of dues from public agencies paid to CFSA.”

Humboldt County Fair Association Richard Conway did not immediately return a call seeking comment for this story.

Titus and her husband, Stuart, also recently received a separate $150,000 settlement from the HCFA in a federal First Amendment and wrongful termination lawsuit they brought against the association after its board voted 11-8 in 2013 not to renew Stuart’s contract as the association’s general manager, a position he’d held for 22 years. In the suit, the Tituses alleged that the board fired Stuart in retaliation for his unwillingness to keep Caroline from writing pieces in the Enterprise that made fair board members look bad, as well as his repeated reminders that the board should abide by state open meeting laws.

Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Paul Nicholas Boylan is currently representing the Journal in the city of Eureka's appeal of a local judge's ruling ordering a portion of a police dash camera video released to the public. Read more about that case here.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

City Files Final Brief in Dash Cam Case

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 at 5:28 PM

Police patrol car dash cameras record all kinds of footage. But who gets to watch it? - FILE
  • File
  • Police patrol car dash cameras record all kinds of footage. But who gets to watch it?
The police dash camera video depicting Eureka police officers’ Dec. 6, 2012 arrest of a juvenile suspect is a confidential personnel record and can only be disclosed through a strict process that governs such records, the city of Eureka argued in a brief submitted to the California court of appeals last week.

The city is appealing Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson’s May ruling that granted a Journal petition seeking to have a portion of the video released to the public. While Wilson found release of the video was in the public interest, the city is arguing that he erred by not affording the video the statutory protections granted to police officer personnel records by state law.

In its recent filing, the city argues that the Journal used the process of petitioning the juvenile court to release the video as a way to circumvent the protections afforded police officer personnel records. Known as the Pitchess statutes, California Penal Code 832.7 and Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1046, outline a strict procedure for parties seeking to access police officer personnel records.

“… The city’s argument is that since Pitchess law applies and Pitchess procedures were not complied with, the evidence should never have even been reviewed in chambers by the Trial Court,” the city argues in its brief.

Virtually from the outset of this case, the Journal has argued that the video in question is not a police officer personnel record, an argument that Wilson addressed and agreed with in his May ruling. And in his brief to the appellate court, the Journal’s attorney, Paul Nicholas Boylan, pointed out that while the city has repeatedly maintained that the video is a confidential record, it has presented the court with no evidence that it is actually a part of an officer’s personnel file.

With the city’s filing, the case now moves to the appellate court’s ready list, and oral arguments will be scheduled at a future date. That could be in a matter of weeks or a year.

For more on the laws governing police dash camera videos and the laws governing them, read “Exempt from Disclosure,” the Journal’s Aug. 6 cover story. A full report on the city’s opening brief can be found here, and a report on the Journal’s response can be found here. And those who enjoy poring over court filings can read the briefs themselves in the PDFs below.
City_s_Opening_Brief.pdf Journal_s_Response_Brief.pdf City_s_Reply_Brief.pdf
Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that this reporter personally filed the petition seeking disclosure of the dash cam video in this case and authored the lower court filings on behalf of the Journal.
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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tituses Get $150K in Fair Board Settlement

Posted By on Sat, Jan 9, 2016 at 10:28 AM

Caroline and Stuart Titus. - FILE
  • File
  • Caroline and Stuart Titus.
The Humboldt County Fair Association has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by its former General Manager, Stuart Titus, and his wife Caroline, agreeing to pay the couple $150,000.

Describing the lawsuit as “all consuming,” Caroline Titus told the Journal that she and Stuart are happy to put it behind them and move forward. The couple owns the Ferndale Enterprise, in which Caroline, as its publisher and editor, has covered the lawsuit relentlessly.

“I feel like we had a principle — the First Amendment — and we exposed them throughout this,” she said. “We’ve exposed them, their lies, their cover-ups and they ended up paying us to do it.”

The Tituses sued the Humboldt County Fair Association in March of 2014, about a year after the board voted 13-7 not to renew Stuart’s contract as the association’s general manager, a job he’d held for 22 years. The Tituses alleged that the board fired Stuart in retaliation for his unwillingness to keep Caroline from writing pieces in the paper that made board members “look bad,” as well as his repeated reminders that the board should abide by state open-meeting laws. In court filings, the fair association countered that Stuart’s job performance and the way he interacted with board members were solely responsible for the decision to let him go.

The fair association announced the settlement in a press release last week, which comically noted that the “settlement was made as a compromise and not an omission of liability.” It’s safe to assume that the association meant “admission” instead of “omission” but, in any case, the $150,000 settlement will be covered by the association's insurance carrier.

“Frankly, we are just glad this time-consuming case has been settled and we can now focus on improvements at the fairgrounds, preparing for our 2016 fair and dealing with the many events that we have going on at the fairgrounds,” said fair General Manager Richard Conway in the release.

The press release also noted the fair recently received a $500,000 grant to make needed facility improvements, but the release erroneously stated the money came from the California State Fair Association, which doesn’t exist. In fact, the grant comes from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Caroline, who also recently sued the association under the California Public Records Act to force it to make all of its financial records public, said the grant is just the latest example of why the association needs to operate openly and transparently, and called her records lawsuit one of her “proudest accomplishments.”

“The fair has always received general fund monies,” she said, “so it’s really important that the public knows what happens to their money. I feel very proud that any member of the public, whether it’s me or you or anyone else, can go look and see how they’re handling our money.”

For more on the Tituses and their lawsuit, see past coverage here and here. And see the full, unedited fair association press release copied below:

Humboldt County Fair Settles Lawsuit,
Receives Large Grant & More!
 
Ferndale- A lawsuit brought by Stuart and Caroline Titus against the Humboldt County Fair Association was recently settled out of court without having to go to a jury trial. 
On January 5, 2016 the Federal Court in San Francisco held a Confidential Mandatory Settlement Conference relating to the case of Stuart and Caroline Titus v. the Humboldt County Fair Association and their directors.
Barbara Tyler, the Claims Manager from California Fair Services Authority, the HCFA's insurance provider, resolved the case with asettlement to Stuart and Caroline Titus and their attorneys in the amount of $150,000. The settlement was made as a compromise and was not an omission of liability. Settlement funds will be paid by the California Fair Services Authority.
General Manager, Richard Conway said,”Frankly, we are just glad this time-consuming case has been settled and we can now focus on improvements at the Fairgrounds, preparing for our 2016fair and dealing with the many events that we have going on at the fairgrounds.” David Mogni, Chairman of the Board of Directors echoed Conway’s remarks saying, “The lawsuit has been very disruptive and it is good to have it settled. I believe I can speak for the entire board when I say that we are just happy to put all of our focus back on the fairgrounds.”
Mogni added, “We have a lot of good things happening.  We recently received a grant for nearly $500,000 from the CaliforniaState Fair Association to make needed improvements. The majority of money will go to replacing the aging/failing water system at the fairgrounds. Some of it will be used to replace the asbestos floor at Belotti Hall.  (We are hoping the grant will cover both but we may be asking our community partners to pitch in to help with the Belotti project.) We received another grant for $12,500 from the Berg Foundation tomake much needed repairs to the Poultry Building at the Fairgrounds. As one of the oldest, if not the oldest building on the fairgrounds, we are happy to have it once more be usable for FFA, 4-H and other groups.
 
“And…” Mogni said, “That’s not all. In other big news, General Manager, Richard Conway was recently appointed to the board of directors for the California Authority of Racing Fairs.  This is wonderful news and will open the door to many relationships we feel will be helpful to our future racing schedule. Richard’s background is entrenched in the racing industry. He has 20 years of experience training racehorses throughout California and abroad. Specifically, he has trained for the internationally prominent Godolphin Racing Stable owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates.  While working for Godolphin, Richard managed stables in UAE, France, England and Ireland.  In addition, he has considerable training experience in both the Northern and Southern California circuits. The entire board is thrilled with this appointment.”
 
The Humboldt County Fair will be holding it’s 120th fair August 18-28, 2016.  More information is available on their web site, humboldtcountyfair.org or by calling the fair office at 707-786-9511.

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