February 19, 2014 a day that impacts my case, my freedom and potentially the rest of my life. A bit of history (only a bit) as based on the comments made on social media, very few understand the actual mechanics of a case as complicated as this one. November 2011 I was denied my medical defense by judge Sheldon and just before trial was to begin, the 2nd district appellate court decided to rule on the writ that we had submitted (a very rare occurrence) the day before thanksgiving at trial readiness conference, a stay was put on the trial… later that afternoon we received word that our defense was granted and we celebrated the best Thanksgiving ever! The following Monday, we showed up and requested a contuiance as with a defense, we would need to subpoena witnesses for the defense.
Judge Sheldon had no intention of allowing us any justice and ordered that the trial begin and the jury was called in. The stage was set for an 18 day fiasco of a trial that was protested vigorously, yet received very little media coverage that culminated with my conviction on 12 counts of sales of a controlled substance (a plant.) I was allowed to remain out of custody pending sentencing and things continued to be surreal and bizarre. Along with dozens of character letters, we asked the observers (court supporters) to submit a declaration telling what was wrong with the trial and filed a motion for a new trial
The day after our motion was filed, Judge Sheldon sent a letter to DDA Jody Castano praising her in a most inappropriate way… odder than that, he sent a copy of the letter to both defense attorneys.
I walked into sentencing expecting to be sent to prison and said my goodbyes but instead of getting taken into custody, judge Sheldon recused himself and I walked out free and bewildered. Later in April, Judge Cassani ruled in favor of our motion and I had successfully overturned a jury verdict with a motion! As we began the new trial proceedings, I was made aware that the state of California was appealing this ruling and not one but two more attorneys were being assigned to writing the briefs. Put this together with my state appointed atty, the DDA and my alternate public defender. Not to mention the judges and all the extra actors, all to try to add me to the thousands of Americans turned into felons because of the Cannabis plant.
I have no idea how many hours have been billed to YOU (California taxpayers) but this has drug on for nearly 2 years and has included more than a thousand pages of briefs about a 3000 page transcript of an 18 day trial…. Is it beginning to sound ridiculous yet?
The final step before the 3 judge panel rules is called Oral arguments. Both sides get a chance to clarify points and more importantly, the judges have the opportunity to ask questions that were not clarified in the briefs.
Kathie Z graciously covered a room near the courthouse so that we did not need to slog across 70 miles of rush hour traffic. I barely slept and as much as I did not make a big deal about court support, I was glad to see everyone that made it out… as much as it’s an experience like no other, I know that it makes a difference albeit intangible most of the time.
The courtroom was huge as usual but this one had a large section for attys and very little gallery. The 3 women and 1 male judge sat high above the rest of the court in a setting that could have been inspired by a pink Floyd movie.
We walked in about 15 deep and I noticed that my codefendant and his atty didn’t bother to come out but DDA Jody who has turned this case into a personal vendetta did.
Several cases came before mine and I was disturbed to see a lawyer vigorously fighting for the possibility of parole for a guy convicted of repeatedly raping a girl for years. The Atty argued that the rapes occurring between certain dates were not taken into consideration regarding the sentencing….I couldn’t help but think about the POWs that are serving LWOP for victimless “plant crimes”
The panel of judges referred to a tentative ruling and as I understand it, these arguments seldom have much of an impact on the outcome. I did however find it interesting to see the informal dialogue between the judges and attys.
The appellate court did not rule with regards to and evidence or details of the trial but rather to the ruling that Judge Cassani made as she pointed out the many examples where Judge Sheldon denied due process in the trial.
The State’s atty was a dark haired squat woman that rambled on saying very little but “we believe that it was a fair trial.” She went on to rant about two of the many points brought up by Judge Cassani, the refusal of Judge Sheldon to allow time to prepare a defense and the limiting of witnesses… she claimed that We never disclosed who the other witnesses were and that it’s a tactic to delay trials and that the judge had every right to deny these things. She claimed that because we did not repeatedly request these things that we were not entitled to them. The justice responded “if you raise an issue and don’t keep complaining, then it doesn’t count? State’s atty further claimed that judge Cassani was wrong about every point brought up in her ruling and we were indeed given due process.
With regard to the limiting of witnesses, the justice said, if you have a judge that appears to be favoring the opposing side, would you push the limit?
The final tell was when Justice Chaney said “The real issue here is was there a denial of a fair trial. Our standard here is Was Judge Cassani abusing her discretion in rendering her decision? I don’t see it. I don’t know about my panel members……
My Atty John Steinberg asked the panel if they had any questions and they said no. he submitted.
We went downstairs and talked for a minute. John said that he is used to having to defend some very bad people and when he got this case, he was deeply offended by the trial. He had never seen such a lack of due process and he enjoyed the long hours required to prepare for today. He explained that judge Sheldon seriously disrespected this court’s ruling with his behavior and that if he hadn’t retired after this case that he was prepared to file a complaint with the judicial review board. He went on to explain that they will likely publish their opinion within a month or two but there is still a process till the stay on the trial is lifted. Nothing is certain but they were very transparent regarding their opinion and that the da’s office was seriously spanked here..
He couldn’t understand why they had such a hard on for me but recognized the reputation of the long beach court system as being systemically corrupt. He went on to note that their job is to ensure justice ,not just get convictions but too many times they go to the “dark side.” He told me that Los Angeles County currently has a policy of not prosecuting collectives and if they continue with my case, there would be a violation of equal protection. He was going to inform my public defender of the memo.
Finally, John was impressed by the support and even more when he became aware that his assumption that they were all members of the collective was wrong and that in fact, I didn’t know any of the supporters besides my wife before the raid that launched this fiasco. His final words were that if this ended up in the worst possible way and I was to face a sentencing judge, “all you need to do is show him your life’s work” I smiled and told him that was my “ace in the hole” and that I only hoped never to have to use it….
For those of you that got to the end of this, I want to point out this …. If you haven’t yet sat in support of a cannabis defendant, please consider doing so as you will not only make a real impact in a positive way but likely see something you never imagined and who knows maybe you’ll get the “activist bug too”
Thank you to everyone that has decided to be a part of the solution!