It was only a landlord-tenant hassle, but the Courthouse was in a state of great expectation. The place was buzzing. Judge Ann Moorman, new to the bench, was scheduled to preside but begged off, saying she “couldn’t possibly, wouldn’t dare,” felt “inadequate,” had “never done a jury trial before!”
Who the heck's jury trial was it?
“Obviously,” a friendly lawyer informed me, “you have no idea who the defendant is: That couple at the defense table there is His Lordship Ukiah Sativa Morrison, the Earl of Redwood Valley. Better known as Sir Sativa or Lord Morrison to commoners like us. And the co-defendant is Callie Ashe, his grace’s royal consort, Lady Ashe.”
Lady Ashe had her flaxen hair fixed in Medieval fashion, with two locks coming back like bridle reins from her temples, fastening artfully at the nape of her neck.
Lord Sativa was no less regal.
His harlequin leotard and doublet hadn't easily passed through the Courthouse's metal detectors, but here they were, Lord and Lady, in all their monarchical splendor to answer to a jury of their peers, if any peers could be found. Had the lord and his lady descended to rank deadbeat-ism?
Judge Moorman shunted the royal pair to Judge Richard Henderson’s court.
Judge Richard Henderson is hardly a Jacobin, but his honor seemed more than pleased in a cat-to-the-canary sort of way to find their eminences in his courtroom.
David Shell represented the plaintiff, the landlords, David and Janice Cordis. Judge Henderson asked the plaintiffs if they were ready to proceed.
The judge turned to Sativa who was representing himself and said, “Ronald Matthews, are you ready to go forward?”
Ronald Matthews is Ukiah Sativa Morrison’s given name. He'd dubbed himself Ukiah Sativa Morrison in dual honor of his home and his favorite sacrament.
No go. Sativa said he couldn’t get a fair trial with Judge Henderson presiding.
The matter had to be moved again, and everyone, including Judge Henderson sitting in as a spectator, tramped across the hall to Judge Ronald Brown’s old courtroom where the debonair Hon. Robert Lamb, a visiting judge, was presiding. Lamb's chops, you might say, of silver goatee and sweeping mustaches, trimmed to a shrewd point, lend His Honor a theatrical air. If he had been wearing a conical cap wreathed with tinsel to match the sparkle in his eyes you’d swear he was Merlin. His elegant manners and mellow eloquence ensures that his hearings and trials will be done with dignity and style, even when the characters who appear before him tend heavily to travesty.
Judge Lamb hasn’t sat locally for a while, and recent changes in how the courts deal with drug cases — especially marijuana cultivation — often leave him looking bemused. He’s been filling in for a couple of months, now, and seems to be getting the hang of Mendo mellow matters. Judge Lamb can seem at times astonished at the infinitely elastic legal strategies adopted by the “medical marijuana community,” but just as many local defense lawyers share his incredulity.
“These people think they’re on a mission from God,” one lawyer told me. “They really believe that growing pot and selling it for a profit is a kind of religious calling. And when they get busted, they think they’re martyrs!”
Another said: “Oh, you mean the pot zealots? These people are in Jim Jones or David Koresh's mental territory.”
These comments help put Lord Sativa Morrison’s presumptions into perspective.
The first order of business was to ask Sativa if he had posted a cash deposit for the jury fees. Sativa had of course insisted on representing himself and on a jury trial because the true zealot always thinks he's convincing as all heck.
“You understand that you have to put up the money for the jury fees?”
“Of course I do,” Sativa retorted. “But where’s the court reporter? I want a court reporter!”
“Well, sir, there’s a firm just across the street where you can hire a court reporter,” Judge Lamb suggested.
“Nah! Ugh!” Sir Sativa was disgusted at the prospect, practically spitting his words. Hire his own court reporter? The impertinence of it! Judge Henderson had already informed him — much less genially than Judge Lamb had — that the court-reporter firm of Hennessey, Adair & Pottswold was on East Perkins Street.
“I don’t want one of those!” Sativa fumed. “Doesn’t the court have one for me?”
A free one should have come with the money I had to put up for my jury trial?
Modern justice isn't Jiffy Lube, son.
Lady Ashe chirruped vaguely, “Last time, it seems like we had one…”
Judge Lamb asked Madame Clerk (Megan) to get on the phone and find a court reporter. It took Megan a few minutes, but shortly she reported that it would cost $250 for the remainder of the afternoon, and $500 more to come back the following day.
Sir Sativa and Lady Ashe conferred. They passed on the court reporter.
Why all the noise over a stenographer?
If the claims of Sativa's landlords were granted — six months back-rent, court costs, attorney fees, forcible eviction from the Redwood Valley property— Sativa would need transcripts for any hope of retrial.
M’lord and Lady seemed to think they had a slam-dunk case. Surely the jury would agree with them and an appeal wouldn’t be necessary.
And what was their case? Very simple: Because they were growing medical marijuana, they should be exempt from paying rent.
The trick, nay miracle, would be for Sativa to get a jury, even a jury of tie-dyed stoners, to agree that production of medical marijuana exempts him from civil obligations, in this case, rent.
Judge Lamb asked Marty the court attendant to bring up the jury pool. While we waited for Sativa's prospective peers to come upstairs from the ground floor jury room, Judge Lamb asked the parties to submit their evidence.
Mr. Shell, for Sativa's landlords, promptly produced the rental agreement. As he passed the defense table Shell noticed Sativa furtively and rather frantically probing the bundle of rags apparently containing his side of the case.
“You don’t have a tape-recorder in there, do you,” Shell demanded in a scandalized shriek.
“Well, so what if I do? What’s it to you, you old fuddy-duddy, you! I can record it if I want to, can’t I, judge?”
“No, sir, you may not,” Judge Lamb ruled tersely.
Then His Honor asked the parties if they would stipulate to six as the number of prospective jurors who could be dismissed for cause. Both sides agreed and 42 Mendocino County citizens, perhaps the most pot-knowledgeable people in all of America, but not necessarily the most pot-sympathetic, filed into the courtroom. Judge Lamb welcomed and thanked the citizens for doing their civic duty
On his part, the judge hauls in about $500 a day for enforcing society's rules, and this judge has made that $500 seven days a week for well over 30 years. He can afford to be courtly, you could say.
The judge gave the prospective jurors a summary of the case, introducing Mr. and Mrs. Cordis, a respectable-looking couple dressed to subdued perfection in the understated style of retired professionals and also introducing the defendants, a pair of throw-back hippies in neo-16th century. The Cordises sat back along the rail and watched politely, like patrons at an opera.
The drama began: “Madame Clerk,” Judge Lamb began, “would you call the first 12 potential jurors…”
This is not done alphabetically but at random. That way you can’t assume because your name is Young or Zybrovosky, you won’t be called.
Megan started calling out names, and the first 12 came up and filled the jury box.
Then Judge Lamb bade Marty the courtroom helper to set up a placard on an easel with some questions on it. The print was the size of the next-biggest letters on an optometrist’s eye chart. The questions were 1. Where do you live? 2. What do you do? 3. Are you married? 4. Any kids?
Each prospect took his and her turn going through the drill. Then the judge got more personal: Was it going to be a hardship for any of them to attend the trial, which may last through tomorrow?
A few of them grumbled that yes, it was a damned nuisance, especially for those who had to drive to Ukiah from the coast, a round-trip of at least two hours, and if I've driven all the way over here from Fort Bragg because some wacky hippies don't think they have to pay rent well, hell yes, I'm going to be unhappy.
But with deft aplomb Judge Lamb made this random gathering of Mendonesians apprehend the difference between inconvenience and hardship and congratulated them on getting their civic duty done and out of the way for the foreseeable future. None of them would be called for jury duty for quite a while.
Did anyone have a problem with tenant-landlord disputes? Had anyone been evicted, for instance; or, conversely, had any of them had to evict a renter?
Thus, the selection began. It was going to take some time so I left to go check on some criminal matters.
Phillip Frase is accused of murdering a pot trimmer out on Bell Springs Road and hastily concealing the man's body under some brush after which Frase was allegedly seen driving the dead man's camper away from the site. Cadaver dogs went straight to the corpse of Frase's property, the van was found in Fort Bragg, some of the dead man's belongings at the front door of the Elk Store. Frase is suspected of a similarly inspired slaying at his previous dope spread near Happy Camp in Trinity County. That murder was of a woman, also presumed to have worked as a trimmer for Mr. Frase. She was found with her head bashed in, the same condition as the body found under the brush pile on Frase’s Laytonville property.
Frase seems to be a rather dangerous guy to work for, but his trial date couldn’t be confirmed because Frase’s lawyer, Richard Petersen, was still sick and couldn’t come to court. Justin Petersen of the family firm made his father’s apologies and the matter was continued.
By the time I got back to Judge Lamb’s court, Sir Sativa and Lady Ashe had pretty much used up all their peremptory challenges, which is to say they only had one left that they could say no to without saying why.
Mr. Shell had cannily rejected only two potential jurors.
Basically, if you suspect that someone will not rule in your favor, you can thank and excuse them.
Megan called another name. M’lord and Lady were down to one.
Sativa clearly wanted a jury of pot people, extreme pot people, the kind of people who believe sensimilla is God's drug of choice. But people who show up for jury duty overwhelmingly tend to be people who not only play by the rules, they believe in the rules.
The last juror called was a single mom of three from Fort Bragg. Had she ever been evicted? Sativa asked. Yes, she said she had, back in her younger days. But now she worked as a property manager, and had to initiate evictions herself as part of her job.
Sir Sativa and Lady Ashe conferred in whispers. They only had one draw left, but there was still the matter of an alternate. They decided to keep the single mom from Fort Bragg.
“Are you happy with the jury, then,” Judge Lamb asked. “Do they all look pretty good?”
“They look great!” Sativa exclaimed.
“Very well, then, we’ll choose one alternate, in case we don’t finish up today and someone for whatever reason can’t make it tomorrow.”
Megan called another name, Justine Fredrickson, a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal.
Sativa was appalled.
“Her boss, K.C. Meadows, absolutely despises me,” Sativa said, stunned that someone might not like him.
Ms. Fredrickson said that for her part she didn’t even know the defendant, and felt certain she could be fair and impartial.
Lord Morrison wasn’t convinced. He started to splutter further denunciations of local media but Judge Lamb reminded him that the acceptable formula was to thank and excuse Ms. Fredrickson, which Sir Sativa eventually did.
Megan called another name. This would be the last one, the alternate. M’lord and Lady had used all their draws. There would be no getting rid of this one.
The man said he worked in the timber industry and, yes he had evicted people for growing medical marijuana, and not only had he evicted pot people, he’d bulldozed their grow sites. He was especially out of patience with trespassing pot growers for felling some of his redwoods to get more sunlight to their pot plants.
Sativa’s juror challenge strategy had backfired big time.
I wanted to see the rest of this but I don't drive, and I had to get my bus back to Boonville.
When I got to the Courthouse the next day I went to see Megan at the civil clerk’s office. As I was waiting in line a process server named Stuart Zellar came in.
“Weren’t you at the jury trial for Lord Morrison,” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I served the papers on him. And I was a going to testify as a witness but wasn’t needed.”
“How did it go?”
“It was sad,” he said. “A sad little joke. When the nonsense about being too special to pay rent failed, they tried to complain about the toilet not working. But the landlord hardly felt obliged to fix the plumbing when they had paid no rent for six months.”
“How long was the jury out?”
“About 15 minutes.”
Smoke this, Sativa!
Holy mission or no, Lord and Lady Sativa had to pay rent.
Megan said the defendants were found liable on all counts. They would have to pay the back rent, court costs, and attorney fees. The final bill hadn’t been submitted but promised to be rather hefty.
“Were they evicted?”
Does anyone have a castle to let? One with lots of rich, arable soil? Charming, if not particularly responsible, young couple in distress. References available — wait, strike that! No credible references, but still very deserving!
* * *
Notes: According to the Elections office the Treasurer for The Committee to Elect Ukiah Morrison for Supervisor (he ran against Carre Brown in 2008) was “Ukiah S. Morrison.” Callie Ashe, who contributed $170, was listed as an employee of Real Goods in Hopland. Two other contributors were listed: Ryan Parr, a self-employed contractor in Hopland, contributed $300 and Ryland Englehart, “owner of a raw food establishment” in San Francisco, contributed $500. Plus $50 from an anonymous stoner for a total of $1,020. Expenses totaled $509. Ukiah Sativa Morrison made $511 with his run for Supervisor. One of his “campaign expenditures” was $8 for a “Permaculture Magazine for Displaying Purposes” plus office supplies and a few signs.
In one campaign statement Mr. Morrison declared: “Generally I will listen twice as much as I will speak. I will observe carefully that which I fix my attention on. I will follow in order to lead. I will recognize that I don't know everything, content in knowing that I am aware of the most important thing. I love communicating with people, especially persons who do not think the way I do. I will carefully consider any reasonable argument with the highest respect for diplomacy. I will also expect the same. I appreciate scrutiny.”
In answer to a question about what should be done about the old Masonite site north of Ukiah, Morrison replied, “I propose an educational-vocational center that shows the world that in Mendocino County we know what it means to “think global, act local.”
Asked about “water,” Morrison replied: “Water is Life. I understand that plumbing water causes it to lose its vitality. It becomes lifeless. Technology exists to solve that problem, and it can be implemented on a small and large scale. One example is called the Nordic Living Water Revitalizer. The Ukiah Brewing Company and Restaurant have one. I also want to conserve our water in a manner that a cactus would envy. I have also seen demonstrations that many technologies also exist that can turn water into energy. I don't recall every detail of the science behind it, but I think it is referred to as an HHO power supply. I think one of the demonstrations used water as though it were a torch, to cut metal, but was harmless to the skin, and had water return as a byproduct of the process. I wonder how many other candidates know as much about water as I do?”
So, why did Sativa want his landlord to fix his toilet? Why not just let it revitalize itself?