“You must go to AA meetings everyday,” instructed Judge Clayton Brennan to John Bowman in Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Courtroom last Tuesday. Bowman was in court for a violation of probation. The probation department recommended that he be put in jail and Deputy DA Sergio Fuentes agreed. Deputy Probation Officer Damon Lebert said that Bowman had already been put on notice that his last chance was dated February 28, 2011.
“We believe he must be remanded because alcohol is seeping back into his life,” Lebert said.
Bowman wore a gray pony tail and a black crew-cut sweatshirt. He stood solemn and stiff.
“I'm not going to remand him right now,” decided Judge Brennan. Brennan told Bowman he wanted to see him every week to check on his progress. The first review would be in seven days.
“I don't want there to be a day you do not go to a meeting,” the judge repeated.
The courtroom was filled, most of the seats in the gallery were taken.
Brennan called Sabina Walla's case.
Walla is a 53 year old oil painter living in Gualala. She was picked up for driving under the influence of alcohol by Deputy Joseph Comer of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department on June 4th 2011.
Walla had appeared in Ten Mile Court before on July 5th with her elderly neighbor who informed the court he was a retired lawyer and would be speaking for her. Included in her charges was a special allegation for driving with a 0.15% or more blood-alcohol level.
She was back with her retired lawyer friend who now wore a heavily starched navy suit.
“Are these your initials?” Brennan asked, referring to the Tahl waiver form in his hand, the form a defendant initials and signs to waive their trial rights when pleading “no contest” or “guilty.”
Ms. Walla formally pleaded “no contest” to the court. Brennan duly found her guilty, but before he could read her her sentence the retired lawyer in the navy suit spoke up and told Brennan that Ms. Walla had asked him to say something to the court on her behalf.
“It's a standard sentence,” said Judge Brennan. “Everybody gets the same thing.”
But the elderly advocate persisted and Brennan let him speak for Sabina Walla, his neighbor and friend. The old man told the court that when Walla was signaled to stop by the deputy she'd pulled over in a safe place alongside the road. A friend of hers was promptly at the scene and told Deputy Comer they would take care of Walla's car. But the car was towed anyway and Sabina Walla incurred a $700 towing expense. Ms. Walla's spokesman said she'd spent the night of June 4th in Mendocino County Jail in Ukiah and wasn't released until late in the afternoon of the 5th. The retired attorney then complained to the Court that the Independent Coast Observer in Gualala had published notice of Ms. Walla's arrest and her mugshot, humiliating Walla.
“Not even enemy captured soldiers would be subject to such a display,” added the ex-attorney. He finished by thanking Deputy DA Fuentes “for his fairness.”
Brennan was unmoved.
He read out Sabina Walla's sentence: five years summary probation, submission to drug and alcohol testing, enrollment in a first offender DUI program, a $2,491 fine, $25 screening fee, two $100 restitution fines, and of course she must obey all laws and orders of the court.
“Do you accept?” asked Brennan.
“Sign this probation order before you leave the courtroom.”
Brennan called Tucker Chester's case.
“He's not responding,” said Brennan, ready to issue a warrant and move on the next minor disaster.
Some people in the gallery began rousing a sleeping man with a shaved head in the front row. He jumped up from a dead sleep and walked briskly to the defendant's table. Tucker Chester was arraigned on a misdemeanor complaint of “corporal injury to a spouse” from a May incident. Brennan informed Chester he was now in violation of his probation from two other cases.
Chester had been stopped in Little River at 3am on Christmas Day, 2009. Chester was in the passenger seat and the deputies thought he smelled of marijuana. Chester allegedly told the deputies that he was in possession of methamphetamine. He was placed under arrest and booked on “suspicion of possession of methamphetamine.”
Brennan told Chester he could not annoy, harass, or disturb the peace of his alleged victim of the corporal injury to a spouse. The judge revoked Chester's probation and appointed Public Defender Thomas Croak with entry of plea set for August 30th.
I noticed that Captain Fathom was back in the Ten Mile Court even though he wasn't on the docket. He wore Vans high-top shoes with pants tucked into the top and a wool suit jacket. He darted across the gallery trying out different seats.
Soon a somewhat unkempt woman wearing a blue terrycloth skirt and cowhide welding sleeves sat in the row of chairs in front of me where Tucker Chester had just been sleeping. I noticed she had smeared blue flowers painted next to her wrinkled eyes. A yellow paintbrush stuck through her tangled mane kept it partially atop her head. She had a drawing pad on her lap and she immediately began sketching. She wore blue nail polish and a pair of handcuffs as a bracelet on her right wrist. I had heard about this drawing woman; she sketched quickly, but I couldn't find anything in the courtroom that resembled her sketches.
Captain Fathom crossed the aisle in the gallery and sat down next to the artist. As she talked to Fathom I realized she had rosy dots on her cheeks and blue lipstick. After quietly conversing for a few minutes they abruptly left the courtroom together. She seems to be the Captain's new love interest.
Choong Kim, Kyung J. Yook, and Seong Roh's cases were called but passed over until the court could get a Korean interpreter on the phone. Brennan left the bench for a 15-minute recess as they set up the call.
Two young kids with their mom in court for the day darted around the lobby waiting for the gallery to open again. The three Koreans waiting for the translator to get on the line shared a can of Pringles. Through the lobby windows I could see that the empty lot across the street was filled with little yellow flowers in the gray gloom that hung over Fort Bragg.
Six miles outside of Fort Bragg out Highway 20 there is a turn marked only with a carved wooden post, “RD 350.” Three miles down the road is Jackson State Forest's Camp One and a day use meadow known locally as “The Egg Taking Station.” Here the Department of Fish and Game diverts migrating Coho salmon into pens, then harvests the adult's eggs and milt to sell to hatcheries. Under the redwood canopy there are 33 campsites nestled along this stretch of the South Fork of the Noyo River. On the night of July 20th of 2010 Jesus Balthazar Partida attended a family party at The Egg Taking Station that lasted into the morning of the 21st. As parties go, large quantities of alcohol were consumed.
By August 9th of 2010 Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen had filed a felony criminal complaint against Jesus Partida. In an interview conducted by police, Partida admitted to a sexual assault. The victim had reported the early morning incident at The Egg Taking Station after consulting with a doctor the following day.
Partida originally faced 33 felony charges; one count of “kidnapping to commit sodomy,” one count of “kidnapping to commit oral copulation,” four counts of “sodomy by threat,” ten counts of “oral copulation by force,” three counts of “sexual penetration with a foreign object by force,” four counts for four alleged acts of “sodomy of an incompetent person,” and ten counts for ten alleged acts of “oral copulation of an unconscious person.”
In other words, he was so drunk he hopped onto another man.
Along with virtually every count brought against Partida is a notice that “Conviction of this offense will require the court to order you to submit to a blood test for evidence of antibodies to the probable causative agent of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” All of Partida's charges also fall within the meaning of Penal Code Section 1192.7 (c)(20). This is a California code that limits or restricts the plea bargaining a DA can conduct for violent sex crimes or other serious felonies involving murder, firearms, driving under the influence of intoxicating substances.
Jesus Partida was born on August 29th of 1981. He is six feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. His alleged victim was 18 years old at the time of the incident at The Egg Taking Station. If it was love, it was one-way love, and a 300 pound lovestruck drunk landing on you in the middle of the night doesn't bear thinking about.
At the recommendation of the People, Partida was remanded into custody on $250,000 bail. On August 10th 2010 Partida posted bail through Tony Romelli Bail Bonds in Santa Rosa and Bankers Insurance Group in St. Petersburg, Florida. A bail payment slip filed by the Mendocino County Jail on August 11th of 2010 indicates that the full amount of $250,000 was paid on the 10th and Partida was freed.
Jesus Partida's lawyer Ryan Perkins made two informal requests for discovery after finding out that Deputy DA Stoen had acquired photographs of the victim taken at the time of his medical exam. This delayed Partida's criminal proceedings and his preliminary hearing was pushed back many times until it finally landed on June 29th of 2011.
Witnesses at the prelim included Deputy Richard Van Baren and Detective Dustin Lorenzo who conducted the interview in which Partida admitted to the sexual assault. A transcript of an interview with Partida and an interview with the victim were admitted as evidence.
The People moved to dismiss counts 20 through 23, which were for four “acts of sodomy of an unconscious person.” The People also moved to dismiss counts 25 through 33; nine “acts of oral copulation of an unconscious person.”
Visiting Judge Andria K. Richey found sufficient evidence to hold Jesus Partida to answer to 15 of the felony counts of sexual assault. For the rest of his life, if convicted, Jesus Partida would have to register with the Sheriffs Department five days after moving to a new area of California under Penal Code Section 290, or the Sex Offender Registration Act. He will be back in Ten Mile Court on July 19th.
“This is Judge Brennan with the Mendocino County Superior Court,” he said introducing himself to the man on the line.
The Korean interpreter's voice came through the speakers installed in the walls of the courtroom, he was ready to begin.
“I'm going to speak in short sentences and I'd like you to translate into Korean whatever I say.”
Brennan called Choong Kim, Kyung J. Yook, and Seong Roh's cases and arraigned them on Fish and Game abalone violations. The court waited as the interpreter and Korean defendants spoke. It was the classic joke when short English sentences are translated into sprawling foreign tongued sentences that seem too long for what is being said to the English perceiving ears.
Brennan soon called another recess for lunch, but since there were so many morning cases it was short and I didn't even leave the courthouse.
“Put your keys away, just put them away,” snapped Bailiff Kent Rogers to a man in a white shirt and black vest sitting in the row in front of me after court was back in session at 1:30. When the man stopped fiddling with them I realized how annoying it had been, like a lobster who finally figures out it's boiling.
Brennan called Chester Reynolds for his arraignment.
“The bailiff already talked to you about your attire. Shorts are not acceptable in the court.”
Reynolds had tattooed arms and wore Oakley sunglasses on the back of his bald head. Chester Reynolds was arrested on April 25, 2011 for allegedly being under the influence of methamphetamine. As Brennan spoke, Reynolds clasped his hands behind his head and let his tattooed arms flap. He shot cocky anger from his eyes about the courtroom. He was eligible for a diversion program in which he would plead guilty at the outset, and as long as he completes a treatment program and commits no more crimes, the case would be dismissed.
“What do you plea?” asked Brennan.
“Was there a test?” asked Reynolds, apparently not remembering if he had been screened for methamphetamine after his arrest.
Deputy DA Sergio Fuentes quickly shuffled through the stack of papers and files in front of him.
“Yes,” Fuentes answered.
“Guilty,” decided Chester Reynolds.
I had to get back down to Anderson Valley and the busy courtroom afternoon in Fort Bragg showed no signs of slowing. I left the Ten Mile Court and headed south on Highway One. A live Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band song came on the radio as I cruised along the bluffs. It was the usual passionate sounding lyrics about steel wheels and taking his baby on the road.
I stopped at the gas station at Little River to buy the coastal newspapers before I headed inland. In the front of the station the drawing woman from court with the blue flowers painted beside her eyes was talking to an unseen man sitting in the passenger seat of a shinny, red PT Cruiser. He was handing her money and telling her what to get inside. She went in and I followed to get quarters for the newspaper machines. I could tell that the drawing woman had been in and out of the store gathering items for the man in the red car outside. She was all blue and flowers, fluttering about her life dream. I walked outside to the newspaper machines with change in hand and the drawing woman got into the drivers seat of the shiny PT Cruiser behind me.
“Shut up you cranky old man,” she said to the man in the passenger seat. As I turned to leave I saw that the man in the car was Captain Fathom.
As I pulled away Bruce and the E Street Band were wrapping up the extravagant, down-and-out dreamer's anthem: “This train, carries saints and sinners. This train, carries losers and winners. This train carries whores and gamblers. This train carries lost souls…”