On Friday of last week, January 3rd, your trusty courthouse correspondent saw colleague Mike Geniella’s SUV parked nearby and realized that Mr. Geniella would be working closely with DA C. David Eyster to deliver another fair and balanced press release regarding the judgment and sentencing of Jakell Malik Watts.
With the Watts case being so adroitly handled by consummate professionals, I was freed-up to go upstairs and see how Mendo’s new judge, the Honorable Carly Dolan, was doing on her first day on the criminal bench; and Oh my gosh! What a disappointment it’s going to be for the DA when he hears that, like Judge Keith Faulder, whose judgment has been derided as entirely the wrong message to be sending to the public by granting probation to two of the three Willits drug bandits…
“When asked to comment, DA Eyster emphasized — as he did in December [regarding codefendant Eural Strickland] — that Judge Faulder's decision to grant probation to yet another pharmacy robber, one who targeted victims far from Sacramento, continues to send a completely wrong message to criminal elements locally and those looking in from other areas.
"Decisions like this send a message that crooks can commit violent crimes in Mendocino County and avoid prison. Law-abiding citizens and local law enforcement agencies all agree that this sort of thing doesn't help make Mendocino County a safer place," lamented Eyster.
Judge Dolan bridled against following the guidance of the prosecution in sentencing criminal convicts as well, either in solidarity with the Honorable Faulder, or out of cussedness, perhaps. But we expect the DA to retaliate for Her Honor's independence in much the same way he’s been cranking out press releases criticizing Judge Faulder.
As we know from long experience, C. David Eyster carries a big stick. And not just around the courthouse. He even ran to ground and apprehended a shoplifter at Safeway, recently. We have seen him in some very doughty actions in the courtroom, always on the offensive in the fight against crime, dismissive of defense lawyers, and casual to the point of impatience with the judges. He is not what we’d call reluctant to speak his mind to authority, not by a long shot.
So it is with considerable trepidation that way the forces of law and order look at the way the Mendocino County Bench is shaping up — two relatively young women, judges Carly Dolan and Victoria Shanahan; and the very likely possibility that a Coast lawyer and volunteer fireman (who his interviewer described as boyish in his enthusiasm to please), Patrick Pekin will become a judge in the next election.
In short, we fear the DA will walk all over these new judges, like those new imitation-wood floors, for years to come.
As I entered Judge Dolan’s court, Her Honor was in the process of sentencing Jennifer Sutherland for a felony and several misdemeanors.
Ms. Sutherland had stolen merchandise (a bottle of booze, presumably) from Safeway in Willits on New Year’s Eve and gotten so drunk by the time she was arrested on Waugh Lane in Ukiah that her blood alcohol content (BAC) was an astronomical 3.5 (.08 being the minimum for DUI). The theft and the DUI were both misdemeanors, but by having gone on a bender and left the dependent elder it was her job to care for unattended, Ms. Sutherland had committed a felony, elder abuse. Among the rest was a driving on a suspended license – this was her second violation of this law (14601.2) — while intoxicated.
Deputy DA Joe Guzman had asked that Ms. Sutherland be proscribed from ever again working at the In-Home Support Services (IHSS) for dependent elder adults, as a part of her sentence. Robert Smith, an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender, said his client had no problem with that; she had medical training and would find work elsewhere. Deputy DA Guzman said he’d spoken with someone in a position of authority at IHSS and learned that a felony conviction would not preclude Sutherland from working there; that it had to be an order from the court. Mr. Smith added that the court would be “surprised [in a tone of arch understatement] at the kinds of people that worked at IHSS.”
Ms. Sutherland was going to be sentenced to local jail and the misdemeanor sentences would run concurrently with the prison sentence, but the question was, what was the appropriate prison sentence? Defense thought the low term of 16 months was appropriate; prosecution argued the mid-term of two years was the only appropriate option. Mr. King of the Probation office agreed that the mid-term was “the appropriate” decision the new judge should take. (They really overdo the application of this pallid, insipid and unutterably vapid word, “appropriate.”)
King’s report said the high BAC was an aggravating factor. Mr. Smith objected that it was usually the case that being drunk out of your mind was a mitigating factor. Smith complained again that probation was citing the fact that his client had been to rehab once before for her alcohol abuse — citing it as an aggravating factor — whereas Smith argued it only went to show how serious her “disease” [alcoholism] was; and that, if anything, it was a mitigating factor.
Judge Dolan said, “The court finds that it is in the interest of justice to deny a split sentence. [Defense said it would make little difference in Sutherland’s case and she wasn’t requesting a split, anyway.] The court finds the high BAC an aggravating factor and she’ll have consequences to her medical training [in finding work in that field]. She’s engaged in treatment [for alcoholism] and admitted culpability early. The court finds that the low term of 16 months is appropriate and she’ll be committed to local prison under 1170 (h.) 5 (a.).”
Sutherland already had 202 days of actual credits for time served. Mr. King said she would only get 201 “4019 credits” for a total of 403. Smith objected the number was incorrect; she should get 202 “4019 credits” for a total of 404 days served. Sixty days in jail for the shoplifting would run concurrent. A restitution fine of $100 would be imposed. The time for the 14601.2 [driving on a suspended license] would be stayed. At this point Mr. King emerged from his math calculations and admitted that 404 days credit for time served was indeed accurate.
When Ms. Sutherland gets out she will go on 36 months probation. There would be a $25 screening fee, a $40 conviction fee, a $30 court fee; and Ms. Sutherland was not to work in any kind of care for dependent elder adults.
Mr. Guzman wanted alcohol testing included as a term of the probation and, also, that Ms. Sutherland not be allowed to care for any children, either, because, he said, “She may end up with some child in her care and do the same thing again.”
Mr. Smith objected that “dependent person” had a distinct legal meaning and that including kids in the meaning would be a violation of some case law he named. “We can speculate forever,” Smith said, “about all the different kinds of trouble my client could get into.”
Judge Dolan added the term that she’s to abstain from alcohol while she’s on probation and stay away from the Safeway in Willits. “But,” Dolan said, “the court declines to add the alcohol testing clause”; and the court also “declined” to add the clause forbidding her from caring for children.
In essence, this was no different from Judge Faulder “declining” to take Chief Prosecutor Dale Trigg’s arguments on Jakell Watts; and when Mr. Guzman reports to DA Eyster, we expect a similar quote condemning Judge Dolan in the form of a press release from Mr. Geniella. And, keep in mind, credulous reader, that silence from a judge in these instances, doesn’t denote guilt, because judges are forbidden by law from making any such statements in response to attacks from publicity flacks.