Judge Ron Brown can’t make up his mind. Does the Mendocino County DA have “a conflict of interest” in the Ralph Freedman case? Judge Brown says No. Then he says Yes. And now he’s said No. Again.
Freedman was the hot-headed former Director of the County’s Deadbeat Dad Collections Agency (Child Support Services) who flipped out on a couple of his employees last spring. He’s probably still hot headed but at least we’re not funding whatever psychotic episodes he may be experiencing these days.
Freedman went dangerously off on several County employees, two of whom filed in-house grievances against him. But Freedman being a management guy, the County simply advised him to get a grip on himself and sent him back to his office at State and Perkins to tantrum some more.
The times being what they are, and Freedman being an obvious lunatic, DA Norm Vroman not only did the right thing, he did the gentlemanly thing; what kind of man screams abuse in a woman’s face? Not the kind of man who’s going to get away with it in Mendocino County, Vroman decided.
So Vroman filed misdemeanor disturbing the peace charges against Little Ralphie because Mendocino County Supervisors and its incompetent management team was as indifferent to the welfare of its lower-level employees as it is to public welfare generally, being the kind of mercenary management team whose only real interest is its own comfort and welfare. Temperamentally, Freedman was a close fit to two sitting supervisors, Colfax, a drunk whose psychotic interludes are infamous in his Boonville home town, and supervisor Shoemaker whose caddish abuse of his former wife has brought the Ukiah Police to his house on mediation missions. Supervisor Patti Campbell is also unhinged, quietly weeping at public meetings at the civic destruction she and her colleagues have wrought.
It is no surprise that Mendocino County’s leadership would indulge a person like Ralph Freedman; he was merely one more big pay screwball in a County apparatus full of them.
Not only did the supervisors and their legal advisors in what is known locally as The Room of the Dead, or the County Counsel’s Office, refuse to do anything about their volatile hire, Mr. Freedman, they gave him $30,000 tax dollars so he could hire his own lawyer. And Little Ralphie didn’t even buy local. He hustled down to Santa Rosa where he hired a brittle blonde babe who looked like she spends her weekends in motel rooms with whips, chains and fat guys in leather harnesses.
Brittle Babe charged local taxpayers $350 an hour to defend Little Ralphie against two (count ‘em) misdemeanors. At this point, thanks to muddleheaded Judge Brown, the case has cost taxpayers well over a hundred thou, and this in a county that says it’s broke.
Brittle Babe “defense” was to get a hearing before Judge Brown to argue that DA Vroman should be removed from the case. But the hearing revealed that Freedman not only had no experience or qualifications for the position of Director of Child Support Services, he’d been hired by a “very, very close friend,” Mendocino County’s toothsome Personnel Manager, Sue Campbell, who said on the stand she couldn’t remember if she’d checked Little Ralphie’s background. Very, very close friend was presumed to mean close friend of the horizontal type.
And courtroom spectators began wondering aloud, “Government sex club?”
If Ms. Campbell had checked Little Ralphie’s work hour bona fides, she would have easily discovered that Freedman had left a trail of abuse of co-workers and fellow officials in his previous two jobs in American Canyon and Atherton.
While this crucial question was pending, Freedman, still Director of Child Support Services, made some kind of sexual lunge or advance at one of his single-mother employees, prompting new charges to be filed against him. At this point the Supervisors finally woke up, only four months and $30,000 after the fact, and fired Freedman, cutting off his private attorney Brittle Babe at thirty g’s.
Judge Brown initially ruled that there was no evidence showing that the DA was biased and denied the request.
When Mendocino County fired Little Ralphie, Brittle Babe, aka Jaime Thistlethwaite, dropped him onto a Mendocino County Public Defender, exactly where the jive supervisors should have placed his defense in the first place. But Freedman quickly dumped his public defender, who probably didn’t meet his erotic standards, and hired another private Santa Rosa attorney, an un-erotic Santa Rosa fellow called John Shields.
Shields filed another bullshit request to have Vroman removed from the case for bias against Little Ralphie.
The second allegation that Vroman was “biased” against Freedman centered around two allegations:
1. A triple-hearsay, unsubstantiated allegation that Vroman had refused to plea bargain with Freedman, and;
2. the DA’s office had filed restraining orders against Freedman at the request of several of his former employees.
Regarding point 1, Judge Brown dug back into the case file for Thistlethwaite’s old allegation of unwillingness to plea bargain by Freedman’s original attorney. Based on this third-hand, unsupported allegation (Thistlethwaite said Assistant DA Richard Martin said Vroman had said he wouldn’t plea bargain at a time neither Vroman nor Martin were in the room to defend themselves, nor Thistlethwaite to even explain not that Brown would have asked. Nevertheless, Judge Willy Nilly Brown reversed himself and tossed Vroman from the case.
Vroman’s staffers quickly produced affidavits from Vroman and Chief Assistant DA Richard Martin saying that neither had said anything about refusing to plea bargain — statements that Brown should have asked for as required by the Penal Code before tossing Vroman in the first place.
On point 2, the DA only filed the restraining orders because the County Counsel’s office refused to file them and because the employees were afraid of Freedman’s well-known temper.
Meanwhile, real plea negotiations went on in Judge Brown’s chambers. These negotiations ended when Freedman predictably turned down a no-jail-time plea offer. With the statements from Vroman and Martin saying they hadn’t refused plea bargains to begin with — statements Brown should have requested at the time — Brown re-reversed himself and put Vroman back on the case.
Brown had belatedly recognized that he hadn’t asked the parties about Thistlethwaite’s allegations: “The issue of the abuse of prosecutorial discretion has now been fully litigated by the parties,” said Brown. “In declarations filed with this court, the District Attorney and his Chief Deputy Richard Martin, refute the claim of attorney Jamie Thistlethwaite that the decisions of the District Attorney, affecting the defendant's case, were not born of objectivity but from anger directed toward the defendant and his wife for filing complaints against him with certain regulatory agencies.”
Vroman hadn’t filed any “complaints” against Freedman with “certain regulatory agencies.” He’d simply attached a copy of Freedman’s driving record in a routine notification to Freedman’s bosses that he’d filed charges against one of their bureaucrats. But expecting Brown to remember his own case rulings or read the caserecord was probably asking too much of the dim jurist.
Brown, however, didn’t rule that he’d simply been wrong, and was correcting himself. Instead, Brown retreated into vague subjectivity, saying, “In assessing the credibility of the parties, the court finds the conduct of the parties in addressing the merits of this case during the pendency of the prosecution's motion for reconsideration to be inconsistent with the notion that the prosecution had abandoned objectivity.”
Brown should have sanctioned Thistlethwaite for wasting the court’s time with unsubstantiated allegations.
So it’s now more than a year later and, thanks to Judge Brown’s incompetence, we are right back where we started. The only good that has come out of all this unnecessary back and forth is that Freedman has been fired — no thanks to Judge Brown.