Governor Jerry Brown recently appointed two new judges to serve in Mendocino County. Local attorneys David Reimenschneider, and Jeanine Nadel, vetted you can be sure, for political "appropriateness" by California's Democratic Party apparatus and the Mendocino County Bar Association, got the nod. The new judges will be sworn in on June 21. Then they'll go to a training course in Sacramento where they'll be taught how to look solemn and pretend that everyone, regardless of social class in our classless society, gets a fair shake in the courts, and that money is never a factor because all lawyers are of equal ability.
Mendocino County maintains nine superior court judges and a magistrate "serving" at $174,000 a year a population of 90,000 persons, meaning that we have more judges per capita than any other county in the state — over $1.5 million just for the nine judges (plus perks). Why? Because 40 years ago the state legislature, composed mostly of lawyers, got a law passed that said justice court judges not only had to have law degrees they had to be licensed to practice. Mendocino County had had a bunch of little one or two-days-a-week outback courts in places like Boonville, Covelo, Point Arena, and even Hopland and Laytonville. These courts were presided over by "lay" judges, typically men who enjoyed reputations in their communities for honest dealing. But they weren't lawyers. And out they went, and here came, well, no need to get into that. But suddenly in a county where we had two superior court judges we now had nine and a magistrate.
During a lull in the proceedings last Friday, Public Defender Linda Thompson asked Judge Ann Moorman, “Has there been any discussion on the eventual placement of the new judges?”
“There has,” Judge Moorman responded. “This is not written in stone, but it is being contemplated that David Reimenschneider will take over the Family Court in Department C and Judge Henderson will move to Department H and take over the main calendar.”
Judge Richard Henderson was moved to the Family Court at the first of the year when Judge Moorman took over his former courtroom, one of the main criminal courts. Henderson has commented to this reporter, “I sure miss criminal court.” Henderson's return to the criminal calendar is bad news for Mendocino County's LowLife Community. Henderson seems to take them personally.
The soon-to-be Honorable David Reimenschneider has specialized in family law throughout most of his career, he recently said in the usual cringing, lob ball interview on KZYX radio.
Before the changes made at the first of the year, Judge Cyndee Mayfield presided over Family Court. Now, she has the main civil calendar in Department E where Judge John Behnke presided. Judge Behnke is now handling criminal cases in Department B. Mayfield and Behnke, incidentally, found their way to the superior court via local power attorney Jared Carter's law firm.
Deputy DA Beth Norman joined the Which judge will preside Where discussion.
“What about Jeanine Nadel?”
“She will be assigned to Department G, and take on the traffic court calendar and small claims,” Judge Moorman explained. An entry level position for a lawyer who has spent most of the last 20 years in board of supervisor chambers as opposed to judge’s chambers. Nadel goes from complicated matters of the County to the less weighty matters of deadbeats and neighborhood disputes.
The new configuration will look like this:
Dept. A.: Ann Moorman.
Dept. B.: John Behnke.
Dept. C.: David Reimenschneider.
Dept. D.: David Nelson.
Dept. E.: Cyndee Mayfield.
Dept. F.: _____________.
Dept. G.: Jeanine Nadel.
Dept. H.: Richard Henderson.
Presumably Judge Clay Brennan will continue processing drunks, poachers and miscellaneous incompetents at Fort Bragg's Ten Mile Court.
The poetic justice of this arrangement is very pleasing to both the ear and the eye, with the exception of the unfortunate Judge Reimenschneider whose department (i.e., courtroom) has neither an initial to match his name, nor yet even a syllable. At least in the case of Judge Nadel, her department rhymes nicely the first syllable of her first name; just as with Judge Mayfield, her department is reinforced by a serendipitous spelling of her first name. We may safely deduce the reason Department F has gone vacant all these years is that none of their Honors are named Frank or Francine.
The allegedly desperate need, a need felt solely by their honors, for a new courthouse may have something to do with solving this problem of poetics.
There was some more talk about the main calendar. The public defenders are generally unhappy when they come before Judge Henderson. He’s a law and order Republican judge who doesn’t suffer fools, meaning that in Mendocino County he's constantly dyspeptic.
Ms. Thompson, Public Defender, foresaw problems with the new arrangement.
“I just want to make sure the DA [Mr. J. David Eyster] is going to be up there [Dept. H is on the top floor of the courthouse where the criminal matters are heard] — or someone with the authority to resolve cases.”
“You’ll have to talk to the DA’s office about that,” Judge Moorman said. “All I know is Judge Behnke and I are tired of playing volleyball with the main calendar, bouncing it back and forth across the hall.”
The ball was in Judge Moorman’s court on this day. The first part of the week had been taken up with the selection of a jury for a murder trial, which is expected to begin on Tuesday, May 29. That one involves the so-called Willits Mafia accused of murder as they invaded and attempted to rob a homeless camp. (What's next? Kidnapping street junkies for ransom?) With Judge Behnke absent, Judge Moorman was handling the main calendar and she called the next name.
“Linda Thompson for Mr. Alfaro who is out of custody and coming forward, your honor.” Ms. Thompson turned and windmilled her arm impatiently at Alfaro who was seated with a blonde woman. Two other women, both brunettes, seated with a court officer from Victim Witness Services, seemed to cringe as Alfaro walked past them.
Mr. Salvador Alfaro had fallen off the wagon, violated his probation, got a snoot full of meth, and scared the bejesus out of the women and children in his family, a domestic drama playing nightly everywhere in America.
Public Defender Thompson said, “My client did grab Ms. Leon during a very heated argument.”
“It is abundantly clear to me,” Judge Moorman said to Alfaro, a mild-looking dude staring back at the judge, “that you have an anger problem. The event is very troubling to me. You have a history of being verbally angry, then you express it physically. It is unacceptable, and I won’t tolerate it. Ms. Leon describes an event in her letter to the court that was very scary for her and at least one child.”
Prosecutor Norman said, “I want the criminal protection order to include the children.”
Ms. Thompson said, “Mr. Alfaro recognizes that he has a substance abuse problem.”
“I’m aware that I have issues,” Alfaro agreed.
Issues. Everyone these days says they have 'issues.' This guy's issues consist of his getting loaded and going off on the wife in front of the kids, an 'issue' he wouldn't have if he laid off the booze and the tweek.
“I’m going to give you a chance,” Moorman said.
At this point the victim of Alfaro's flip-out, Ms. Gina Leon, bolted from the courtroom, tears streaming down her face.
Public Defender Thompson wanted her client reinstated in drug court, Ms. Norman wanted him in jail, Ms. Leon wanted revenge. But Judge Moorman wanted Alfaro in anger management class.
“We are very concerned that Mr. Alfaro was already in drug court,” Ms. Norman said, “and already on probation with 120 days suspended over his head when this very explosive situation occurred with the children in the home. We feel that the only thing that would bring it home to the defendant that he cannot behave this way is if he were to do some time in jail. The victim in this case, Gina Leon, wanted 90 days. But even a week or two would help. He needs to understand that when he acts like this there is going to be a reaction. I respect what the court is doing, but the actual, real jail time would be the only thing different from what he has done before.”
Judge Moorman said, “I disagree with you Ms. Norman. It’s my duty to protect the public, and I send people to jail and prison every day of my working life. I want to expose him to some men who share the same problem. You are going to the 52 week anger management class, Mr. Alfaro, and if you slip up you’ll go to jail for one year.”
“I apologize for my actions,” Alfaro said robotically. “A 52 week course will be beneficial to me. That’s all I have to say.”
“You are to abstain from consuming alcohol and marijuana, unless you have a valid recommend— wait! You’re in drug court, you shouldn’t be using any marijuana. So no marijuana. Period. No prescription drugs, either.”
In addition to the other fines and fees, Alfaro was ordered to pay $200 to the women’s shelter and complete 25 hours of community service.
A man in zebra-striped pajamas and handcuffs got to his feet.
“Mr. Beardslee, you are charged with misdemeanor domestic battery. Do you want a lawyer?”
“Are you working?”
“Do you own any real property?”
“Just my van.”
“I’ll appoint the public defender, Ms. Thompson. Here’s a copy of the complaint.”
Public Defender Thompson said, “We’d offer to take a plea to a 415, fighting in public. There was some pushing and shoving and the victim had some redness on her arm. Mr. Beardslee has an extensive record of sex and drug offenses with some previous prison time, but I don’t think the parties in this case are going to have any further contact.”
Ms. Thompson, it seemed, was intimate with her new client’s legal history; aware, even, that love had fled the relationship.
The man in the zebra suit whinnied in the affirmative, nodding his head.
“Okay, I’m going to sentence you to — how long have you been in custody?”
“Three days, your honor.”
“Okay, I’ll sentence you to three days and give you credit for three days served. Where do you live?”
“Comptche’s nice. I like Comptche," the judge commented with, perhaps, an implication Comptche's luster had been slightly tarnished for her by the information the defendant lived there.
"Stay away from Ms. Wilcox. That’s not an order, but it’s a strong recommendation.”
A man in glowing coveralls the color of radioactive uranium stood up, rattling his stainless-steel handcuffs and shackle chains.
“Mr. Young, you are charged with felony domestic violence, with a special allegation that you used a knife, and that you threatened a witness.”
Ms. Norman expanded on the nature of the charges as Ms. Thompson went up to the bench and was handed a copy of the new felony complaint against Mr. Young.
Ms. Norman said, “The defendant was served with a no-contact order and yet he has called the victim several times, screaming at her to drop the criminal protective order…”
“How long has this been going on?”
“From May 17th through the 21st, your honor, with calls from the jail as recently as yesterday. The defendant has also had his mother contact the victim when he knows that he is to have no contact even through a third party.”
Judge Moorman said, “Mr. Young, you are under a court order. You are to have no contact with this person. If you violate this order, it’s a strike offense. Considering what you’ve already done, they [the DA’s office] may file it [the strike offense] anyway.”
This possibility was confirmed as an eventuality by Ms. Norman.
“It’s on for next week, Your Honor,” she announced.
The next case was Billy Norbury. Suddenly the courtroom was full of spectators and journalists.
Judge Moorman said, “I’m 171.1 [recusing herself] on this one. I once represented the victim, Mr. Andrews.”
Billy Norbury is accused of shooting Jamal Andrews to death, shooting Andrews in Andrews' Redwood Valley yard with a rifle last winter. There’s little question that Norbury did the shooting of the popular local musician, but Andrews was black, Norbury white, and lots of Andrews' friends say the shooting was racially motivated. DA Eyster says the shooting occurred for other reasons, but people believe what they need to believe and a whole lot of Andrews' friends show up in court whenever Norbury does. Norbury's older brother was also in court that day to answer to drunk-related charges, although both are said to come from a good Christian home in Redwood Valley.
Judge Richard Henderson arrived to take Norbury’s plea, which was “not guilty.”
Norbury’s attorney, Albert Kubanis, wanted more time to prepare, but DA David Eyster insisted on moving forward with no time waivers. The DA seems to appreciate that the public wants a speedy trial in this case.
Judge Henderson accepted the plea and a jury trial was set for July 23rd at 9am. Pre-trial motions will be held the previous Thursday, July 17th, with a pre-trial conference July 6th at 1:30pm.
Lots of people are watching this one.