When Mr. Anthony Gambini of 24234 Buckeye Circle in Willits declared war on the United States he was the only one in town who noticed. Gambini kicked off his grand offensive on June 27th when he was arrested for violation of the marijuana laws.
DA David Eyster has adopted the most win-win marijuana prosecution policy in the United States. People arrested for violating the pot laws can pay the fines and go on probation or they can go to trial and suffer big consequences if they lose. Most people opt for the fines and a misdemeanor while The People save some money and even make a little.
Gambini, a self-declared enemy combatant, is intransigent. He was back in court last week for a pre-trial conference, and still in custody.
Arraigned on May 29th and offered the services of the Public Defender’s office, Gambini decided to defend himself. Judge Cindee Mayfield asked some basic questions to determine Mr. Gambini’s competence and advised him against it. In the end, though the judge had to recognize Gambini's constitutional right to represent himself, there were complications other than Gambini's declaration of war.
Back in May, Gambini told the court that his real name was Thundercloud Ra-El and that he was minister or reverend or general Thundercloud Ra-El, or maybe all three, the gist being that he was not to be messed with like he was just any old Willits pot grower straight outta Brooktrails.
The court yawned and said, essentially, “Whatever” and scheduled a preliminary hearing.
Two weeks later, on June 12th, a preliminary hearing was held in Judge Ann Moorman’s court. A “prelim” is held on felony matters to see if there’s enough evidence to warrant going to trial. Usually there is, and a date is set to bring the defendant back and arraign him or her on the “information,” as the known facts or facts alleged are called. In the unlikely event that a judge finds that there’s insufficient evidence, or that some of the evidence was not properly obtained, the charges are dropped and the defendant goes free.
Judge Moorman: “Mr. Eyster, let’s start the Gambini aka Ra-El prelim, shall we?”
DA Eyster folded his arms over his chest in a Bring It On stance and said, “Okay.”
Thundercloud Ra-El Gambini came to his feet in the jury box where he had been waiting with the other prisoners.
Moorman: “Mr. Ra-El is representing himself; he can sit at counsel table.”
Ra-El was escorted to the defense table by the bailiff and a corrections officer.
Moorman: “So, here we are in case 12-12060, and Mr. Gambini also known as Thundercloud Ra-El is present. He’s about to be unhandcuffed.”
Thundercloud was uncuffed and took his seat.
Moorman: “Sir, you have been charged, as I know you know, but I’m going to tell you again, with a felony violation of Health and Safety Code Section 11358, commonly known as cultivation of marijuana. It is alleged this offense occurred on the 27th of February, 2012, in the County of Mendocino. The People have filed a verified complaint to that effect. You have entered a plea of not guilty and today is the date set for your preliminary hearing. Are you prepared to proceed?”
Thundercloud: “Ma’am, if I may, I didn’t put that plea. Ms. Mayfield had put that in.”
Moorman: “Judge Mayfield.”
Moorman: “Yes, she did.”
Thundercloud: “As I objected, she was not acting as the defendant on that plea. I didn’t — I didn’t put a plea in. She put the plea in for me, and I didn’t have an opportunity to put the plea in.”
Moorman: “Right. And judges have the authority under the code to enter not guilty pleas on behalf of criminal defendants because, first of all, we don’t enter guilty pleas; and, secondly, we do that when we want to get the proceedings started. You are in custody. I’m sure Judge Mayfield was a bit concerned about that. So she has the authority under the law to enter a not guilty plea on your behalf. That’s why she did it. And that’s why, sort of in part, why we are here today.”
Thundercloud: “All right. Well, I mean, did I — we also established that this court does not have a claim against the estate. If we—”
Moorman: “Excuse me?”
Thundercloud: “In the record, the court record, we have the other judge. I forget his name. He said they should have it on the record. After asking a second time if he is bringing — if the court’s bringing a claim against the estate, he said no. I don’t know if you can please repeat that for me, because I didn’t hear what the judge said after that. It was really just pretty quick and they called another case and I was left in limbo.”
There was no “other judge.”
Moorman (with a baffled expression): “Right. Okay. Well, as I told you, the People of the State of California have filed a verified complaint. The People of the State of California are represented through Mr. Eyster…”
Eyster (sotto voice, aside to the gallery): “Do I look like a judge? Maybe I’ve missed my calling!”
Moorman: “…the People are represented by Mr. Eyster, there [she nods in Eyster's direction], who is our District Attorney for the County. And so it’s the People who have filed the complaint, and it’s a verified document and thus it meets the requirements of pleading a felony violation of the law in the State of California.”
Thundercloud: “Who is the plaintiff again, ma’am?”
Moorman: “The People of the State of California.”
Thundercloud: “So is it Mr. Ester [sic] that I injured in this matter?”
Moorman: “The People of the State of California prosecute crimes against the People of the State of California. They have representatives. All 58 counties have representatives. Those representatives are known as district attorneys, most of whom are elected, a few of whom are appointed. And he’s authorized to bring the charge and he’s done that.”
Thundercloud is not the first numbskull who has represented himself in Judge Moorman’s court, and she’s perhaps overly indulgent with them, even when they insult her, which happened in the case of a Mr. Anderson, who was found guilty of pestering someone else’s kid in a Ukiah laundromat last winter.
Moorman: “And today’s the date set for your preliminary hearing.”
Moorman: “And we are going to start.”
Thundercloud: “I have just a couple of questions before we move forward, if that’s okay?”
Thundercloud: “Like I said, as we established on the record that this is a criminal action against Anthony Lawrence Gambini and I am here on a special limited appearance for that name. We have already established that. And then, I never got the answer from y’all — [Thundercloud Ra-El had apparently made his way to Mendocino County from rural Georgia to grow pot in Willits] — that the constitution grants this court with — two different criminal jurisdictions: First is common law. Second is the Admiralty/Military Tribunal, under Article I, Clause 8, Section 17 of the United States Constitution. I’m just asking, which one of these two jurisdictions does this court intend to try me on?”
A Constitutional scholar from the Confederacy, but Judge Moorman failed to realize she was overmatched.
Moorman: “Sir, I have not even decided whether you are going to stand trial, because we are having a preliminary hearing today before we do that.”
It sometimes happens that sea lawyers — guys who have been in the brig so many times they’ve learned the legal ropes — actually know what they’re doing in courtrooms. This guy wasn’t one of ‘em. He was completely at sea and in way over his head.
Thundercloud: “I’m just trying to figure out, I just need to, uh… I guess I’m trying to establish…”
Here we get a glimpse of the downside to being a judge, the decidedly unglamorous misery of trying to make sense of the arrestingly absurd. (Retired Judge Henry B. Nelson quickly dispatched self-qualified legal experts who cited the Constitution and argued jurisdiction and demurred and read about authorities and statutes from hand-written index cards. He would simply cut them off and set a trial date and see if they still wanted to proceed when the jury was called.)
Moorman: “Sir, if you want to assert an objection to either personal jurisdiction over you or subject matter jurisdiction over the action, your objection is noted. I find that not only do I have personal jurisdiction over your person, because there you are, I have subject matter jurisdiction over the substance of the claim. Mr. Eyster, would you please call your first witness.”
Eyster: “Yes. I would like to call Sergeant Bruce Smith.”
Moorman: “Sergeant Smith, would you please raise your right hand and face the Clerk.”
Duly sworn, Sergeant Smith took the stand.
Moorman: “Can you just say your name again?”
Sergeant Smith: “Bruce Smith.”
Eyster: “Sir. Are you employed by the Sheriff of Mendocino County?”
Smith: “Yes, I am.”
Eyster: “What’s your position?”
Smith: “I’m a sergeant assigned to the marijuana eradication team.”
Eyster: “Was the evidence, some of the evidence you seized, marijuana?”
Smith: “Yes, it was.”
Eyster: “You did find marijuana at this residence?”
Smith: “Yes, I did.”
Eyster: “How much did you find?”
Smith: “There were 423 marijuana plants that were being cultivated.”
Eyster: “When you say ‘cultivated’ can you explain what you mean?”
Smith: “Yes. There were three different rooms where marijuana was being grown. There was one room that had approximately 101 marijuana plants; they were growing under four high-discharge lights; they were two- to three-feet tall, and budding. There was another room that had 100, I believe it was, marijuana plants two-to-three-feet tall, also budding, also being grown under artificial light. There was a third room that had 197 clones in three different plastic trays with individual cubes in it — they were all rooted clones — and another 25 marijuana plants that were being used for clippings, or mother plants, for the clones. They were all being grown under fluorescent lights.”
Eyster: “Did you find materials that would be used to cultivate marijuana?”
Smith: “Yes, I did.”
Eyster: “Can you describe some of what you observed?”
Smith: “As I described earlier, there were HID lights, high discharge lights. There were fluorescent lights. There was fertilizer. There were [plant] beds made up in two of the rooms. And pots in one of the rooms; also, a combination of these in one of the rooms. There were chemicals and fertilizers associated with the growing of marijuana. The entire house was basically gutted — other than the marijuana growing in the three rooms.”
Eyster: “Did you talk to the neighbors at this residence, a family by the name of Pollard?”
Smith: “Yes, I did.”
Eyster: “And what did they tell you?”
Smith: “They said a new tenant had moved in about November of 2011. They — Doug [one of the neighbors] — said he actually met the subject and talked to him. He had identified himself as Thundercloud. The people — both of them — said they saw him come and go from the residence, bringing things into the residence, and then leave shortly thereafter. It didn’t appear he was living at the residence, only dropping things off. Douglas said he [the subject] was driving a white Ford pickup, I believe. He thought it was a Ford; he wasn’t sure. The subject told Doug he was a cable installer and he got the vehicle from his boss.”
Eyster: “Did they tell you whether they started smelling marijuana at any point after this tenant started showing up?”
Smith: “Yes, that’s what they said. They said they started smelling marijuana about a month later after he moved into the residence, or appeared to be moving into the residence, or coming and going from the residence.”
Eyster: “Did you ever show Douglas a [photo] lineup?”
Smith: “Yes, I did; about two weeks later.”
Eyster: “And was he able to pick anyone out of that lineup?”
Eyster: “Was this the tenant they had been talking to you about?”
Eyster: “And who is that?”
Smith: “Anthony Gambini.”
Eyster: “Okay. Is that the same person you see sitting in the courtroom today?”
Smith: “It appears to be, yes.”
Moorman: “What’s he wearing?”
Smith indicated the man dressed in the sundry trappings and lurid relics of the Inquisition.
Moorman: “Okay, let the record reflect the witness has identified the defendant.”
Eyster: “Did you also talk with the owner of the residence?”
Smith: “Yes, I did.”
Eyster: “Who is that?”
Smith: “David Fisher.”
Eyster: “And Mr. Fisher is the person who actually owns 24234 Buckeye Circle?”
Smith: “Correct. He does not live there, though.”
Eyster: “Okay. Did he tell you about the tenant?”
Smith: “Yes. He said he got approached by a subject who asked to rent his house or do work in trade for rent and in the fall of 2011 he agreed. He had a lease with the subject and rented the property to him.”
Eyster: “Did he tell you the name the subject gave?”
Smith: “Yes, Thundercloud; and, then, Ra-El.”
Eyster: “Did you show Mr. Fisher the lineup?”
Eyster: “And the person he picked out of that lineup — did you associate a name with that picture?”
Smith: “Yes, Tony Gambini.”
Eyster: “No further questions at this time.”
Moorman: “Mr. Gambini, do you have any cross-examination?”
Thundercloud: “Sure. Are you allowed to give any legal advice, or how do you… how so you go about your assumption of your legal theories on law?”
Moorman: “Okay, Mr. Gambini. You can only ask one question at a time, so let’s start with the first: ‘Are you allowed to give out legal advice?’”
Smith: “Depending on what the question is, what my job performance is at the time.”
Moorman: “What was your next question?”
Thundercloud: “Okay. Well, I didn’t think you were… Is marijuana legal in this state, in this county?”
Smith: “That depends.”
Thundercloud: “It’s a yes or no question!”
Moorman: “No, it’s not. You can follow up, saying—”
Thundercloud: “What health codes, or how — what makes marijuana… how is marijuana legal in the state, or the county, or in the city?”
Smith: “If a person has a medical recommendation and they follow the guidelines, it could be legal under California law; it is not legal under federal law.”
Thundercloud: “So you, not seeing through the house, but just smelling marijuana, that gave you the right, the determination to say that it was an illegal grow?”
Eyster: “Objection. Argumentative.”
Moorman: “Let’s turn down the feedback just a second. Sustained. Rephrase your question.”
Thundercloud: “The smell of marijuana makes it illegal, an illegal grow?”
Thundercloud: “So how did you determine that it was an illegal grow and get probable cause?”
Smith: “I conducted a search. The smell of marijuana is enough probable cause for a search.”
Thundercloud: “Okay, I have no further questions.”
Moorman: Mr. Eyster?”
Eyster: “Nothing further.”
Moorman: “All right, Mr. Ra-El, or Mr. Gambini—”
Thundercloud: “Ma’am, if you could, please. You know I have a title. I am Minister Thundercloud Ra-El, please!”
Moorman: “Right. You are charged as Mr. Gambini, so I’m going to use both names. I will address you as Mr. Ra-El. Is that okay with you?”
Thundercloud: “No, ma’am. I am not a mister. I am not a subject. I am a citizen. I am a minister.”
Moorman: “All right, I’m going to address you as Mr. Ra-El. And, sir, do you have any defense evidence today?”
Thundercloud: “No, ma’am, I don’t.”
Moorman: “Okay, then, is the matter submitted?”
Eyster: “It is.”
Moorman: “At this time I will hold Mr. Antonio Gambini also known as Thundercloud Ra-El to answer on the only charge of the complaint, that being a felony violation of Health and Safety Code 11358. I will find sufficient cause has been established by the facts presented through the deputy’s testimony to lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe that a violation of this section has occurred and that Mr. Gambini, aka Mr. Ra-El, has committed that crime. I will hold him to answer and we will set a date for arraignment on the information.”
The date set was June 27, the day Thundercloud formally declared war.
Thundercloud: “Ma’am, if I may add, this court still has not established jurisdiction, and I think Mr. Ester [sic] is the one that is in dishonor. I don’t think that you would be in dishonor of your oath by telling me of which jurisdiction you guys are — this court is trying me.”
Moorman: “Sir, I have jurisdiction over you because we have your person in custody. I have subject matter jurisdiction because I am a constitutional officer of the State of California and I am sworn to uphold the laws of the State of California. That’s the jurisdiction I am asserting.”
Moorman: “And if you have a challenge to the jurisdiction the law requires you to file a motion. If you do file a motion challenging the jurisdiction, I will be happy to address it.”
Thundercloud: “Ma’am, if I may add, too, this is a insurrection, or rebellion against the United States — the United States of America. I am the People, and you guys do not have — there is no injured party! The injured party is not present, and this is—”
Moorman (brusquely): “All right, Mr. Ra-El. I will see you on the 27th.”
Thundercloud (deflated): “Yes, ma’am.”