“Mr. Bruce Anderson doesn’t get to decide,” the District Attorney snarled, his nostrils aquiver.
DA David Eyster was addressing Judge Ann Moorman in open court. “Just because he’s the editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, that doesn’t mean he can overrule a court order,” Eyster declared. You'd have thought Eyster was talking about the editor of the New York Times.
At issue was the September 18th arrest of AVA reporter Will Parrish for alleged violations of a stay-away order issued by Judge Richard Henderson. Parrish, the judge had ordered, was not supposed to appear within a hundred yards of any section of the Willits Bypass construction site. But Anderson had directed his reporter to continue to write about Bypass-related matters "without binoculars and hearing aides."
And there's the rub. Or one of them.
When Eyster was an idealistic young prosecutor defending Mendoland against all enemies foreign and domestic, and Anderson was regarded as among Mendoland's premier enemies, at least by Ukiah Republicans, Eyster had successfully prosecuted and jailed the editor over a contretemps at a school board meeting. Now that Eyster is the DA and the editor a benign senior citizen, it seems that Anderson is still regarded by Mendocino County's lead law enforcement officer as "a suspect character."
When the AVA adopted opposition to the horrifically destructive Willits Bypass as an editorial position, and the AVA's ace environmental reporter Will Parrish occasionally became the Bypass story he was covering, the DA commenced what seems to the objective eye a vindictive prosecution of Parrish. Eyster therefore hoped, in this most recent episode of what’s become a serial parody, to make Judge Moorman think that the crafty Anderson was countermanding judicial orders. All this came as a surprise to the editor when I encountered the avuncular old graybeard sipping an Ovaltine as he tended his Boonville rose garden.
"I don't know what's come over Davey," the editor said in an insouciant reference to Mendocino County's top law enforcement officer. "We've recently been on pretty good terms. I know he's annoyed at our constant demand that he prosecute the Keegan case, and doesn't appreciate our keeping the murder of Fort Bragg's Katlyn Long front and center, but what's wrong with that? That's what a newspaper's supposed to do. It's time Eyster rolls on some real crimes instead of chasing my reporters around Caltrans tractors."*
There has been a veritable avalanche of letters from prominent figures in the community suggesting that Eyster moderate his prosecution of Parrish to bring it within shouting distance of proportion. A year in jail for trespass? Really? The nut who threw the bucket of his waste on the cops only got a few weeks in jail, and even his comrades wouldn't have minded if the cops had shot him out of the tree for that one.
On September 18th Parrish was in the area of the Bypass construction site in his capacity as journalist. He was watching the extraction of a tree-sitter on the east side of Highway 101 from his vantage point west of Highway 101 when four cops suddenly charged across the freeway to arrest him for trespassing. Parrish was not in any way interfering with the Bypass construction or the police as they removed a demonstrator from the work area.
The CalTrans project at Willits has been enforced by the CHP; these officers, sometimes as many as 60 of them, have been highly averse to journalists. Photojournalist Steve Eberhard of the Willits News was arrested by them last month, and this reporter was surrounded and threatened with arrest for going near the site last summer. The only way reporters are tolerated in the area is if they are led around by the nose by a PR flunky from CalTrans. So when Parrish was arrested merely for doing his job two weeks ago, everyone was shocked when Eyster told the judge he wanted Parrish thrown in jail and kept there indefinitely.
Seemingly annoyed by the DA's implication that she was complicit with editor Anderson in overriding the American justice system, Judge Moorman seemed ready to have Parrish remanded into custody. Eyster had previously assigned Deputy DA Matt Hubley to this case, but he — Eyster — was handling the matter on this day, demonstrating just how extremely personal the matter is to him.
Defense attorney Omar Figueroa complained that the motion to revoke Parrish’s own-recognizance (OR) had just been given to him the day before. It is not unusual for the DA to pull this kind of last-minute notification, then refuse to grant any time for the defense to actually plan a defense. If it happens the other way around, Eyster has been known to shout, “Trial by ambush!” like a shoat in a snare.
It was a very busy and confused court day, with all the arraignments in Department H because of Judge Henderson’s absence, and Judge Behnke being tied up with a murder trial. So when Figueroa asked for more time, he was denied. Judge Moorman wanted an explanation as to why Parrish had gone near the site. Eyster suggested that it was editor Anderson’s doing.
Figueroa mentioned that Judge Behnke had nullified the 100 yard stay-away order so Parrish could come and go from Willits in his non-Bypass-related comings and goings. But, went the implication, Parrish, like a moth to the flame, had used Behnke's exemption to return to the Bypass construction site to get the story on the extraction of new tree-sitters; that he hadn’t violated the order willfully, that he didn’t understand he had to stay away from the entire area, and that there was considerable ambiguity in the order.
“It’s seems to be a matter of First Amendment rights,” Figueroa said.
“Mr. Parrish seems to think he can continue to drain resources by his activities,” Eyster continued peevishly.
“This is not a matter of First Amendment rights — he’s a defendant in a criminal case,” Judge Moorman ruled. “If he doesn’t want to stay away from the site, I’ll order his OR revoked and set a reasonable bail. And I don’t want to engage in some linguistic battle — it’s the spirit of the order I want obeyed.”
“I want it stated that there isn’t a press exception to this order,” Eyster said, turning to skank-eye this reporter.
“Okay,” Moorman said. “We’re done. Now, let’s set a date for this trial.”
“Your honor,” Figueroa said, “I still haven’t received discovery for the 1538.5 motion.”
Figueroa wants the CHP's video of Parrish's arrest.
Which he has not got.
And which the CHP cannot produce. Or will not produce. And which the DA does not have either.
It all wound down with Judge Moorman finally saying, “Look, we're all smart people here. I don't want to get into semantic games. One hundred yards from the Bypass construction means staying 100 yards from all the fencing Caltrans has put up.”
Her honor denied Eyster's motion to revoke Parrish's present release on his own recognizance. If it had been revoked, Parrish would have gone back to jail.
The judge asked Parrish if he could agree to stay 100 yards away from Caltrans fencing.
“Yes, your honor,” Parrish mumbled.
Eyster was not happy.
*Months ago, Assistant DA Paul Sequiera issued this terse statement on the unprosecuted murder of Susan Keegan, now three years old. “It's still under investigation,” he said. So's the Kennedy Assassination. Two people were in the Keegan home when Mrs. Keegan died. The other person survived. That person was Dr. Keegan. The death certificate says Mrs. Keegan was murdered. Dr. Keegan claimed his wife was drunk and on drugs when she fell in her bathroom, hit her head and died. But her wounds were not consistent with a fall, and Mrs. Keegan, unlike real drunks and dope heads, got up every morning and did thing, as her many Ukiah-area friends are eager to testify to. So, what's the delay on the prosecution of Dr. Keegan? And what kind of wacky sense of priorities goes all out to put a guy in jail for trespassing while a well-placed Ukiah medical doctor gets away with murdering his wife? ¥¥