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A Merry Courthouse Christmas

The jailhouse gossipmongers and rumor brokers are working over time, and the more credulous inmates are full of high hopes. One very popular rumor making the rounds at the Tweeker’s Holiday Inn on Low Gap Road, is that 11550 (tweeking) will be reduced from felony to misdemeanor status. Another even more keenly anticipated advent for the new year suggests that time served will go from the current 50 percent to only 35%.

The reason?

Tweek is everywhere and the jails are in full triage mode. They don't have room for all the people being busted.

There is no official word on the likelihood of these developments, but where there's white powder it isn't always talcum, especially in Mendocino County.

The Courthouse over the holidays continued with its usual business, but only two judges to do it, which kinda makes a guy wonder why we have 9 of them, but.... But the two on duty worked heroically to cover all the courtrooms and get everyone out of jail who could reasonably be let out. Certainly there were those who couldn’t possibly be let out. But mostly things went on as usual, except the defendants seemed to know more about what was in store for the new year than the judges.

On December 23nd, the penultimate shortest day of the year, Judge Ann Moorman was taking on all the cases — family law, juvenile court, civil matters, plus her usual load of criminal cases. It went something like this.

“Is Ms. Loumpos here?”

“Lewis Finch for Ms. Loumpos who is present and in custody.”

“Beth Norman for the People. I believe we have an agreement, your honor.”

“That’s right, your honor,” Mr. Finch said. “She’ll be entering a plea to 11377 [possession of methamphetamine], that would be entered as a West plea.”

“Not as a misdemeanor,” Judge Moorman said. “I won’t accept a West plea for a misdemeanor. How much time does she have?”

“I’m not sure when she bailed out,” Ms. Norman said. “But she was in court June 6th, and she had 21 days from May 14th to June 6th; but then her next appearance was 977 [only her lawyer came to court] because she was 5150 [crazy] and went to the hospital.”

Finch said, “The theft will be dismissed, and there will be a search clause for the drug case. Now, we started with the 11550 (under the influence of a controlled substance), a 90-day minimum.”

“What about the possession?” Moorman asked.

“Well, she possessed it in her body,” Finch chirped. “But she says after the first of the year it’s all supposed to change to misdemeanors, anyway.”

“We could have a philosophical discussion about that and this would probably be a good day for it,” the judge mused. “But let’s wait and see what happens, shall we?"

Tweek probably should be a misdemeanor given the numbers of Mendo people dependent on it, but they take the stuff then go out and do crime. Or go temporarily nuts.

Mr. Finch exchanged a knowing smile with his client, as if they were in on a secret together.

“Ms. Loumpos, did you follow the discussion? We’re going to change the charge from being under the influence to possession of a controlled substance. Is that what you wanna do?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“Okay, you’ll get credit for time served, but you’ll be on probation with a search clause; and based on a petty theft, I’m gonna reserve some restitution. “What’s your plea to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance?”

“Guilty, your honor.”

“Waive time for sentencing?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“Okay, I’m gonna sentence you to 46 days with credit for 23, and you’ll be released today. Now, Ms. Loumpos, I’ve known you for a very long time and what else do you think I’m going to impose as a condition of your release?”

“Stay on my meds?”

Presumably not the ones Ms. Loumpos was using to self-medicate.

“Yes, and if I see you on the street using meth, I’m gonna be very unhappy.”

Judge Moorman is a bad one to give street people a little money now and then, even though many downtown business owners deplore the practice and put out posters telling would-be charitable souls that “Hand Outs Are Not Helping!” One outraged businessman puts it this way: “Putting out sugar just draws more ants!”

Ms. Loumpos promised Judge Moorman she would not use meth.

“Okay, obey the law. Ms. Norman, motion to dismiss the remaining charges?”

“So moved, you honor.”

“What about Ms. Braziel?”

“Could we pass that for a moment, your honor?” Mr. Finch asked.

“What about Ms. Safarian?”

“Jessica Hoagland for Schanna Safarian. We’re ready to go forward with the preliminary examination, your honor.”

“Scott McMenomey for the People, and Ms. Hoagland told me no, it wouldn’t go, so I’ve sent my witnesses home for the holidays. Also, I believe we may be adding some charges,” McMenomey said, handing Ms. Hoagland a photocopy of a bad check.”

“We’ll reset it for January 3rd,” the judge decided. “The probation officer is here for Ms. Braziel — we have a burglary and a failure to complete drug court.”

Mr. Finch said, “She’s ready to admit to the violation of probation, and we’d be asking for the 3rd of 4th February for a disposition.”

Amanita Braziel
Amanita Braziel

Moorman said, “Ms. Braziel, it’s alleged you failed the New Line treatment program; you failed to appear in court; and you failed Drug Court. You have a right to a trial, are you giving it up?”

“I guess I am…”

“You don’t have to.”

“I am.”

“Okay, we’ll return this case to probation for a supplemental report and have you back for sentencing on the 4th. Okay, that’s all I got. Court’s adjourned.”

Next day, Christmas Eve, Judge Behnke had the duty. He was hearing a family law matter as the prisoners were marched in and seated in the dock. A local attorney named David Kindopp was trying to get a child custody matter solved before the day was done, presumably so Santa Claus would know where to take the kid’s presents.

“If this wasn’t the day before Christmas,” Judge Behnke said, “I wouldn’t be doing this, but since it is, I’m granting the request.”

Happy news for one parent; devastating for the other.

Ray Wood is the new lawyer at the Office of the Public Defender. He replaces Dan Haehl who retired in November. Or maybe he's replacing Christine Brady who seems to have moved on after winning a DUI trial — one of the few cases our  public defenders have ever won. Or maybe he’s replacing Tom Croak, who died in a car crash recently. The County Courthouse tends to be like the bar in Star Wars. When your eyes get used to the dark and you see who's in there with you, you get out as fast as you can.

At any rate, Mr. Wood was standing in for Carly Dolan in the case of Mr. Ilijah Nelson.

“It’ll be just a moment, Mr. Wood,” Judge Behnke said. “I have to hear this other civil matter first.”

A certain Ms. Koski stood up and said somebody had said some nasty things about her on Facebook.

“That doesn’t rise to the level of a credible threat,” Judge Behnke said. “So, no, I’m not granting the restraining order.”

Then another woman stood up and said she received a nasty text message on her cell phone.”

“What did it say?” the judge asked.

The woman read from her phone: “It said, 'I got no paper from the courthouse, and you locked us out and we have no place to go, and it’s Christmas Eve.'”

“That’s not so bad,” Judge Behnke said, which in terms of a threat to do something terrible to the recipient, the judge was correct. The message was merely sad.

“Yeah, but they nearly set my motorhome on fire, they vandalized my water tank, and stole my trunk — I know it’s them ’cause they left a nasty note.”

“What does the note say?”

"'Have a merry fucking Christmas,' your honor."

“But you evicted them!”


Court Clerk Bonnie Miller said, “Your honor, were any children involved?”

“No,” Behnke answered. “Let’s reset this for January 14th.”

It appeared that since no kids were going to be on the streets for Christmas Eve, this squabble could wait. In the meantime, Ilijah Nelson wanted to get out of jail for Christmas, and his lawyer, Ray Wood, had reached a deal with the DA. Nelson would plea to possession, and take either a deferred entry of judgment or a PC 1000, a first offender program.

Ilijah Nelson
Ilijah Nelson

“He’ll admit to it,” Wood said, “but it’s my understanding The People will amend the felony charge to 11377a.”

DA David Eyster said, “In a perfect world, I’d dismiss count two if he’d forfeit the gun.”

The plot had suddenly thickened.

Dope and a gun?

“It’s not a perfect world,” the judge noted. “But can we make it a little better by combining the counts?”

“Yes, your honor,” the DA smiled, waggling the tip of his bright red and green tie that featured a cartoon of Jerry Garcia strumming guitar under a Christmas tree. DA Eyster doesn't exactly fit the groovy guy stereotype, but appearances, they keep telling us, are deceptive.

“Do you want to take this plea, Mr. Nelson?”

“Glad to, your honor.”

After Santa headed north to hibernate for another year, and the New Year’s Eve bell had rung in another catastrophic year, Courthouse business returned to pre-holiday mode. Judges and lawyers seemed as though nothing had changed, but  defendants, especially those from the jail, seemed positively jaunty.

Public Defender Linda Thompson relayed the DA’s latest offer to her client, Dean Stevens, and he agreed to it after a lengthy conference.

We've recently published two letters from Mr. Stevens alleging bad treatment at the jail and the unsuccessful grievances he'd filed about that bad treatment. One of his gripes had to do with a nurse who was helping a dentist pull one of his teeth. Stevens claimed the nurse wasn’t a qualified dental tech. When I was in the Marines, the dentist, if he was a dentist, jerked teeth out with a tool that looked like vice grips. Stevens other complaint was about his jail number being changed, causing him no end of inconvenience. In a world of injustice, Stevens' beefs wouldn't seem to be of much consequence, but to every ant a crumb is the Matterhorn, every leaf a jungle, every rain drop a tsunami.

“He’ll accept the plea bargain,” Ms. Thompson said. “But will the court be willing to split the sentence? He’s been locked up a long time and would really like to get out.”

“I don’t know as much about the underlying charges as you two [the lawyers] do, but he’s been in almost a year, so we’d be talking about the mandatory supervision to go along with the time he’s already served in the state hospital and the county jail?”

“The word coming down is it’s going to be only 35%,” Stevens volunteered. “I’ll only have to do 35%.”

Dean Stevens
Dean Stevens

“I guess I haven’t got the word, yet,” Judge Behnke said.

“It’s coming down, from the top,” Stevens said.

“I’ll keep my ears open,” the judge said.

Public Defender Thompson said, “You’d be looking at a five-year term if you violate the terms of the mandatory supervision.”

“I won’t get in trouble again. That was just an accident, what happened before.”

The judge said, “Mr. Stevens, in addition to prison time you can be fined up to $10,000; and if I’m not mistaken, there was a matter of restitution.”

DA Eyster said, “It came to over $3500.”

“There’s no way,” Stevens said, “absolutely no way I can pay that, so why don’t we just waive it?”

“We can have a hearing,” Behnke said.

“I was wondering if you could give me four years instead, so I could get out in a couple of weeks. I’d like that a lot better. Couldn’t you do that?”

“You’ll be getting out in about a month, anyway,” Behnke answered. “But you’ll be going on supervised probation. Mr. Eyster, do we have a factual basis for the plea?"

Eyster said, “On February 4th, 2013, the defendant took a seatbelt, cut away from a vehicle, and wielding it with the buckle still attached, he repeatedly struck a truck parked out at the sheriff’s office and inflicted $3600 in damage.”

Reverse vehicular assault, it seems.

“Yes,” Stevens objected, “but the insurance covered it. “And it was more like $1,000.”

“No,” DA Eyster said. "That was the estimate, a rough guess at the time. The repairs actually came to $3600.”

“But the insurance covered it!”

Behnke said, “Whether the insurance covered it or not, you did it, didn’t you?”


“And do you admit to being convicted of a vandalism charge in Sonoma County in 2012?”


“And a second vandalism charge in Sonoma County?”


Sentencing was set for February 7th, but Ms. Thompson had a further request.

“My client was originally deemed 1368 [incompetent to stand trial], and when we agreed to the restoration of competence, Mr. Stevens was moved here [to the Mendo County Jail, from Napa State Hospital]. But he gets better treatment at the state hospital, so we’d be requesting that he be returned there to finish out his few weeks more time.”

“And they’re holding my bed,” Stevens said brightly.

“At Napa?”

“Yes,” Thompson said. “As long as we get him back in 24 hours, he will still have a bed. And the jail will transport him back.”

“That makes sense to me,” Behnke said. “So I’ll put this on for the 14th, instead.”

Mr. Stevens was beaming. “Thank you, judge; thank you, Mr. Eyster; thank you, Ms. Thompson.”

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