The President’s State of the Union Address pointed up the specter of income disparity and the need for a boost in the minimum wage to narrow the gap. He practically got on his knees and begged for American corporations to hire some of the long-time unemployed. While the big bosses consider the request to hire the desperate, and Congress kicks around the notion of better wages for the help, people right here in Mendocino County have come up with their own ideas on how to balance out the income disparity: One of the big ones is meth sales and we’ll get back to that, but first let’s look at how the courts are helping.
We can start with Judge Moorman addressing a typical member of the underclass who provide the bulk of Courthouse business. “I don’t know what the underlying problem is,” the judge tells this cadet in the revolution, “whether it's alcohol or drugs or what-have-you, but I’m going to send you to AODP for an assessment and go from there.”
The Alcohol or Other Drugs Program (AODP) is one of the County’s main employers, and these are the only real, honest — that is “legal” — good-paying jobs left in not only this county but the whole dern country. And our judge is being somewhat disingenuous when she says she doesn’t know what the underlying problem is, because she’s too smart not to see that drugs and alcohol are merely a symptom of the underlying problem, which is the despair of facing a lifetime of drudgery in a low-paying, dead-end job, a life spent doing something menial and tedious for someone else’s profit. But she can’t really say that, so she sends the proles to AODP for an assessment — and these assessments are pretty much guaranteed to recommend treatment programs.
The treatment programs are all designed to get the rebellious cadet out of the revolt and back to work at that dead-end job. All treatment programs are based on the 12 steps of Alcoholic Anonymous, and the motto printed on the Almighty Dollar, “In God We Trust,” the first step being to submit to a “higher power,” and they use the same line: “Your number one priority is getting clean and sober, so you can’t get wrapped up in this political dispute about income disparity or you’ll end up right back on the booze or dope and then the judge will send you to prison. Get it?”
All the judges are in on this deal, but Judge Brennan is the main guy, and he comes home to Ukiah every Friday to run the Drug Court. He’s very effective, as a survey of the kitchen help and wait staff of local restaurants has shown; most of their low-paid positions are filled by drug court grads. I conducted this survey myself and can assure you that any talk of revolt will freeze the blood in their veins. They look at me and all they see is Auld Nick, the red devil out to lure them back onto drugs and alcohol. So you can forget about the apron being the uniform of the revolution. In fact the revolution has been canceled due to lack of interest — or, rather, it has been co-opted.
Let’s say you don’t have a drug or alcohol problem, but you are divorced and want to see your kids. Okay, go to AODP for an assessment. Why? Because it’s the law. Now AODP is just as likely to find you need treatment as a dentist is to find you need fillings, and so if you turn up in family court with a report from AODP that says you don’t need a treatment program, Judge Reimenschneider is going to raise an eyebrow, and your ex’s lawyer will be calling the DA to prefer criminal charges for forgery and perjury — which happened last week, and we’ll get back to that, but first let’s catch up on the meth dealers.
Right now, you can buy an ounce of meth for $800, break it down into $20 sacks and triple your money — $2500 in just a few days. No more jumping out of bed and rushing off in heavy traffic to slog away at some low wage job, and still not have enough to pay the rent, the utilities, the car payment, the fuel costs, the mandatory car insurance, the mandatory health insurance, the soaring price of food and clothing — none of that! No sir, just lay around the house in your underwear and wait for the tweekers to come by with their $20 bills.
That was the plan Philip Forger made; it must have been working pretty well until Peter Hoyle caught up with him. Then Phil said he found the meth and was keeping it for his own use. That’s why possession of meth can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony (and I want to thank the thoughtful reader who wrote in from San Francisco to correct me on that point of law), depending on whether it’s for sale or personal use. And that’s why so many people caught with large amounts of the stuff claim it’s for their own use, even though it sounds preposterous that anything over a gram or two would not be for sale. And many defense lawyers are hoping the legislature will reduce all possession to a misdemeanor — what’s the harm? Tweekers, after all, are not all that political — when you give speed to kids they’re anything but disruptive. Heck, that was the whole idea behind Ritalin!
Mr. Forger looks like an old hippy. He went to a hippy-friendly lawyer in the form of Philip DeJong for his defense. The prosecution was led by Deputy DA Jessica Abramson, not a hippy, but a capable new addition to the DA’s staff who has risen quickly in part due to a large turnover in the office.
Prosecutor Abramson called Special Agent Peter Hoyle as her first witness. Agent Hoyle has been a local cop since 1976 and it didn’t take Abramson long to establish that her witness was qualified as an expert on drugs.
“Have you ever had any occasion to seize methamphetamine, Agent Hoyle?”
“I’ve seized meth hundreds of times and I’ve been qualified as an expert in this court any number of times, as well.”
“Have you had any hands-on experience with methamphetamine?”
“Over the years I’ve bought, sold and made meth a countless number of times, but I dunno that I’ve had any ‘hands-on’ experience with it.”
Hoyle might have added that he’s busted more tweekers than Jessica Abramson has ever seen, but Mr. DeJong stipulated to Hoyle’s expertise and the journey through his resume ended.
The day after Christmas Hoyle went to 9150 Laughlin Way in Redwood Valley to see what Santa had brought to the old hippy staying in a motor home on the property. Mr. Forger was the old hippy in the motor home. Hoyle turned up a set of brass knuckles and an ammo magazine for a pistol, not the usual accoutrements of an old hippy.
“Are you talking about bullets?” Judge Moorman asked.
“Yes,” Hoyle answered. “I call ‘em rounds.”
“Anything else?” Abramson asked.
“There were some plastic bags containing a white powder, and I had an opinion it was methamphetamine.”
“Did you test it?”
“I tested one and it tested positive, so I weighed ‘em; there was one at 88 grams; two at 50 grams; another at 44 grams.
“Can you describe the packaging?”
“It was your regular zip-lock sandwich bags, and there were more of them stored in the motor home, the same kind the meth was stored in. There was a plate on top of the fridge with a tenth of a gram of meth on it.”
“Was the motor home registered to Mr. Forger in California?”
“No, it was another state… I wanna say Maryland.”
“Did you ask Mr. Forger what the methamphetamine was doing in his motor home?”
“He said he found it. He also said he did time in Ohio for meth sales.”
“But in your experience it’s not uncommon that meth dealers will arm-up?”
“No, not at all uncommon.”
Mr. DeJong asked, “But you didn’t find any weapons?”
“Not correct. Anything can be a weapon. But I didn’t find any firearms, no. A camera was found, and your client said it was his.”
“In your report you indicate that you obtained a key?”
“What did you do to induce my client to give you the key?”
“He didn’t give me the key. He indicated where it was.”
“He was in handcuffs?”
“Did you say anything to induce him to indicate to you where the key was?”
“I explained the facts to him; that if he didn't want the door broken down, he might want to give up the key.”
“Did you find any scales?”
“Any pay & owe sheets?”
“So would it be fair to say the only indicia for sales would be the amounts and the plastic bags?”
“At some point did Mr. Forger say the meth was for his own use?”
“So as I understand it the quantity and the plastic bags made you think it was for sale?”
“That’s my opinion.”
It was enough to hold Mr. Forger for trial on the off chance it gets that far, and now the negotiations begin. They'll go the way they all go: some time in jail to clean the system out then a threat of prison to get the guy into a rehab program and, eventually, back out there on the line, slinging hash for the minimum wage, looking after the well-off, carrying in their coffee, washing their shiny cars, feeding their nasty pets, taking out their stinking trash… Easy, now. Don’t get all worked up over income disparity, you’ll end up right back on the meth, then you’re prison bound for sure, boy!
Mr. Forger, when AODP gets through with him, will soon be what the courts call “a productive member of the community,” a euphemism for slavery when the pay is so small that it only provides the basics of a roof and enough nutrition to get you back and forth from the job.
Getting back to some of the other inducements “the system” uses to make sure we all do our part as “productive” citizens, the DA brought in AODP Supervisor Clover Martin and a lawyer from the County Counsel's office to demonstrate how even your children can be taken hostage if you don’t get with the program.
DA Eyster first called David Kindopp, a private attorney, who had been representing the defendant’s ex in a custody battle in Family Court. The defendant was Kelly Cosner, who had been representing herself in Family Court, but now that she was up on criminal charges, she was represented by Eric Rennert from the office of the Public Defender.
Mr. Kindopp took the stand and said he became “concerned” when AODP did not recommend any treatment programs for Ms. Cosner. “I asked the court for time to verify the authenticity of the assessment,” he said.
Kindopp's appearance turned into a lengthy bout of quibbling over copies and originals of countless County documents, but at last it became obvious that nobody gets through the AODP net and Ms. Cosner had tampered with the papers she brought to court to get her kids.
When Ms. Martin took the stand she wanted to get the problem sorted out by explaining how the system works, but that’s not allowed in a court of law. The lawyers have to ask specific questions and she must answer only those questions. And since the lawyers didn’t understand which questions to ask the episode turned into pure rigmarole.
Eyster: “This is Exhibit One, a copy of the assessment form Ms. Cosner brought to the Family court. It is signed by Sherry Morgan and it says Ms. Cosner was placed on the list for enrollment and on the other side it doesn’t line up with anything…?”
Martin: “Um… yes.”
Eyster: “So it’s been changed?”
Rennert: “Were you present when Ms. Cosner came in to your office?”
Martin: “I’m not sure.”
Rennert: “Do you personally know who did the assessment?
Martin: “Yes. Sherry Morgan.”
Rennert: “Now, referring to document one, Exhibit B, you stated that you have seen the original?”
Martin: “Yes, I have seen it.”
Rennert: “Does it have an original signature by Sherry Morgan?”
Martin: “I don’t understand what you mean?”
Rennert: “Have you seen the original?”
Rennert: “Does it have ‘original’ stamped on it?”
Rennert: “I’m referring to People’s exhibit One — just for clarification — would it be fair to say it’s a copy?”
Rennert: “Have you seen the original?”
Rennert: “Now I’m directing your attention to exhibit B — is this also a copy?”
Rennert: “Have you seen the original?”
Rennert: “Have you review the documents Ms. Cosner brought to family court?”
Rennert: “What is the standard procedure when people are assessed — are you familiar with that process?”
Martin: “I am, yes.”
Rennert: “Do you have any personal knowledge of the documents Ms. Cosner was sent?”
Martin: “Yes, I am the one that sent them to her.”
Rennert sits down with a baffled look on his face.
Eyster rises with the look of a man who has just had an idea pop into his head.
Eyster: “Looking at Exhibit One… is there an original of this document at AODP?”
Eyster: “Do you understand my question?”
Martin: “I do. I have a copy at AODP. May I ask a question?”
Moorman: “No, I’m afraid you can’t.”
Eyster: “What happens to the original — what do you call it?”
Martin: “An agency letter.”
Eyster: “Where does the original go?”
Martin: “Our custom was to send it with the client.”
Rennert: “That has since changed?”
Eyster: “So you sent the original with Ms. Cosner and the copy was kept at AODP?”
Martin: “Yes, that’s right.”
Eyster: “We would move to have these documents, Exhibit one and Exhibit B moved into evidence.”
Rennert: “Would there have been a copy sent to CPS?”
Martin: “Off the top of my head, I don’t know.”
Rennert: “Do you have any personal knowledge of any forms for Ms. Cosner at AODP? Do you understand the question?”
Martin: “No, I do not.”
Rennert: “Are you aware of an agency letter…?”
Martin: “I would assume the original is somewhere because I have a copy of it, but, no, I have no personal knowledge that there is one.”
Rennert: “Your honor, I object to the documents, Exhibit One and Exhibit B from being entered into evidence, as they are copies and the witness has no personal knowledge of the originals.”
Moorman: “Ms. Martin is here as a custodian of files at AODP, so she doesn’t have to have personal knowledge of the whereabouts of the originals for them to be admitted.”
Exhibit One was the copy of the original that Ms. Cosner brought to Family Court — having no doubt tampered with it; and Exhibit B was the copy (of a copy, as it turned out, resulting in all the confusion) from AODP. But the game was up and Ms. Cosner buried her face in her hands, as Mr. Rennert went to cut the best deal he could with the DA. Not only had Cosner misrepresented the assessment from AODP she had been under oath in Family Court when all this happened.
When the President tell us that more people are going back to work now than ever before, he’s not lying. There are so many more people now due to the population explosion, that it is literally true. But it is disingenuous and seeks to ignore the real problems we are facing, just as blaming drugs and alcohol seeks to avoid the real issue — that you either have one of the good-paying jobs with the government, or you are one of the poor suckers they have to force into slavery to keep those nice jobs.