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Final Arguments

The check fraud case against Christopher Mulcahy continued to crawl through Judge Behnke’s court last week with all the drama of a snail’s progress through a vegetable patch. Late in the week, DA David Eyster began closing arguments with a computerized Powerpoint presentation that took two long days to essentially state that one could either believe Brutocao Wines CEO Steve Brutocao or their (former) Chief Financial Officer Chris Mulcahy — but not both.

Mulcahy's meticulous defense attorney, Justin Petersen, will undoubtedly take up most of this week with his closing, and then the DA will get a final rebuttal, one last shot to convince the jury that Mulcahey was stealing from the Brutocaos. Eyster's got to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Mulcahy is indeed a thief, and then a forklift driver will be summoned to carry all the piles of cancelled checks and miscellaneous documents into the jury's deliberation room for those sorely tested twelve citizens to decide who signed off on what.

It boils down to Brutocao Vineyards increasing their profits by cutting wages by eliminating as many ordinary employees and declaring them all “contractors” — a declaration that the IRS might well have trouble with if anyone were ever to look, much less audit. One such contractor (read: no overtime) who was following the case told me on Friday that he hadn’t been home since Tuesday morning, spring being a busy time in the vineyards and that on Wednesday, his crew had gone on a sit-down strike, demanding a pay-increase to $10 per hour. The pay raise was denied by the owners quicker than you could down a glass of $40 a bottle wine, and half the crew walked off the job. The remaining workers therefore had to do twice the work for the same pay. Those who left will be blackballed throughout Vineland and have to work in the only other local ag industry: marijuana.

If a verdict ever comes in, and if you haven’t already seen it in the PD, I’ll follow up on the alleged 57 counts of check fraud.

But enough about Brutocao and their casual money and personnel practices.

Across the hall in the adjacent criminal court, it was business as usual.


Molly Katzeff wasn’t supposed to be in court on Friday. But there she was, looking a lot like Barbara Streisand 30 years ago, seated between her distinguished parents, long-time Coast residents, Paul and Joan Katzeff of Thanksgiving Coffee.

Miss K. wasn’t supposed to be back in court because she’d just been there the day before, assuring the judge she could be trusted to go home, not to jail. The judge agreed, Miss K went home and promptly got herself loaded. And here she was back in court.

Mr. and Mrs. Katzeff were in court with their daughter both days, and here they were again the next day, again ready to deliver testimonials on their daughter's behalf. The day before, when Deputy Public Defender Carly Dolan told the court that her client Molly had taken the first, most important step, by admitting she had a problem with methamphetamine, the entire assembly had sighed in relief.

This sort of fleeting progress is like catnip to judges, especially, and The Hon. Ann Moorman was delighted and much encouraged that young Miss K had seen the error of her ways while she still had her youth, her beauty and her teeth. Rarely do the courts see a convincing act from an addict, and Miss Katzeff was convincing, so convincing she was herself was bouncing on the balls of her feet with contagious enthusiasm for the new leaf she'd just turned over.

That day, the judge had released the young woman on her own recognizance, returning her to her parent’s home. But Miss K decided to celebrate her reprieve. The very next day, a Friday, Probation Officer Monica Vargas brought the news that Miss Katzeff had failed to pass a drug test. Judge Moorman was very disappointed. More than disappointed. The judge's mercy had been taken advantage of.

“She had a relapse,” her father told the court. “But she’ll be okay, now.”

Judge Moorman doubted it — judges, like baseball umpires, don’t like being made to look bad by having their decisions flouted, especially when they've already dealt a great big suspension of disbelief.

“I’m remanding her into custody,” Moorman said.

The tearful pleading and anguished protestations from the family were poignant, as they always are in our troubled country where there isn't a family that hasn't been harmed by the drug scourge. But the judge said she was bound by law to lock Ms. Katzeff away.

Ms. Katzeff is certainly not unique in her dependence on methamphetamine. Crank is so widespread among the young and old alike nowadays that it would serve as a pretty good answer to the frequently posed question: Why is it tolerated? The Go Fast drug has become so prevalent that California defense attorneys have succeeded in getting simple possession of the pernicious substance reduced to misdemeanor status, even when – which is often the case – the defendant has more than a non-addict can comprehend as being for personal use.

Miss Katzeff was wearing a charcoal black skirt suit and shiny black heels. Her golden hair was swirled up in a pirouette over her seashell ears like a caramel ice-cream cone. Anybody would want to give her a break. She marched forward, and joined her equivalently fashionable lawyer, Ms. Dolan, before the judge. Ms. Dolan had just marched out of Judge Moorman’s office with a parade of solemn faces that included the prosecutor Deputy DA Beth Norman, probation duty officer Monica Vargas, and the dourest face of all, Judge Ann Moorman.

“All right,” Judge Moorman said, ascending the bench. “Probation has just informed me that the defendant’s recent drug test tested positive for a controlled substance. Counsel, how do you wish to proceed?”

Everybody knew they’d just rehearsed how they were going to proceed in chambers, but the open court repeat is required by law.

“At this time,” Dolan began, "we’d ask Ms. Katzeff be returned to her parents’ home.” Turning to the gallery, she extended her uplifted palm to the audience as if appealing to them to understand the unreason of her request, a gesture of endearing grace Ms. Dolan has polished like her grandmother’s coffee table.

Mr. and Mrs. Katzeff started to get up, to face a public moment they’d had to have been dreading.

“This was the opportunity we’ve waited for for ten years, now,” Mr. Katzeff said without undo emotion. “After a long battle, Molly finally said she was a user… and now, we’ve gotten this far, to this important stage, and she relapsed. But….”

Mrs. Katzeff had not only stood by her husband when he made his appeal, she'd made a path through the crowded courtroom to the rail where she could also be heard. But the wheels of justice were already moving, and Judge Moorman was already delivering her well-worn lines.

“I’m remanding the defendant into custody.”

Bailiff Bobby Moore snapped to attention. He’d already cuffed one defendant that day, and he knows the drill.

Both Katzeff parents tried to speak at once, but the judge had done what she is bound by law to do.

Ms. Dolan explained how the treatment facilities were all booked like a Caribbean cruse ship in February.

“In the meantime, she’ll be safe with her parents,” Dolan reasoned.

“I’m fearful she won't survive the weekend,” Moorman replied, meaning she'd already given the kid a major break only to have her back the next day for the same offense.

“But she’s finally resolved to go into a program, your honor,” Dolan persisted.

“And if she hurts someone, that’s on me. I have not only her safety to consider, but also the safety of the community," Judge Moorman replied.

The bracelets clicked shut on Miss Katzeff’s aristo-thin wrists.

Judge Moorman added: “I’m not going to leave her at liberty to injure herself or others. She has to detox. I will help find her a bed in a treatment facility, myself – sure, it’s been a long time since I did that kind of thing, but I still know some things.”

A long discussion on the merits of various treatment programs ensued. Miss Katzeff bounced enthusiastically at the mention of each, eager for whatever opportunity kept her out of the County Jail, which isn't as pleasant as Mom and Pop's place but not exactly Devil's Island either.

Judge Moorman directed probation officer Vargas to get on the horn to every rehab facility possible — “in the next few days, and make this happen!”

Miss Katzeff, whose promises not to get tweaked had been terminally devalued overnight, promised the judge she’d be good if she could go home.

“As much as you want me to, I cannot do that to you,” replied the judge.

The chasers brought in another prisoner, and took Miss Katzeff away.

[Note: See the Katzeffs in the AVA of October 2003 appended below.]


Joshua Keyes stood and delivered (through his public defender) his assurance to the court that his drug using/dealing days were done, he’d learned his lesson, and was ready to get out of jail and go stay with someone he knew on Laws Avenue in South Ukiah.

Cue up the laff track.

"Like I'm real sorry, and like I won't do it again. I like know this good dude on Laws, and like I know I can crash with him while I like wait for rehab."

Laws Avenue needs more druggies like Fukushima needs more earthquakes.

“Our goal is to get him into a treatment program,” Keyes' public defender said mechanically. “And I’d like him out of custody in the meanwhile.”

“There’s a safety risk to the community,” the Deputy DA said with equal conviction. “His parents don’t want him back. They both agreed they wanted him back in custody. Our concern is he’s gonna go back on the streets and start to use drugs [meth].”

“That’s the court’s concern, too,” Judge Moorman said. “I don’t like the notion of leaving him on OR. That’s my view. So I’m gonna deny the request for OR.”

I was on my way back to the endless Brutacao wine case when I saw a jury filing by, so I followed them up to judge Jeanine Nadel’s court. After they’d all settled in Judge Nadel said, “Ladies and gentlemen, have you reached a verdict?”

“We have your honor.”

“And are you the foreman?”

“I am, yes.”

“Please hand the verdict form to my bailiff.”

The defendant stiffened.

“Madame Clerk, will you read the verdict?”

“We the jury find the defendant, Sally Ann Fredricks, guilty of count one, driving under the influence. We also find [her] guilty of count two, driving with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08.”

“Would either party like the jury polled?”

No takers.


Ms. Rapp of Fort Bragg, looking indignant as all heck, rolled into court in a wheelchair. Wearing stripped PJs, compliments of the Low Gap Hilton, Ms. Rapp, 70, and certainly one of Mendocino County's more voluble senior citizens, had been trundled in to meet Lady Justice by a swarthy deputy. She was to plea to a charge of disrupting proceedings at the Fort Bragg Senior Center. Apparently, this wasn’t the first stir Dame Rapp had caused among her old folk peers— she was also charged with trespassing and obstreperously resisting arrest. Dame Rapp was duly slapped with a stay-away order naming the Fort Bragg Senior Center as the protected party, and granted two years of probation.

“I’m ordering her released today,” the judge added. And darned if the old girl didn't go directly back to Fort Bragg and get herself busted again. So, what do you do with a daffy old woman who won't behave herself at the Fort Bragg Senior Center?

Another elderly woman, this one bedridden, wasn't in court, but she had nearly been prematurely cremated when her grandson, a certain Mr. Corely, an aspiring chemist and entrepreneur, blew granma's roof off and set her Laytonville house on fire while he was cooking up a batch of honey oil with butane, a highly volatile substance not for use by amateurs. Sounds nutty, but this happens fairly often around here, though seldom with poor old Gran on the premises.  Also, Mr. Corely, it's probably unwise to fire up your bong when Gran's house is full of fumes and Gran herself is only half-awake in her rocker watching Days Of Our Lives. But you can’t teach these young whipper-snappers anything.

The Public Defender’s office declined to drag this unsavory case all the way to prelim, and the witnesses were sent away.

If poor old gran isn't safe in her own home, and Fort Bragg seniors can't enjoy a bowl of jello and a round of canasta without one of their peers going bonkersville on them, where the heck can the beleagured old souls find some peace?


ADDENDUM (from the AVA of October 2003):

The Katzeff Case.

The well-known Thanksgiving Coffee mogul’s daughter, Molly, was careening drunk along the Comptche-Ukiah Road late the evening of January 18th when the car in front of her, driven by a kid from the same “party” attended by Miss Katzeff, careened off the road about 2:30am. Miss Katzeff and the two young women riding with her stopped at the scene to lament the sight of their injured friends where Comptche and Mendocino volunteer firefighters, having rushed to the scene, were administering first aid. Two hours later, Miss Katzeff, still drunk and/or under the influence of proscribed substances, ran her car off the same road a little farther down the hill. It was now approximately 4:30am. Again, the Comptche and Mendocino volunteers rolled out of bed, hardly having gotten back to sleep after the first teen scene. A young woman in the back seat of Miss Katzeff’s vehicle suffered major head injuries.

Paul Katzeff then sued the two volunteer fire departments, the CHP, an individual CHP officer, and even the State of California. He alleges that someone among these agencies at the scene of the first accident should have (1) noted that his daughter was loaded and (2) prevented her from getting back into her car and driving off to the next accident, which featured her driving off the road and nearly killing the young woman riding in her back seat.

Obviously, if anybody responding to the accident had noted that Miss Katzeff was drunk she would have been suppressed on the spot, her car keys pried from her besotted fingers, her parents called, and so on. But the Comptche rescue team was dealing with the accident, not babysitting overindulged teenagers. Anyway, I defy you to tell the diff between a drunk teenage girl and a semi-hysterical teenage girl. Then, try to tell the diff on a dark, wet January night deep in the hills east of Comptche while you attend to the injured in the wreckage of the vehicle down in the gulch off the road.

Clearly, the responding Samaritans are not in any way liable for out-of-control Miss Katzeff’s accident. And the reason her pop is suing the Samaritans, I daresay, is because he’s getting sued by the young woman who was riding in the back seat of his daughter’s car when it went off the road. I doubt very much that Katzeff wants to sue anybody, but he’s probably in the position of having to sue simply to defend himself against the insurance vultures winging their way to the fruits of his and his wife’s many years of hard labor.

The kid behind the wheel of the first car leaving the “party” that night is looking at three years state prison time. He awaits sentencing. The kid who hosted the “party” got off with ten days (suspended) in the County Jail, probation, community service, and a $100 fine. The party’s host would seem to be a lot better connected to the County’s family-sensitive Superior Court where who you are trumps what you did every time.

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