On November 3rd Jason Ress took $539.71 worth of merchandise from Friedman’s in Ukiah — he was moving around from town to town on the North Coast, hitting stores in Fortuna, Santa Rosa and Los Gatos, using a mix of 78 fake access and credit cards and a false identification card — and on November 27th he hit the Ukiah Friedman’s again, this time for $475 69. The rip-offs were always under the felony limit $995.
But this time, the alert Jennifer Carson, the store cash account and fraudulent credit card manager was on the lookout for Ress, and when Ress strolled in to the store she called Ukiah Police Detectives Michele Maldonado and Ronald Donohue.
Ress is listed as being from the Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz. He has been arrested several times going back to 2002 for similar drug and credit card fraud crimes, some of them with his wife Diana. Obviously, whatever punishment was meted out to him down there didn’t persuade him to change his thieving ways.
Det. Donohue learned that Mr. Ress had a room at the Fairfield Inn, Ukiah, under the name of Greg Tate, and when a search warrant was served on that room, Diana Ress was found there, along with the 78 credit cards and a device for embossing numbers on the cards, and a machine to read and write the information on the magnetic strips that are found on credit and access cards.
The pickup belonging to the Mom & Pop Bunko Op was full of stolen merchandise, and a quarter-pound of methamphetamine was found in the console. A search warrant for a storage locker in Watsonville turned up more credit card fraud equipment and other items the meth-fueled love birds were not entitled to possess..
Mr. Ress was about to see all this evidence brought out in open court on December 6th, but another lengthy preliminary examination was underway at the time, tying up the district attorney; and thereby inspiring the lawyer for defense, Mary LeClaire of the Office of the Public Defender, who made some threatening motions about the delay. There is a rule, apparently, that says you have to have your prelim within ten days of your entry of plea, to see if there’s enough evidence to bind you over for trial.
Now, your typical jailhouse legal scholar — and we seem to have a lot of ‘em at the Low Gap Road Academy — will tell you that this rule, like the one that says you have to be arraigned within 72 hours of your arrest, is binding and even the judge can’t wriggle out of it, so the judge and the district attorney were shaking in their shoes from fear that Ms. LeClair would get her client off scott-free on the 10-day rule technicality.
On the day in question, it was late and the courthouse was closing, due to delays in an important armed robbery case (The Laytonville home invastion, reported on last week), and Mr. Ress still hadn’t had his day in court. It was hoped at one point in the robbery case, when Public Defender Linda Thompson had to be absent for a half-hour, that the Ress case could be heard. But DA David Eyster had already sent the detectives home after it became clear that the ongoing Laytonville case would take up the rest of the day. And it was at this point that Ms. LeClair revealed that her client’s time was about to expire, this being the tenth day, and Ress would have to be restored to freedom.
Ms. LeClair is the kind of personality my old-fashioned mother used to describe as “quite the little pill!.” LeClair subscribes to The Nation, and she is every inch the Clintonite Democrat, I mention only to imply she would be a very likely candidate to replace outgoing Public Defender Linda Thompson who announced the same day, December 6th, that her last day in office would be June 30th, 2018.
The DA said it was well within the court’s power to find good cause to extend the 10-day rule, and he provided some case law for the judge to go on. Judge John Behnke said he didn’t have time to research it — thank you all the same — it was already dark, the staff had been kept from their dinner, a woman was convulsing on the floor in a seizure, the ambulance on the way — but his honor promised he would look into it overnight and everyone should reconvene at 8:45 the following morning, so they could deal with it before the courtroom filled up for the day.
Ms. LeClair said she couldn’t possibly come in before her normal hour of 9:00, and that was final. Nobody, it seemed, dared to ask her why, and the time was set for 9:00 — which meant that everyone on the morning calendar would have to be inconvenienced to accommodate Ms. LeClair’s routine. So next morning we were all back in our places listening to the judge apologize to a crowded courtroom that they would just have to wait for Ms. LeClair to get there and make her dreaded motion for a dismissal.
As it happened, LeClair said she wasn’t going to ask for a dismissal.
This surprised the court, and was followed by some readings from the statute book regarding how one remedies a broken 10-day rule. Eyster’s submission was acknowledged, and some of the judge’s own readings were shared, more for the sake of the record than to satisfy anyone’s curiosity. One of the remedies was that the defendant, on demand, must be released on his own recognizance so he might appear at his own convenience. Why hadn’t Ms. LeClair demanded her client’s release? Why did she not give him this break?
She didn’t address this question head-on. She made it plain that it wasn’t about getting her client off on a technicality; she only wanted to teach the DA lesson. She thought the DA was out of line for not assigning the case to a deputy prosecutor when he saw it would not be possible to do it himself, in a timely fashion.
There have been a good many people move on to other jobs as the summer ended and the autumn lingered well into the winter months, with a lot of green new lawyers filling the stable, and the DA has been handling a larger portion of the caseload than usual, appearing on all kinds of low-level cases that pit young, inexperienced lawyers against Mendo’s formidable DA. The new public defenders don’t like this and the older, more experienced Mary LeClair has made it her duty to be their advocateand stand up to Eyster.
Eyster said that it would have taken him as much time to brief another prosecutor on the Ress case as it would take to go through with it, and no time would have been gained by Ms. LeClair’s proposed solution.
The judge agreed that the time saved would have been negligible, at best, and pointed out all the reasons for the delays the court had undergone the day before, then asked Ms. LeClair what she wanted to do. LeClair said she wanted to go forward with the prelim, she was ready, and let these other people wait. And that is what happened.
Ms. LeClair has been busy these last few months making herself a salient feature of the Office of the Public Defender, and with Linda Thompson retiring, the only other likely candidate for the office is a Republican and, what’s worse, a man: (Mendocino County is pretty much a matriarchy) Anthony Adams. If anyone honesty believes a conservative male has a chance of being appointed to office in Mendocino County… Well, enough said.
The prelim began and went smoothly, Detectives Maldonado and Donohue taking their turns on the stand. Since the passage of Prop. 47 reduces all thefts from stores under $995 to misdemeanor shoplifting, and possession of meth for personal use to a misdemeanor, the defrauding of an innkeeper, possession of counterfeiting equipment, and a forged ID card all amounted to a holding order on five felonies that can be bargained down to misdemeanors during further litigation by the ambitious Ms. LeClair.
But the detectives were relieved that at least all their work was not totally wasted by LeClair getting the case dumped on the technicality of the 10-day rule.