The sensational factionalism at the Ukiah Gun Club finally arrived in court last week, and some of the more shocking and lurid aspects of the case seemed almost to fly out the window as the entire focus was only on two somewhat innocuous and pedestrian counts; one, possession of a couple of assault rifles; two, misappropriation of allegedly missing tools and maintenance equipment.
One faction of the Gun Club membership became disgruntled a couple of years ago after Audie Norbury moved up from Treasurer to President while his sweetheart, former Secretary Penny Mathis, was promoted to Treasurer. These two had been in office at the Gun Club since 2011, and had ensconced themselves quite comfortably with something of an insufferably smug and proprietorial air, it seemed, which began to chafe and grate on some of the other board members who seemed to prefer what many of us nowadays would dismiss as stale and stuffy conventions. The disgruntled faction voiced a number of caustic accusations against President Norbury and his love-interest, Treasurer Mathis, igniting an escalating barrage of accusations, as it were, building up in time to every kind of petty fraud and sundry wrongdoing imaginable, from tapping into the clay pigeon-token dispenser to pocketing membership dues.
What resulted has been described to this reporter as “a huge pissing contest” by the Gun Club’s former lawyer, Eric Petersen. On the stand, Petersen minded his manners better: “Your honor, it all turned into a gigantic, enormous gossip-fest on both sides.” Now, whether the disgruntled faction was incensed over the moral propriety of domestic arrangements at the Mathis house, where former hubby Jack Mathis moved out to a fifth-wheel camper at the shop and the fetching Audie Norbury moved into the bridal suite, or whether any allegations of misconduct in the strictly legal sense were founded in hard fact, remained to be seen. But it was common knowledge the new couple was “co-habitating,” as one witness termed it with obvious disapproval.
Does any of this sound familiar? Wasn’t there some kind of sensational factionalism at a local radio station, where one faction ostracized and reviled another faction? Is it possible that the Gun Club Board Members studied the playbook from public radio KZYX? Is it possible that the Gun Club members have even heard of the local public radio station? (Probably not.)
Remember, these people are all by-and-large a conservative-minded group; both factions staid, stolid and studious of emulating your John Wayne/Charlton Heston role model, and replicating a Reagan-Era Moral Majority lifestyle. Keep in mind it’s a gun club (picture Sarah Palin in shooting glasses with a trap gun over her shoulder) and the membership would necessarily have been like-minded, both politically and theologically. So when they broke into factions, it would seem to those on the outside looking in to be nothing more than a dispute over small differences that could be dismissed as the sour cavils of some fuddy-duddy prudery over the dalliances between Audie and Penny rather than any legitimate evidence of embezzlement.
In any case the disgruntled faction, led by the current Gun Club Secretary Chris Land, moved decisively on the night of January 17th, 2017, to inventory the property at the Gun Club and match it up with invoices signed by President Norbury and/or Treasurer Mathis.
A list of the alleged plunder was compiled and put in a binder. It amounted to quite a haul. This binder was turned over to the Sheriff’s office, and in due course a search warrant was served at the Norbury/Mathis property on Olive Lane. The missing items listed in the binder turned up – some of them – during the search of this property – some of it in the residence where Audie and Penny lived, some in the shop, some in Audie’s utility truck, some not at all.
The items found on the Olive Lane property, which were listed in The Binder were then put into a four-page document, “People’s Exhibit One.” It contained everything from 25-foot tape measures to four-wheeler ATVs, leaf-blowers to posthole diggers. The defense lawyers were naturally incredulous. How could the detectives doing the search of the property know for certain that the one listed on People’s Exhibit One, the one found at the Olive Lane property, was the same one that was bought from Friedman’s for the Gun Club?
And there were other legalities confuting but not confounding the State’s case. As mentioned above, the former Gun Club counsel, Eric Petersen, was brought in and asked some pointed questions — I say pointed, but it must be remembered that the questions asked were necessarily long, complex affairs, something out of a textbook on subordinating clauses, with so many qualifying phrases that the quiddity of the question was as obscure as a rumor of the ghost of a sasquatch lurking in a predawn mist in a redwood forest. And some of them were interrupted by objections, and rephrases. Etc.
Mr. Chris Andrian, the high-priced, high-profile Sonoma County attorney, was counsel for Penny Mathis. He was especially vague in posing these long, drawn-out queries and he, Andrian, had to be asked repeatedly to repeat them, and often as not to rephrase them in a more direct and coherent form. Ah, but therein lay a certain lawyerly sophistry, for even DA Eyster had been careful to add so many qualifying clauses that he could shout out seemingly captious objections in the event that the defense lawyers went beyond what’s called the scope of direct — and, the same being true of cross-examination, each lawyer had a certain legalistic turf to keep un-trod upon by the other side.
As may well be imagined this policy resulted in a good deal of an absolutely mind-numbing waste of fine spring weather, drawing one’s attention away from the legalese, towards the window, and it wasn’t long before even the most devoted members of the disgruntled faction, the self-named Committee for Change, who had turned out in force, remembered previous engagements that required their presence elsewhere. As the gallery thinned out, the lawyers droned on and the fresh morning wilted away into a dull and muggy Ukiah afternoon.
There were, however, a few highlights that might interest readership, no matter how involved and concerned, to absolute death. Once, for instance, when attorney Eric Petersen was on the stand, he asked Judge John Behnke if he could add a qualifier to one of his statements. But when the judge asked the court reporter to read back the statement in question, it was already so vague that she couldn’t find it in the transcript. After a long while, Judge Behnke asked if he might descend from the bench to look over the stenographer’s shoulder. This went on and on, and it was still never found. At last Mr. Petersen conceded that whatever it was he was only ninety-plus percent sure he remembered the situation correctly, and wanted to reserve upwards of 10 percent doubt that his memory served him correctly.
Also, Orchid Vaghti, another Sonoma County import and apparent DUI specialist, counsel for Audie Norbury, pointed out that because her client was President of the Gun Club and Mr. Petersen was the Club’s lawyer, anything said between Petersen and Norbury was protected by lawyer-client privilege.
Judge Behnke, after a lengthy perusal of some law books agreed, reading a particularly apt scripture on corporate law, even though at the time Mr. Norbury and Ms. Mathis had been ousted as officers of the corporation; all of which led to another twist in the legalities of the situation, to wit, Petersen said he tried to explain to Norbury the concept of conflict of interest, but didn’t think Mr. Norbury fully grasped what he was getting at; i.e., that he, Petersen, having once represented the Gun Club at large, couldn’t therefore represent Mr. Norbury or Mrs. Mathis, personally.
“I still don’t think he got it, your honor; I don’t think he understood the concept, at all, and I worry they thought I was just blowing them off,” explained Petersen.
Mr. Petersen left the stand and came over and sat next to me, expressing his disgust with the whole situation, and making the comment above about it being “a huge pissing contest.” He was about to say more, he and I being old friends, when Judge Behnke called out, “Mr. Petersen, you are still on call as a witness in this case — you must leave the courtroom until you are recalled to the stand.”
Eric Petersen’s cousin, Justin Petersen of Ukiah was representing the cuckolded Jack Mathis. Mr. Mathis was not charged in the Count Two embezzling business, only in Count One, possession of assault rifles, of which two had been found in the three gun safes on the Olive Lane property. But by the time the proceedings got around to this aspect of the case it was late in the day, the court reporter was having difficulty keeping abreast of the jargon common to sporting-arms enthusiasts (short for gun nuts), and kept throwing her hands up in exasperation, asking the witness, Deputy Jeremy Mason, to please slow down as he lovingly described an assault weapon as “a semi-automatic center-fire rifle with a detachable magazine and a protruding pistol grip below the receiver…”
Deputy Mason and Justin Petersen were involved in a rapid-fire Q&A about AK-47s and AR-15s, rattling off .223 calibers and 7.56 millimeters with a familiarity and felicity which Judge Behnke described as a “machine gun-like full-auto rapidity” that was too much for his overworked staff, not to mention this reporter, when the clock struck five and the judge called a cease fire!
And so a date was set a few weeks down range on the calendar when the walking wounded might return from convalescent leave, with a re-supply of ammo, and resume the firefight in earnest with several new ammo boxes full of legalese.