The Freedman Follies

When last we tuned in to the Freedman Fiasco, Ralph Freedman, Mendocino County's former Director of Child Support Services (aka the Deadbeat Dad office), had been fired by the County and was being prosecuted for making sexual overtures to one of his single-mother staffers. The sexual harrassment charges were piled on top of earlier charges that Freedman had dangerously flipped out on two other Child Support staffers.

Freedman, we will recall, had been installed in the CSS top job in 2000 although he had had no previous experience in child support work. Nobody checked Freedman's work history before hiring him. If the supervisors or their administrator had checked on Freedman, they would have discovered that he'd bombed out of his previous two jobs as a public administrator.

Which, given the present state of County management, probably would have made no difference.

Unsurprisingly, nobody in County government can explain how exactly Freedman was hired, which didn't prevent the County from giving Freedman an open draw on the County treasury to hire a private attorney to defend himself against the misdemeanor charges Freedman soon accumulated on the job in Mendocino County.

In April of last year, Freedman was charged with disturbing the peace when he went nuts on two of his employees, screaming insults, banging on tables, rattling walls, and stamping his tasseled little feet when they'd made him unhappy.

Instead of firing him, the Supervisors voted in deep closed session to pay for Freedman's high-priced private legal defense.

DA Vroman was forced to file charges on the out-of-control bureaucrat because the Supervisors refused to take action against him. Freedman's tantrums were so unhinged it was not unreasonable for the DA to suspect that Freedman represented a physical danger to his employees, hence the formal charges against him.

Freedman was subsequently fired for the sexual harrassment incident. The DA filed restraining orders at the request of the employees involved — the County Counsel's office should have filed them but they claimed they had a "conflict" — and the County belatedly cut-off the public funding of his criminal defense attorney, Ms. Jamie Thistlethwaite of Santa Rosa, after paying her $30,000 for not doing much of anything but delaying and obstructing Freedman's appearance on the criminal charges, all of them misdemeanor criminal charges.

Ms. Thistlethwaite's primary defense strategy was to try to get DA Norm Vroman thrown off the case by alleging, without evidence, that Vroman was biased against Freedman.

In October, Judge Ron Brown ruled that the case for bias hadn't been made and declined to remove the DA's office as Freedman's prosecutor.

As soon as Ms. Thistlethwaite was off the public dole, having picked up a quick $30,000 from Mendocino County, Freedman magically became the responsibility of the Mendocino County Public Defender's office. The County Counsel's office had of course previously determined justice for Freedman required the allegedly superior services of a private attorney.

Freedman, however, quickly became unhappy with the Public Defender's Office and has since hired a new private attorney, a Mr. John Shields, also of Santa Rosa. Shields quickly went to court to re-assert the bias argument.

We were back to where we started.

Meanwhile Mrs. Freeman continued to allege that the DA was biased by filing frivilous complaints with the Attorney General about Vroman's inclusion of the Freedmans' plump history of traffic violations.

Freedman's new attorney, Mr. Shields, upon resubmitting the bias charge to Judge Brown, persuaded the dim jurist to reverse his earlier finding that there was no DA bias. But Judge Brown has now tossed Vroman from the case based on unsubstantiated and previously dismissed allegations by Ms. Thistlethwaite that Vroman refused to negotiate a plea bargain for Freedman.

Brown's idiot ruling read, "The comment of the district attorney that the case would not be negotiated because the defendant filed a complaint against him was born of anger and not of objective and impartial consideration. Coupled with earlier actions and comments by the district attorney, the court finds a conflict of interest exists within the meaning of Penal Code section 1424." (PC 1424 is the penal code section governing recusal of the District Attorney.)

Not only does Brown not specify which "earlier actions and comments by the district attorney" he's referring to, but Vroman never said anything of the sort and Brown, being dim and lazy, made no effort to determine if he had made such comments, accepting attorney Thistlethwaite's third-hand allegation at face value.

According to a motion filed by the DA's office last week asking Judge Brown to reconsider his ruling, "The court based its ruling on Jamie Thistlethwaite's declaration that contained a comment allegedly made by Chief Deputy District Attorney [Rick Martin] regarding a comment allegedly made to him by the District Attorney. These multiple levels of hearsay [make] Ms. Thistlethwaite not legally competent to testify as to those matters. Therefore, her declaration failed to comply with the clear language of section 1424. This court should not have proceeded on an issue raised in a defective declaration."

Duh.

In fact, Brown made his latest ruling based on an argument he had dismissed at the previous hearing and without questioning any of the persons directly involved. DA Martin had assumed that Thistlethwaite's allegation was ancient history and wouldn't be reconsidered, and Thistlethwaite herself has been off the case ever since the County stopped paying her at the $30,000 mark.

So, on Wednesday, March 17, at 1:30pm, Judge Brown is scheduled to hear the DA's latest motion to re-reconsider. Although the DA's new motion makes it clear that the bias allegation hasn't been explored much less proven, there's no way to predict how Brown will rule.

All this court time and public expense for a handful of misdemeanors committed by a man the County should not have hired in the first place.

Although she's no longer on the case, Thistlethwaite's County-subsidized strategy of turning the tables on Vroman by alleging bias and claiming retaliation by the DA has worked quite well. Freedman remains free on bail — the charges against him haven't even begun to move forward — and, if Brown continues to base his decisions on mere assertions by Freedman's attorneys and Freedman's child-like wife, Freedman stands a fair chance of getting the DA tossed. Again. And the case will be sent off to die in the black hole of the State Attorney General's Office in Sacramento.

(In the courtroom, Mrs. Freedman behaves like a 13-year-old at a Saturday matinee. She can't seem to sit still, deliberately and ostentatiously bends over the rail separating spectators from the attorneys and the judge with her ample rear end in the embarrased faces of spectators, and she's always whispering to anybody whose attention she can get. At last report, Mrs. Freedman performed some nebulous function at North Coast Opportunities, a kind of elephant's graveyard of a jobs program for otherwise unemployable but well-connected "liberals." She and Mr. Freedman were double hires by the County; he went to Deadbeat Dads, she to the Health Department. Both soon bombed out of their jobs, and Mrs. Freedman went over to North Coast Opportunities where the demands on her time are flexible enough to allow her to spend much of the day in court, or otherwise standing by her man. Which she does despite the Ukiah cops visiting the Freedman home to break up high decibel domestic dramas. Someone with inside pull with the County got the Freedmans their jobs. It's unlikely we'll ever know who. After all, this is the County whose supervisors were startled to learn last year that they had 400 or so more employees than they thought they had. Supervisor Delbar plaintively asked, "Where did all these people come from?")

Just in case Brown flip-flops again and returns the case to the DA, Mrs. Freedman has filed a sweeping Public Records Act request with the County, asking for all the records in the County Counsel's office, the Auditor's office and the DA's office relating to the Freedman case. She's obviously fishing for more allegations to throw at Vroman if Brown returns the DA's office to hubby's case.

Ralph Freedman is not charged with stupidity. He's figured out that Mendocino County's judicial system can easily be rolled every which way by simply going into court with unsubstantiated claims.

Since it's impossible to overestimate the timidity, sloth and intellectual deficiencies of Judge Brown, look for the case against Freedman to disappear and for Freedman to come out a big winner.

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