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Year End Awards from The Crime Beat

Yearend is neigh, the lawyers all snug in their winter suits, bustling around the courthouse, faces wreathed in smiles, donning their best bonhomie in these last few weeks before solstice, to earn one of the prestigious AVA Annual Vocational Awards, and making little effort not to show it, for modesty is not a virtue lawyers aspire to, despite what they may say to the contrary.

Look at young Jessica Hoagland, there, as she holds the door for the elderly judge, hurrying in at the last minute, a courtesy she would scarcely extend to a prosecuting attorney, or police officer coming in plain clothes to testify against one of her clients.  Ms. Hoagland works for the Office of the Public Defender and for the past year she’s been assigned to Juvenile Court and so the Press hasn’t been able to assess her recent work, but we’ve seen her performance for several years now, and understand how she earned her moniker “Nickel & Dime” by coaxing small favors for her clients out of the stingy prosecutors and probation officers; and the fact that she spent the past year in Juvenile means she’s accumulating a great variety of experience, and being so young and energetic, we feel she deserves her name embossed in gold on this great big beautiful Blue Ribbon of Honorable Mention; which is to say, we expect great, not to say terrific, things from her in the coming year when she returns to the adult criminal courts. 

Oh, and speaking of prosecutors, here comes Deputy District Attorney Houston Porter blowing down the sidewalk like the first breath of a winter storm, sweeping the last few leaves from the boxwood trees along School Street before him.  In his signature cowboy boots and double-breasted suit, Mr. Porter has proved himself a determined, if not especially tactful, courtroom brawler and we can thank him a for long list of drunk drivers who have lost their licenses and, perhaps more importantly, their haughty attitude that, “Hey, I can beat a DUI rap, easy, huh.”  We recognize him especially for his wonderfully irritating closing remark, upon winning a memorable conviction — “And now I’ll be filing perjury charges against the defendant for lying on the stand”— and duly award Deputy DA Porter with the perhaps-not-so-very-coveted Most Peckish Winner Award. 

Next we have not a lawyer, but Certified Spanish Language Court Interpreter, Timothy Baird, who is retiring at the end of the year, having served at the Ukiah Courthouse in a capacity that far exceeds the ostensible job description, in that, after he has dutifully interpreted the courtroom proceedings to thousands upon thousands of Spanish speaking defendants over the years, he must then spend the rest of his own time in the hallways explaining what has happened and what it means to their family members, to people, that is, who have as little understanding of the legalities as they do of the language. This is nothing short of extra-curricular to the point of above-and-beyond his duty, given freely out of Mr. Baird’s abundance of human decency, and he is to be congratulated for it, as well as honored with The Superlative Service Award we offer here.  And we would also note that last summer Mr. Baird went on strike to try and get a long belated pay-cut reinstated – which was refused – and although he could well have single-handedly brought the courts to a standstill, his “strike” had been nothing more than symbolic. Conrats, Tim.  It’s been a pleasure and an honor enjoying your company and friendship at the courthouse, Sir. 

Over here on the steps, the main entry to our Halls of Justice, we find a group of smokers, puffing on cigarettes, and burbling like a covey of pigeons, and all three of them are in line for recognition. First, Ms. Mary LeClair, who has saved two defendants from dying in jail this past year.  It was the jail that called Ms. LeClair at the Office of the Public Defender and asked her to help them keep the two deathly ill defendants from being brought back to the jail to die, when the hospitals were about to release them; first, a schizophrenic who refused dialysis; and then another defendant, a few weeks later dying of cancer.  And let it be said that in these cases the Sheriff’s Office was more appreciative of the counsel for Defense than they were for the Prosecution.  To Ms. LeClair, we give the year’s Humanitarian Award. 

And here’s Mr. Eric Rennert, also of the Office of the Public Defender, who deserves recognition for his defense of the Criminal of the Year (Caleb Silver) – who Mr. Rennert gamely represented through the course of three consecutive trials for one murder, prelims that included breaking in to three houses over the holidays, committing a number of Grinch-style burglaries, stealing two pick-ups, wrecking one into a tree, losing his own dog, and abandoning another with nothing but seawater to drink, tethered to a stolen truck at Santa Clause Beach, near Santa Barbara (where Silver committed another series of crimes until he was finally arrested under a false name in San Jose). To Mr. Rennert we present the Persevering Optimist Award. 

Is it any wonder these two public servants need an occasional cigarette to settle their nerves?  The wonder is they’re not chain-smokers! 

The third smoker?  Mr. Kevin Davenport who, having left the DA’s Office in Fort Bragg, has gone into private practice as a defense attorney, and we have a White Ribbon for him with Good Luck inscribed on it in gold because he has gone from the easiest of lawyerly pursuits (prosecuting the indefensible) to the hardest (defending the indefensible). 

As for police officers we would like to honor Ronald Donahue of the Ukiah PD with our Keeping Up Morale Award for a long, hot and deathly boring day at the courthouse wherein Officer Donahue (seated in front of this reporter) tried to keep another officer from quitting and moving south to work at some better paying department in another county.  The officer in question had been on duty all night, was summoned to court as soon as he got off, and as the lawyers shifted the case this officer was involved with, as it was passed and recalled, passed again, and again recalled, and as it was discussed both in open court and in the judges chambers, Officer Donahue very patiently listened to a series of legitimate and compelling complaints from the younger officer, who was getting fed up.  Donahue kept the younger officer’s spirits up by encouraging and complimenting him, kept him awake by engaging him, calmed his understandable shortness of temper, found new reserves of patience where none were to be thought possible, and even kept him from quitting his job when he was ordered back on duty as soon as the lawyers let him go.  Outstanding, Sir.


  1. George Hollister December 24, 2018

    Every courthouse should have a Bruce McEwen.

  2. Bruce McEwen December 23, 2018

    Well, thank you one and all.

    I can hardly ignore all these encomiums, but just suppose we juxtapose the Honorific Bombast coming from our County scribes, parchment worthy of any politician’s Trophy Wall, a testament to posterity echoing a crescendo of trumpeting Whereas-es (for our departing – if not already long-gone – supervisors), set to a metronome ticking faster and faster…! ….! — segue to a timpani drum-roll w/ a building patter of symbols, then — just as the jets soar o’erhead and we doff our caps, grip our hearts, and tears spring to our eyes, we remember and thank the powers that be, that we actually have a few decent characters down in the trenches who really give a what-have-you.

    But don’t think I take the compliments for granted.

    Just suppose we juxtapose…

  3. chuck dunbar December 23, 2018

    Adding another note of gratitude for Tim Baird’s long, unsung services to Spanish speaking folks in the Ukiah Courthouse. I watched him serve Juvenile Court clients for years, a truly skilled and humble man with, as Bruce McEwen notes, an “abundance of human decency” in the middle of tough court processes that few understood. He once rightly interrupted court proceedings to educate all concerned in the proper use of Hispanic surnames. It was an unusual circumstance in such proceedings, but it was well-taken and appreciated by the court, as it was abundantly clear that his information was correct and others in the court were making basic mistakes in the use of clients’ names. .

  4. George Dorner December 23, 2018

    Add to these awards a Citizen’s Award For Exemplary Reporting, for none other than Mr. Bruce McEwen.

  5. Harvey Reading December 23, 2018

    Ride that yearend horse, buckaroo!

  6. Lazarus December 20, 2018

    Well done.
    As always,

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