Commentary: Yolo County Courts: Just Who is In Charge Here?

I keep coming back to this case from the Yolo County Courts mainly because there is more and more to talk about–and it becomes more alarming each time. We talked about the Davis Enterprise Op-Ed on Friday, it was a bit surprising to see the Enterprise admonish the Yolo County Courts, even on a case where they were deprived of access.

Hudson Sangree of the Sacramento Bee then had a piece yesterday that says much of the same thing in a newspaper article entitled “Yolo County has closed trials before the public.”

Reading through that article one of the more interesting revelations comes from the Mark Anderson case–the Woodland dentist who was accused of fondling his female patients last October.

As Mr. Sangree describes it:

“Reporters waiting for the court’s doors to open at 8:30 a.m. were surprised when defense attorney Michael Rothschild emerged, smiling, and said the proceeding was over.”

In fact, there was a series of hearings that somehow the family of the accused attended but the relatives of the victims were never informed of, and the arraignment hearing was neither placed on the public calendar nor was there any other public notice.

The part that gets me is the next tidbit. These hearings were attended by Commission Janene Beronio (same person who attended last week’s arraignment). When the Sacramento Bee tried to talk to Beronio, questions were referred to court Executive Officer Jim Lawyer.

When the Bee tried to talk to Jim Perry–he claimed that he could not comment about the Anderson hearings since he knew nothing about them.

So wait a second, who is in charge here? The Commissioner is refusing to talk and the guy in charge does not know anything about the hearings? That right there is scary. Who is running this show?

Who exactly is Jim Perry then? He is not a lawyer, but he does manage the court’s operations.

It gets more interesting here.

Talking about the CHP trial, Jim Perry is quoted as saying:

“There were seats set aside for the media in the Stevens case. Everyone else stood in line, including law enforcement.”

Not so says Hudson Sangree in his article.

“Reporters who covered the trial for weeks and stood in line say otherwise.”

Mr. Sangree continues quoting Perry:

Perry also maintained that Wednesday’s arraignment was public – as required by law – despite deputies’ decision to prevent the defendant’s family, the general public and media from attending by locking the courthouse doors.

“There was a great mistake, but the hearing stands as it was,” Perry said. “Both sides, the public defender and the DA were in the courtroom. It was on the record.”

Notice what Perry is now doing. On the one hand he is suggesting that the arraignment was public as required by law. On the other hand, he suggests this is a mistake, but by the same token, no laws were violated since the lawyers were in the room and a transcript is available.

Fortunately, Perry is not allowed to get away with this, at least not in the newspaper article. James Chadwick who is President of the California First Amendment Coalition and is a lawyer who represents the media was interviewed. He did not pull any punches either.

Mr. Chadwick calls Jim Perry’s assertion:

“the worst kind of Orwellian doublespeak… It wasn’t public if only the public that the deputy sheriffs wanted to allow in were allowed in. That’s not what public means.”

Yes, thank you Mr. Chadwick for calling it as you see it.

The article goes on to talk about how important it is that the arraignment is held in public. Peter Scheer also from California’s First Amendment Coalition talked about the fact that in countries that do not have rules of law, they keep the public out of arraignments and such proceedings because “the initiation of criminal charges against people is arbitrary.”

A mistake has been made, it does not appear to be the first time that a mistake has been made on this, heads will roll though? There will be consequences, right?

Apparently it is the Sheriff’s responsibility to discipline his deputies for what happens in Yolo Court buildings.

And Sheriff Ed Prieto said that he would neither punish nor reassign those responsible for locking the public out. Nor will he identify them.

On the other hand, who does Jim Perry answer to? Is he the problem here or the scapegoat?

I get the fact that Ed Prieto just lost one of his deputies. Ed Prieto is understandably going through a very tough time. However, he is a professional, an elected public official, and he has a job to do. The public deserves a better accounting than it has gotten. Fine a mistake was made, fix it.

I have to ask again, who does Jim Perry answer to? Because it seems to me that he is dodging serious questions at least in the public realm.

All of this raises very serious issues for the Yolo County Courts. I think the accused in this case has the right to a change in venue where they can get perhaps a fairer trial. He may be guilty of everything, but he deserves at least the semblance of a transparent system.

Someone needs to seriously examine the Yolo County Court system. We have long questioned the prosecution aspect of it, but it appears the problems go beyond even that.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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Court Watch

152 comments

  1. Yolo County government has one fundamental problem which the public sometimes gets a whiff of thru incidents like the most recent courtroom closure. I believe that it comes from a certain type of small-town arrogance that wouldn’t be out of place in rurual Georgia or Oklahoma, which leads to county agencies run like “top-down” mini-fiefdoms, or corporations with “at will” employees. In actuality, for most of our county agencies the welfare of, and service to the public is secondary to the facade of functionality that is necessary for serious inquiries into bad or unethical acts to consistently go uninvestigated. This has been going on in Yolo County “forever” in the face of lots of “small” transient problems which seem to appear and then just disappear, one after another. The circumstances which allow this to continue are: a combination of smug and shrewd agency heads who actively collaborate to suppress serious inquiries into wrongdoing, no investigative journalists with any interest in Yolo County, no local media with any interest in rocking the boat, and justifiable fear of retaliation by employees with pensions to lose. On top of that, there are no actually functioning watchdog state agencies with any interest, or a Grand Jury with any ability or desire to expose internal rot. It’s all just so comfortable and easily controllable for your local elected officials that working together to foster and maintain a system closed to any real scrutiny is almost an organic response to the opportunity created by the circumstances. If you live in a small county this is probably inevitable to a greater or lesser degree. If you don’t work in Woodland it’s easy to ignore because we just don’t want to know about it. If you do work in Woodland, and you’re not an elected official, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  2. Yolo County government has one fundamental problem which the public sometimes gets a whiff of thru incidents like the most recent courtroom closure. I believe that it comes from a certain type of small-town arrogance that wouldn’t be out of place in rurual Georgia or Oklahoma, which leads to county agencies run like “top-down” mini-fiefdoms, or corporations with “at will” employees. In actuality, for most of our county agencies the welfare of, and service to the public is secondary to the facade of functionality that is necessary for serious inquiries into bad or unethical acts to consistently go uninvestigated. This has been going on in Yolo County “forever” in the face of lots of “small” transient problems which seem to appear and then just disappear, one after another. The circumstances which allow this to continue are: a combination of smug and shrewd agency heads who actively collaborate to suppress serious inquiries into wrongdoing, no investigative journalists with any interest in Yolo County, no local media with any interest in rocking the boat, and justifiable fear of retaliation by employees with pensions to lose. On top of that, there are no actually functioning watchdog state agencies with any interest, or a Grand Jury with any ability or desire to expose internal rot. It’s all just so comfortable and easily controllable for your local elected officials that working together to foster and maintain a system closed to any real scrutiny is almost an organic response to the opportunity created by the circumstances. If you live in a small county this is probably inevitable to a greater or lesser degree. If you don’t work in Woodland it’s easy to ignore because we just don’t want to know about it. If you do work in Woodland, and you’re not an elected official, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  3. Yolo County government has one fundamental problem which the public sometimes gets a whiff of thru incidents like the most recent courtroom closure. I believe that it comes from a certain type of small-town arrogance that wouldn’t be out of place in rurual Georgia or Oklahoma, which leads to county agencies run like “top-down” mini-fiefdoms, or corporations with “at will” employees. In actuality, for most of our county agencies the welfare of, and service to the public is secondary to the facade of functionality that is necessary for serious inquiries into bad or unethical acts to consistently go uninvestigated. This has been going on in Yolo County “forever” in the face of lots of “small” transient problems which seem to appear and then just disappear, one after another. The circumstances which allow this to continue are: a combination of smug and shrewd agency heads who actively collaborate to suppress serious inquiries into wrongdoing, no investigative journalists with any interest in Yolo County, no local media with any interest in rocking the boat, and justifiable fear of retaliation by employees with pensions to lose. On top of that, there are no actually functioning watchdog state agencies with any interest, or a Grand Jury with any ability or desire to expose internal rot. It’s all just so comfortable and easily controllable for your local elected officials that working together to foster and maintain a system closed to any real scrutiny is almost an organic response to the opportunity created by the circumstances. If you live in a small county this is probably inevitable to a greater or lesser degree. If you don’t work in Woodland it’s easy to ignore because we just don’t want to know about it. If you do work in Woodland, and you’re not an elected official, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  4. Yolo County government has one fundamental problem which the public sometimes gets a whiff of thru incidents like the most recent courtroom closure. I believe that it comes from a certain type of small-town arrogance that wouldn’t be out of place in rurual Georgia or Oklahoma, which leads to county agencies run like “top-down” mini-fiefdoms, or corporations with “at will” employees. In actuality, for most of our county agencies the welfare of, and service to the public is secondary to the facade of functionality that is necessary for serious inquiries into bad or unethical acts to consistently go uninvestigated. This has been going on in Yolo County “forever” in the face of lots of “small” transient problems which seem to appear and then just disappear, one after another. The circumstances which allow this to continue are: a combination of smug and shrewd agency heads who actively collaborate to suppress serious inquiries into wrongdoing, no investigative journalists with any interest in Yolo County, no local media with any interest in rocking the boat, and justifiable fear of retaliation by employees with pensions to lose. On top of that, there are no actually functioning watchdog state agencies with any interest, or a Grand Jury with any ability or desire to expose internal rot. It’s all just so comfortable and easily controllable for your local elected officials that working together to foster and maintain a system closed to any real scrutiny is almost an organic response to the opportunity created by the circumstances. If you live in a small county this is probably inevitable to a greater or lesser degree. If you don’t work in Woodland it’s easy to ignore because we just don’t want to know about it. If you do work in Woodland, and you’re not an elected official, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

  5. Some additional information: a collection of Yolo County Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts in Sacramento have jurisdiction over Jim Perry.

  6. Some additional information: a collection of Yolo County Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts in Sacramento have jurisdiction over Jim Perry.

  7. Some additional information: a collection of Yolo County Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts in Sacramento have jurisdiction over Jim Perry.

  8. Some additional information: a collection of Yolo County Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts in Sacramento have jurisdiction over Jim Perry.

  9. I think we’re losing focus here. The defendant in this case, first drove in excess of 100 mph with a child in the car to flee a police officer. He then shot the police officer using an assault rifle and killed him (allegedly). Those actions should be causing outrage, not court procedure.

    At hearing, the defendant had legal representation. Some people weren’t allowed to get in the courtroom because of a stupid mistake. So what? This was just a routine hearing. Judge Rosenberg made clear it should not have happened. Move on. There is no real evidence that this defendant is unable to receive a fair trial. The court has not made any egregious rulings against him.

    Of course, as the media works itself into hysteria, it will become increasingly difficult to find an impartial jury, which i the key to the defendant getting a fair trial. I’ve never heard of an appeal being sustained because third party and media members didn’t have preferential access to a courtroom. In fact, why should they get preferential access? If I decide to go to a trial where I have an interest or something at stake, and cannot get in because there are a bunch of reporters there, I’d be pissed.

  10. I think we’re losing focus here. The defendant in this case, first drove in excess of 100 mph with a child in the car to flee a police officer. He then shot the police officer using an assault rifle and killed him (allegedly). Those actions should be causing outrage, not court procedure.

    At hearing, the defendant had legal representation. Some people weren’t allowed to get in the courtroom because of a stupid mistake. So what? This was just a routine hearing. Judge Rosenberg made clear it should not have happened. Move on. There is no real evidence that this defendant is unable to receive a fair trial. The court has not made any egregious rulings against him.

    Of course, as the media works itself into hysteria, it will become increasingly difficult to find an impartial jury, which i the key to the defendant getting a fair trial. I’ve never heard of an appeal being sustained because third party and media members didn’t have preferential access to a courtroom. In fact, why should they get preferential access? If I decide to go to a trial where I have an interest or something at stake, and cannot get in because there are a bunch of reporters there, I’d be pissed.

  11. I think we’re losing focus here. The defendant in this case, first drove in excess of 100 mph with a child in the car to flee a police officer. He then shot the police officer using an assault rifle and killed him (allegedly). Those actions should be causing outrage, not court procedure.

    At hearing, the defendant had legal representation. Some people weren’t allowed to get in the courtroom because of a stupid mistake. So what? This was just a routine hearing. Judge Rosenberg made clear it should not have happened. Move on. There is no real evidence that this defendant is unable to receive a fair trial. The court has not made any egregious rulings against him.

    Of course, as the media works itself into hysteria, it will become increasingly difficult to find an impartial jury, which i the key to the defendant getting a fair trial. I’ve never heard of an appeal being sustained because third party and media members didn’t have preferential access to a courtroom. In fact, why should they get preferential access? If I decide to go to a trial where I have an interest or something at stake, and cannot get in because there are a bunch of reporters there, I’d be pissed.

  12. I think we’re losing focus here. The defendant in this case, first drove in excess of 100 mph with a child in the car to flee a police officer. He then shot the police officer using an assault rifle and killed him (allegedly). Those actions should be causing outrage, not court procedure.

    At hearing, the defendant had legal representation. Some people weren’t allowed to get in the courtroom because of a stupid mistake. So what? This was just a routine hearing. Judge Rosenberg made clear it should not have happened. Move on. There is no real evidence that this defendant is unable to receive a fair trial. The court has not made any egregious rulings against him.

    Of course, as the media works itself into hysteria, it will become increasingly difficult to find an impartial jury, which i the key to the defendant getting a fair trial. I’ve never heard of an appeal being sustained because third party and media members didn’t have preferential access to a courtroom. In fact, why should they get preferential access? If I decide to go to a trial where I have an interest or something at stake, and cannot get in because there are a bunch of reporters there, I’d be pissed.

  13. With a few notable exceptions, the Yolo bench has a somewhat neanderthal judicial image.A few years ago, remember the Yolo judge who waved a zuchinni from the bench as a prop,in a rape/sexual abuse case as I recall? Will current Presiding Judge Rosenberg, the quintessential political player take charge and risk alienating powerful Yolo political forces? Unlikely.

  14. With a few notable exceptions, the Yolo bench has a somewhat neanderthal judicial image.A few years ago, remember the Yolo judge who waved a zuchinni from the bench as a prop,in a rape/sexual abuse case as I recall? Will current Presiding Judge Rosenberg, the quintessential political player take charge and risk alienating powerful Yolo political forces? Unlikely.

  15. With a few notable exceptions, the Yolo bench has a somewhat neanderthal judicial image.A few years ago, remember the Yolo judge who waved a zuchinni from the bench as a prop,in a rape/sexual abuse case as I recall? Will current Presiding Judge Rosenberg, the quintessential political player take charge and risk alienating powerful Yolo political forces? Unlikely.

  16. With a few notable exceptions, the Yolo bench has a somewhat neanderthal judicial image.A few years ago, remember the Yolo judge who waved a zuchinni from the bench as a prop,in a rape/sexual abuse case as I recall? Will current Presiding Judge Rosenberg, the quintessential political player take charge and risk alienating powerful Yolo political forces? Unlikely.

  17. no, we aren’t losing focus

    rather, you are instead trying to divert attention away from the embarassing manner in which the court and the deputies frequently conduct themselves in relation to court hearings

    the alleged perpetrator of the crime will be prosecuted, and, if found guilty, sentenced appropriately

    but we are entitled to see that done in accordance with the constitutional and statutory procedures that govern the criminal process

    a reasonable, easily satisified requirement that both the court and the deputies have decided to willfully violate on numerous occasions as reported in the Bee yesterday

    the Anderson case is telling, because it shows how the willingness of the court and the deputies to display favoritism in regard to access to the court goes both ways, the court and the deputies permitted Anderson to appear at hearings with friends and family, while the victims were excluded

    as for Perry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone give such a straight out F-you to the media, because he just straight out lied, knew that he was lying, and knew that he was going to get trashed in the paper, and didn’t care, because it was in the service of the court and the sheriff’s department

    as anonymous said, something out of rural Georgia and Oklahoma

    as for Prieto, his unwillingness to take any action raises questions as to the extent the deputies in the courthouse have been acting at his direction all along

    –Richard Estes