Results tagged “Bill Haney” from The Court Reporter

Chop Shop Prelim and the Mexican Mafia Case

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

There were more defendants and defense lawyers in court than there were people in the audience this afternoon.

The six defendants involved in a chop shop operation being run at a residence in Santa Paula and their six lawyers were so packed near the defense table that two defendants and a defense attorney had to sit inside the jury box.

The six defendants are Joseph Banuelo Bracamontes, 41;Justin Tyler Steele, 25; David Martinez Jr., 25; Aaron Alexander Morua, 26; Ryan Anthony Ramos, 23; David Jesus Velazquez, 25, are accused of being involved in a chop shop located at the 400 block of Grant Line Street in an unicorporated area of Santa Paula.

Initially, some of the defense lawyers complained that they didn't have all the discovery from the District Attorney's Office, and prosecutor Anthony Sabo said he gave everybody what he had from the investigation.

Defense Attorney Bill Haney who is representing Morua, said the DA must give lawyers exculpatory evidence if they have it.

More bickering.

Attorney Donna Forry who is representing Bracamontes, said she was ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing.

Judge David Hirsch said he would allow defense lawyers to discuss among themselves whether they want to continue the preliminary hearing.

"The preliminary doesn't look like its ready to be held," said Hirsch.

The judge, who has the patience of Job, left the courtroom.

More discussions in court by the defense lawyers for about 10 minutes before they decided to go outside the courtroom for more talks.

Courtroom observer Mickey Schlein, who has been sitting in Ventura County's courtrooms for nearly 13 years, said this is a waste of the court's resources and time.

 "All of this should be resolved before they hold a preliminary hearing," the 85-year-old Schlein complains.

Ten minutes later, all the defense lawyers agree that the preliminary hearing can proceed.

The judge comes back on the bench and the preliminary hearing starts..

The first prosecution witness, Detective Christopher Martin, who is with the California Highway Patrol and was assigned to the Ventura County Auto Theft Task Force, was hammered by defense attorneys with objections.

Some of the objections come in two and threes and others in unison: hearsay, lack of foundation, lack of personal knowledge so on and so forth.

Martin, who has a shaved head, beard and an earring, isn't rattled.

Soon it was raining objections with the judge swatting down some, sustaining others or telling prosecutor Anthony Sabo to fine tune his questions.

Then, it got slow.

After 15 minutes of Martin testifying about the make and model of each car that was brought into the chop shop along with giving precise details on how he found out the vehicle had been stolen, the court proceeding got very slow.

A well-behaved little girl about eight years old who is the daughter of one of the defendants curled up on a second-row seat and fell asleep next to her mother.

Across the aisle and about 10 minutes into Martin's testimony, Mr. Schlein, whose quick mind and memory are incredible and who sometimes drives like a bat out of hell, is also asleep.  

Twenty minutes later, both the girl and Mr. Schlein are awake.

The judge has the defense objections down to a drizzle when Martin shifts into his testimony on the fifth or sixth car.

It is late in the afternoon, Mr. Schlein calls it a day and leaves.

A few minutes later, the judge, who goes on vacation on Friday, mercifully announces a short court break.

I head down to Courtroom 12 where all the lawyers of the 16 defendants named in the Mexican Mafia conspiracy indictment handed down in November converge along with prosecutor Joann Roth.

More legal housekeeping and more discovery is handed over.

One by one, the defense lawyers and their clients take turns going going before Judge Kevin McGee.

Defense lawyer Jay Leiderman, who is representing Edwin Mora who has been described as the shot caller in Ventura County, stated attorneys have received 8,000 pages of discovery along with 20 to 25 CDs and DVDs so far.

"You know they aren't paying us? Apparently the county was not told to budget for a big case," he texted. "I've been paid $874 since November. And that was just a few weeks ago that I finally got the check."

"Have you cashed the check? :)" I texted back.


Stay tuned.


The Court Reporter Blog and The Andrew Luster Re-Sentencing

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

Margaret emailed today:

Recently discovered your blog - very interesting stuff. I have a few questions.
How often is the blog updated?
Any update on the Andrew Luster case? His latest hearing result was supposed to be April 6, I believe, but the courts have been silent - no news anywhere about it.
Any insights?

Reply: First of all, thank you so much for reading my blog. I try to update the blog every work day and sometimes on the weekends.

Last week, I was swamped with work and coupled by a big bump in my personal life so it was hard to post as much as I wanted.

But I am back and expect to update the blog more often.

Anyway, Andrew Luster's re-sentencing was tentatively set to begin April 4. But it was changed to this upcoming Tuesday.

Mr. Luster, 49, an heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, was convicted in 2003 of drugging and raping three women at his Mussel Shoals home north of Ventura.

He fled to Mexico before his trial ended and was convicted and sentenced to 124 years in absentia. He was captured six months later.

The case drew national attention because of Max Factor name and the facts and circumstances surrounding this case.

I just wrote a story on the re-sentencing that will be published in The Star on Sunday. It should appear on The Star web site late this afternoon.

The story is about how much time in prison that Mr. Luster's lawyers Jay Leiderman and J. David Nick will ask Judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz to sentence their client.

Friday afternoon, the District Attorney's Office via prosecutor Michelle Contois filed its 17-page sentencing memorandum and they also have their own sentencing recommendation.

 What readers will find very interesting is how Mr. Luster's new sentence will be calculated.

Criminal attorney Bill Haney, who was a prosecutor for 17 years until he left the DA's office in October, explains what the law says about his sexual crime by use of intoxicants, and how the legal terms "separate occasion test" and "reasonable opportunity to reflect" will come into play in sentencing Luster.

That's all I can tell you until the story is published.

After the story is published on Sunday, I will post excerpts from the defense attorney's and the DA's sentencing statements to the court on my blog.



New Date Set on Alex Medina Murder Trial

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

A new date was set today in the murder trial of Alex Medina who is accused in the gang-related killing of Seth Scarminach at a party on April 16, 2009.

The District Attorney's Office also appointed a  new prosecutor, Thomas Dunlevy, to the case.

Medina, 19, is now scheduled to go to trial on June 24.

Dunley replaces prosecutor Chrystina Jenson who replaced prosecutor Bill Haney. Haney left the District Attorney's Office to go into private practice.

Before the judge took the bench, Jenson described Dunley to Medina's lawyer Scott Wippert as a "quiet, ferocious type" of prosecutor.

From the Court Reporter's Notebook

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

The Judge is "Hands On" in the Andrew Luster Case

When prosecutor Michelle Contois asked Luster whether he believed more harm was done to him than what he did to his victims, Judge Stoltz quickly jumped in and said: "Whooooooa!"

She told Contois that this was argumentative and that wouldn't be allowed, afterwards, she quipped that she had objected and sustained her own objection.

Stop Seeing My Sister, Andrew

Andrew Luster testified that a Sheriff's deputy at the jail had threatened him if he didn't stop seeing his sister. But Luster said he continued to see her.

The judge after listening to both defense attorneys and prosecutor Contois question Luster wanted to know why the deputy didn't want Luster to see his sister.

"Nobody is going to ask him why?" the judge asked the lawyers. "Okay, I'll ask him why."

She then turned to Luster who was on the stand and asked "Why?"

Luster said the deputy's sister visited him and he explained to her what happened.

"She still wanted to maintain a relationship with me and I with her," Luster told the judge.

They are not Experts, the Judge Ruled

The judge ruled that Attorney Ron "who represents the Star in First Amendment issues" Bamieh and Former Judge Arturo Gutierrez turned criminal lawyer could testify at Luster's trial but not as experts.

Gutierrez testified that sentences that of eight to 12 years that were offered to Luster were "average" for similar crimes during that time when he was on the bench.

Former Senior Deputy District Attorney John Blair testified that the plea bargain offer was made by Luster's lawyers and as with any plea offer at that time, he said he wrote a memo to his superiors on June 5, 2001 stating that Luster was willing to plead guilty to two counts of rape.

"They asked me to put something in writing, which I did," said Blair who is now a court commissioner in San Diego.

Bamieh, a veteran prosecutor, was brought in to impeach Blair's credibility and the District Attorney's Office claim that they never offered Luster a plea-bargain offer.

Bamieh testified on the policies and procedures of the district attorney during the time Michael Bradbury was the county's chief prosecutor.

 Bamieh testified that there was no way a memo would have been written until after defense lawyers had agreed to take a deal and the prosecutor  "pitched the deal" to Bradbury who was sometimes at the "ranch" or out golfing.

Bamieh testified that he was paid a $5,000 retainer fee by the defense for his agreement to testify as an expert. He said he did more than eight hours of legal work at $350 an  hour.

As he left the courtroom after his testimony, I asked him: "Hey Ron, how much did you get in total?"

"Lots of money, just do math," he replied and walked out.

Attorney Richard Sherman and Investigator Bill Pavelic Were Also Getting  "Lots of Money."

Luster testified that he paid Attorney Richard Sherman, who he said charmed and bamboozled him, $5,000 a month, and he paid Pavelic $15,000 a month.

Sherman who is dead told Luster that the prosecutors who he called the "evil minions" and Judge Ken Riley were running a rigged game in the courtroom and convinced him go to Mexico with Patrick Campbell who could help him hatch a plan, Luster testified.

Luster said he first met Campbell who, Luster testified, was dressed all in black at Sherman's house. Campbell told him that he was a mercenary, running guns and helped over throw some countries and talked about diamonds in Sri Lanka.

(Yeah, and, I am a Walrus)

 Anyway, Campbell, still dressed in all black, took Luster into a bedroom and had him strip down to his underwear to see if he was wearing a wire.

Campbell told him about how he could help him flee to Mexico for $200,000 and a small fee of this (I would assume a finder's fee) would go to Sherman who often employed Campbell.

Also Campbell said he needed an additional $80,000 for an East Coast buddy but promised Luster that he would get this fee back, Luster testified.

Luster went to Mexico and never saw a dime of the $80,000, and defense lawyers say that Campbell is nowhere to be found.

Back on the Planet Earth

Former season prosecutor Bill Haney recently joined criminal attorney Philip Dunn's law firm as a full-fledged partner.

Dunn who had a wide grin when I bumped into him in the courthouse said he was very happy to hire Haney. He said there was a lot of work to do at his office, and Haney with all his experience would be a good fit.

Newly Appointed Judge to be Sworn into Office on Friday

Former prosecutor Gilbert Romero will be sworn into office at 4:00 p.m. on Friday in Courtroom 22 at the Hall of Justice in Ventura.

The oath office will be administered by Judge Patricia Murphy.


Andrew Luster's Hearing Continues on Monday Afternoon With More Defense Testimony

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

One remark at the hearing of convicted rapist Andrew Luster seemed to sum up the case against Luster, a high-profile case that drew national coverage.

 "Geraldo Rivera was running around, and it created a lot of buzz," former prosecutor Bill Haney said last week in response to a question about the media.

The District Attorney's Office, headed by then chief prosecutor Michael Bradbury, tabbed high-profile cases like Andrew Luster as "Special Interest" cases that required special handing by prosecutors because they attract an army of reporters, according to court testimony last week at Luster's hearing.

These "Special Interest" cases were monitored by Bradbury, and his policy was to approve any plea agreements, no exceptions,  according to court testimony.

In this case, the heir of the Max Factor cosmetics fortune was accused using GHB and drugging and raping three women at his Mussel Shoals beach house in North Ventura County. Luster video recorded the rapes of two of these women.

One woman was snoring in a recording after being given the date-rape drug, and Luster labeled one of the rape recordings, "Shauna GHBing," the evidence showed.

A Prosecutor Pointed to What Others Say Was The Obvious

Prosecutor Anthony Wold testified that the recorded rapes were "painfully sadistic acts" by a man who defense witnesses said had the brain of a child inside a grown man's cranium.

The media flocked to the Hall of Justice after Luster's arrest, and this, seemed to set the tone after Luster's arrest, and the coverage increased after his subsequent flight in the middle of his trial to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.

There, Luster surfed, drank high-end Tequila and fished while being holed up in a Mexican Motel.

Luster's Second Set of Lawyers Want His Sentence Reduced.

Luster's lawyers, Jay Leiderman and David Nick, who successfully filed a writ habeas corpus, citing ineffective assistance of counsel in the rape trial and other legal issues are asking for Luster's 124-year sentence to be reduced and his conviction set aside.

An appeals court agreed to the pleadings in the writ in 2012 and allowed a hearing.

The lawyers are also argued in court this week that this case quickly turned into a "media circus" but Luster's first batch of hired legal guns hadn't bothered to submit legal papers requesting  a change of venue to try and have the high-publicity case moved to another county.

Wold testified that Luster's former lawyers at his rape trial basically maintained at his court proceedings two things: That the victims were pretending to be asleep or had consented to be violated while they were conscious.

Wold and Luster's defense team, especially Attorney Richard Sherman, had an acrimonious relationship in court, according to court testimony.

Wold said he didn't trust Sherman who, he said, twisted and distorted his conversations with him, noting that Luster and his investigator Bill Pavelic appeared to be running the show and telling lawyers during court proceedings what questions to ask.

Sherman was aggressive in court and file frivolous legal motions and get countless trial delays.

The defense including investigator Bill Pavelic alleged prosecution misconduct and accused the district attorney of hiding evidence, including DNA evidence from one of the rape victims who allegedly had sex with three other men just prior to being raped by Luster.

This rape wasn't video recorded, and Pavelic called this victim a "pathetic liar" during his testimony last week. He told the judge that Luster's "celebrity status" made him an easy target for the district attorney and law enforcement.

Prosecutor Michelle Contois said in court Luster always maintained his innocence and never wanted to plea guilty. He rolled the dice and lost and now, Luster is unhappy, according to Contois.

Still, critics, including criminal attorneys,  said with the mountain of evidence against Luster was to great and that the trial could have been moved to a goat-herding country in the Middle East and the results would have been the same once prosecutors pressed the play button on the video recorder.

But what lead to a sentence where the judge probably used a pocket calculator to figure out the number of years on each of the 86-counts Luster was convicted on and arriving at a 124-year sentence?

It might have been the continuous and bitter courtroom clashes between Luster's legal dream team and the iron-fisted District Attorney's Michael Bradbury's prosecutors who had their marching orders.

All this was also coupled with the fact that many reporters were chasing a story about a millionaire surfer accused video recording the two of the three rapes of women and joked about it like a high school prankster while recording the women.


The Andrew Luster "Media Circus" and Former DA Michael Bradbury's Office

It was no secret.

Former District Attorney Michael Bradbury protected his office's projected public and political image as a California's toughest prosecutors with evangelistic zeal, according to his critics.

Bradbury didn't want that image soiled or smudged and frowned at prosecutors who he perceived had "embarrassed" the office or not followed his rules, say critics.

Bradbury often didn't fire wayward lawyers who fudged or didn't follow his rigid policies, according to Adam Pearlman, a former prosecutor who testified at Luster's trial. They were banished like him to the basement of shame - the Child Support Unit - where prosecutorial careers go to die, according to Pearlman and other former prosecutors.

Pearlman testified that he was the first prosecutor who handled the Luster case. There were at least three  others.

Bradbury's critics said Bradbury was a "hands on" prosecutor who had to sign off on any plea bargain deals involving very serious felonies, especially "special interest" cases.

There is no doubt that Bradbury whose office was on the third floor wasn't aware that Geraldo, a crew from 48 Hours and many other reporters were also roaming the halls asking dozens of questions, sizing up different angles.

Bradbury retired in 2003 and his second in command, Greg Totten, who was elected as district attorney, stepped into his shoes.

Andrew Luster's Arrogance and His Small Army of Hired Legal Guns

Some media photos and TV video show a well-groomed and confident Luster with his defense team walking down the hallway at the Hall of Justice. Luster appears to have a smug smile on his face.

His small army of defense attorneys included James Blatt, Joel Isaacson, Richard Sherman, Roger Diamond, two investigations, including  Pavelic.. In addition, there was a DNA attorney whose specialty and sole purpose was to tackle issues involving DNA issues in this case.

There were brief discussions by Luster's trial lawyers on whether to hire a "fetish film expert," according to court testimony.

Many Times Luster's Personality Got in the Way of His Defense

Last week. Luster's friend Darryl Genis apologized to Luster before telling the judge that Luster was "childlike" and described him as someone who wasn't concerned about money, was well traveled and surfed in various beaches.

"His childlike nature lead down a number of different paths," said Genis.

 Luster was a confused man that could be easily manipulated and was getting conflicting legal advice, Genis said.

Others testified that his need for a father-figure lead him to hire a 70-year-old Attorney named Richard Sherman who drained his bank account and a week before Luster's rape trial disappeared, never to show up in court again.

Luster's father died when he was 9-years-old.

Luster was left with Attorney Roger Diamond whose role from questioning a few witnesses was now relegated to being the lead lawyer in the rape trial, court testimony indicated.

Sherman surfaced again in the middle of the rape trial and contacted Luster told him about a plan he hatched to help him flee to Mexico, saying that Luster's life was in danger.

An Offer to Serve Eight to 12 Years Behind Bars In Exchange for a Guilty Plea to Rape

Defense lawyer James Blatt testified that the DA then prosecutor John Blair offered  a plea bargain  of eight to 12 year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. But Luster's other lawyer Joel Isaacson believed that he could use the consent defense.

But Isaacson later testified that he told Luster the truth about the seriousness of the charges, and said that in one case,  where there was no video recording, there could be a defense that the sex was consensual with one victim.  Isaacson, however, said he told Luster to consider a plea agreement because he was facing 100 years.

"I don't beg people to plead guilty. It's their life, their case," Isaacson testified.

Former Senior Deputy District Attorney John Blair testified that the plea bargain offer was made by Luster's lawyers and as with any plea offer at that time, he said he simply wrote a memo to his superiors on June 5, 2001 stating that Luster was willing to plead guilty to two counts of rape.

"They asked me to put something in writing, which I did," said Blair who is now a court commissioner in San Diego.

Blair said the memo had to submitted to Bradbury who never acted on it, although his initials are on it.

Defense attorneys, who insist that this plea offer was made by the DA, argued that Luster would have accepted it if his lawyers would have done a better job of communicating to him the perils of going to trial.

Leiderman and Nick said some Luster's former lawyers including Sherman who, they quipped, arrived in a "clown car," were simply siphoning his finances, bungling the preparation and defense of this case and making the courtroom atmosphere with the prosecutor  and law enforcement so "toxic" that there left no room for any plea agreement.

Luster's financial advisor Albert Gersh testified that Luster's rape-trial lawyers emptied out Luster's financial account, and he believed that $280,000 left in Luster's account could have been used to flee to Mexico.

Luster was promised this money by Sherman and his investigator Patrick Campbell who can't be found, according to defense lawyers. Luster was never given a dime from the $280,000.

The Defense Team Gave Judge Kathryne Stoltz  a Heads Up on Investigator Bill Pavelic.

Luster's lawyers indicated told Judge Stoltz that Pavelic allege mood swings and unpredictable temperament on the stand so he could be problematic and his testimony might last longer than expected as a difficult witnesses.

On the contrary, Pavelic's testimony was straight forward, level-headed and never raised his voice on the stand.

 Pavelic, a retired investigator and former Los Angeles detective who worked on the Luster case, testified last week that his investigation showed that one of the victims, a UCSB student, had sex with three other men along with having sex with Luster and had been to nightclubs in Santa Barbara.

Pavelic said the district attorney refused to test the condom used on the female student for DNA evidence or look at nightclub video surveillance recordings. He said Luster was initially arrested for kidnapping because the victim reported the alleged date-rape to the Santa Barbara Police Department officers who notified Ventura authorities who began an investigation on Luster.

Pavelic said the UCSB student was a "pathetic liar" and very promiscuous.

Pavelic said he recommended several defense lawyers to Luster, including attorney Richard Sherman. Pavelic said he worked with Sherman on the John Gordon Jones case. The 46-year-old millionaire and businessman was found not guilty in 2001 of sexually assaulting nine women, seven of whom were allegedly drugged with GHB, according to court testimony.

Sherman was one of the attorneys in the Jones case and in that case, prosecutors were also accused of misconduct.

Sherman, who was in his 70s was very charming and persuasive and became like a father figure to Luster, soon began to use scare tactics on Luster, saying he was going to be killed in prison or by Ventura authorities, Pavelic said.

While in jail, Pavelic said Luster called him every day, seven or eight times a day and told him that he was fearful and suicidal. Pavelic said jail deputies told Luster that they would push him down the stairs and nobody would question what happened.

Both defense lawyers and Contois agreed in court that Sherman helped Luster escape to Mexico and testimony indicated that Sherman was the focus of a federal grand jury investigation about Luster's flight to Mexico.

Sherman is now deceased but denied the allegations before he died.

During her turn to cross examine, Contois said she had no questions for Pavelic who was on the stand for about an hour.

But both defense lawyers and Contois agreed and entered a stipulation in court that Sherman helped Luster escape to Mexico.

Luster's ex-girlfriend Valerie Balderrama and the mother of his two adult children, Connor and Quinn, testified last week that she didn't know that a "stressed and concerned" Luster was going to flee to Mexico.

"He felt that he was innocent and didn't deserve 10 years," said Balderrama.

Adding, "I just knew that he felt that he didn't deserve to go to prison."

A Former Judge Testified That Luster's Case Shouldn't Have Gone to Trial

Defense witness, retired Judge Arturo Gutierrez, testified at the hearing that plea deals were always struck up by prosecutors without the approval of Bradbury or Totten or their supervisors.

One way to sidestep the DA and supervisors' approval was by getting some of the judges to sign off on plea agreements and making it appear that it wasn't being offered by them not the DA.

"This case isn't worth what my supervisor wants. The punishment they want is too severe," Gutierrez said some prosecutors would basically complain to him.

Gutierrez, who took the bench in 1981, testified solely about the criminal justice practices and policies during the time he was on the bench.

Gutierrez, who retired in 2008 said the Luster case should have never gone to trial, saying that it should have been settled. He said the eight to 12 year sentence that Luster said prosecutors offered him was "average" for similar type of rape cases at that time.


The Judge Bans Cameras In the Courtroom and The Lawyers Agree to Gag Themselves.

Judge Kathryne Stoltz, a retired justice who was assigned to preside over Luster's hearing, banned cameras in the courtroom because lawyers say they don't want pre-trial publicity in case Luster is retried.

In the middle of the hearing,  Jay Leiderman and David Nick told the judge that they had reached another stipulation with prosecutor Contois that they would no longer make comments to the media during  the court proceedings.

During a court recess, Judge Stoltz ordered that a TV camera set up in the hallway just outside the courtroom last week be turned off after defense lawyers complained about the cameras being there.

The courtroom deputies ordered the camera to be turned off.

The Heir to the Max Factor Cosmetic Empire Arrives with About Four Feet of Chains on His Body

Luster, now 49 years old, comes into court wearing a chain around his waist and his ankles are shackled and his hand is handcuffed to a chair.

Luster's lawyer Joel Isaacson testified that he didn't recall talking about a possible movie about Luster's ordeal. The judge who presided at Luster's trial for rape, Ken Riley, was interviewed by Fox New's Bill O'Reilly about the case, according to court testimony.

Luster, who is the heir of cosmetics giant Max Factor Sr. and an heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, has been in prison for more than 10 years.

In court and dressed in jail garb, Luster, who looks thinner, unshaven and fatigued, will occasionally lean over and quietly ask questions or talk to his lawyers.

In Mexico, Luster lived at the two-room residence at Motel Los Angeles in the hills overlooking this seaside tourist town, according to a story published in the Star in 2003.

 Luster kept two fishing poles against the wall near his queen-sized bed, a small boom box in the corner and two surfboards with accompanying covers on the floor in the adjacent den, the story stated.

"Please do not touch these boards," he wrote in a note to the motel staff.

Luster's hearing resumes at Courtroom 23 on Monday at 2 p.m.





Judge Denies Mistrial for Convicted Port Hueneme Killer

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

By Raul Hernandez


After a lengthy hearing, a judge on Friday denied a request for a new trial for a Port Hueneme man convicted of brutally stabbing his girlfriend in 2009.

Jonathan Aaron's lawyers Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson had filed a motion for a mistrial, saying Aaron was denied effective legal assistance of counsel during his trial last year. He was denied a fair trial, which is in violation of the due process clause of the constitution, Wippert said.

Wippert and Bramson said Aaron's trial lawyer, Russell Baker of the Public Defender's Office, failed to explore Aaron's mental health issues, including suicide attempts and schizophrenia, to consider raising a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.

In November, Aaron, 29, was convicted of murdering Valerie Victoria Ankerstrom-Clarke, 20, of West Hills, in October 2009. Aaron killed her at his Port Hueneme home because she was going to end their relationship, according to court testimony.

Aaron used a butcher knife to stab Ankerstrom-Clarke 20 times before he slit her throat. Afterwards, Aaron began repeatedly stabbing himself, according to court testimony.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge David Hirsh heard a full day of testimony Thursday. The judge said he found Baker's testimony "credible and persuasive" and Baker was constantly evaluating Aaron's case.

Outside the courtroom, Wippert said he disagreed with the judge's ruling but is confident an appeals court will overturn it because, he said, Baker didn't defend Aaron.

"He did no investigation. For anybody to not think that is astounding. It's beyond me," Wippert said.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Bill Haney, who opposed the defense's mistrial motion, said in an interview that Aaron was convicted because of overwhelming evidence against him.

"He was expertly defended by Russell Baker. Russell Baker is without a doubt one of the finest attorneys in Ventura County. He challenged our case with vigor, with professionalism and with total preparation," Haney said. "I was very disappointed to see these two out-of-town attorneys attack his credibility given the integrity he had demonstrated to the courts and to the county Bar Association."

Wippert and Bramson told the judge that just two defense witnesses put on the stand during Aaron's trial: the surgeon who treated Aaron for his self-inflicted stab wounds after he killed Ankerstrom-Clarke; and Aaron's mother, Nevin Aaron.

Testimony from Nevin Aaron indicated that Aaron has a family history of schizophrenia. She testified that Russell told her to keep her answers short and not say anything about any mental health issues.

Bramson told the judge that Jonathan Aaron is on anti-psychotic medication, tried to commit suicide in jail after his arrest and has had auditory hallucinations. In 2008, Bramson said, Aaron was treated at a county mental health facility after he tried to kill himself.

Haney told the judge Aaron abuses women and evidence indicated he intended to kill Ankerstrom-Clarke because she was leaving him, later telling police that he did wrong and wanted to be given death or life in prison.

"It's rational yet evil," Haney said.

Baker testified that he spent hours talking to Aaron in jail, going through what happened numerous times. Aaron said he was going to show Ankerstrom-Clarke the knife and tell her he was going to kill himself if she left him, Baker said.

"He always told me he always loved Valerie and how brokenhearted he was that she was dead and he was the cause of it," Baker said.

Baker had argued during the trial that Jonathan Aaron became enraged and felt provoked when the Ankerstrom-Clarke grabbed the knife from him, and he began stabbing her.

Baker testified that he hoped the jury convict Aaron of second-degree murder, despite asking them to convict him of voluntary manslaughter. Baker testified Aaron had never been diagnosed with mental disorder other than depression, according to what his mother told a grand jury.

"I believe Jonathan Aaron did not have significant mental health problems," Baker testified.


Two Courthouse Rumors: One True, and One Bogus

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

Word has it that Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger in Courtroom 27 plans to retire.

Two attorneys who are eyeing the vacant post are veteran prosecutor Michael Lief and Defense Attorney Ron "Who Represents the Star on First Amendment Issues" Bamieh.

"It's official I'm thinking about it," Bamieh stated later, adding that his decision to run for office depends on whether his good friend, Attorney Bob Calvert, decides to run.

The matter came up today at the courthouse hallway.

Outgoing veteran prosecutor Bill Haney said he will support Lief and was surprised to learn that Bamieh was considering a judicial run.

Bamieh who arrived later also appeared surprised that I found out from sources about his possible run for the judicial post if it becomes vacant.

Laughing,  Haney said he's definitely going to support his friend Michael Lief and even plans to do some of the grunt work for Lief: putting up campaign signs.

The easygoing Haney who is a tough prosecutor, and Bamieh, a former prosecutor, were at a hearing today in the Jane Laut murder case.

Haney, who is leaving the District Attorney's Office after 17 years to go into private practice, often trades playful taunts and teasing with Bamieh.

Today was no different.

After the Laut hearing,  Bamieh said "you can quote me on this" when I asked some questions about the Laut case.

With a raised voice, he proceeded to tease Haney who was a few feet away. Bamieh said that the real reason Haney was leaving the district attorney was because Haey was afraid to go to trial against him.

Haney 's laughter immediately filled the hallway when he heard this, and he muttered a curse word as he walked away, grinning and shaking his head.

 Another rumor at the courthouse is that Bamieh wields some kind of influence at The Star newsroom on story coverage.

That is completely false, utterly ridiculous, and quite frankly, silly.

However,  two prosecutors who have tried to get judges to gag Bamieh in a couple of criminal trials, including a murder case, made arguments with no basis in fact that Bamieh has influence on how to cover a story and when a reporter should be in court.

The two DAs made these arguments with straight faces in front of two judges.

In a white-collar-criminal case,  a judge temporarily granted the prosecutor's request and gaged Bamieh. Later and after Bamieh filed his legal opposition papers, the judge lifted and denied the gag order.  In the murder case, the judge rejected the prosecutor's arguments for issuing a gag order, saying that there was no legal basis for it.

Pssst, seriously: This is how it works.  It's called the First Amendment. I cover the courts so I spend a lot of time there, and I get paid to be a journalist.

A few defendants who are involved in high-profile criminal cases including Jane Laut have hired Bamieh to represent them, and I write about high-profile cases.

It's not that complicated.

If an editor at the Star or any newspaper ever told me that certain stories or people were taboo because of who the person is or the subject matter involved, I would put my stuff in a box, walk out of the newsroom door and never look back.

It's never happened, and I have worked at four different newsrooms in the last 30 years.


Prosecutor Upset by Perjury Allegation by Medina's Lawyers

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

There is apparently no love lost between the lawyers of a 17-year-old boy accused of murder and prosecutor Bill Haney who told a judge on Friday shortly before a preliminary  hearing ended that he wanted contempt charged be brought against  defense attorneys Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson.

Mr. Haney and Mr. Wippert and Ms. Bramson have sometimes engaged in emotionally charged legal discourse during court proceedings filled with accusations, counter-accusations, bickering and passionate courtroom pleadings

Friday,  Mr. Haney told Judge James Cloninger that  Mr. Wippert and Ms. Bramson, who represent murder defendant Alex Medina, accused him of perjury when, he said, this is false and there is absolutely no basis for the allegation.

The allegation of perjury was made in a legal motion filed by the defense attorneys where they claim Mr. Haney perjured himself without no details or facts to back up this allegation, according to Mr. Haney.

Mr. Haney  threatened to take this matter to the California State Bar Association and Friday, he asked Judge Cloninger to hold Mr. Wippert in contempt of court.

"It is so inappropriate, and I ask that you do so now for the record," Haney told Judge Cloninger.

Mr. Haney said the allegation was very specific against him, noting that he is an officer of the court. Adding that Mr. Wippert needs to "spit out" what evidence he has to accuse him of perjury.

The judge asked Mr. Wippert what evidence he had that Mr. Haney perjured himself. When it was apparently that Mr. Wippert wasn't going to give specific details to back up his perjury claim, the judge decided not to take up the matter.

The judge said his first and foremost responsibility was to see that Alex Medina case gets to trial, and he wasn't going to turn the legal proceedings into a discovery forum between Mr. Haney and the defense lawyers.

"That's my function here to get the Medina case to trial," the judge told the attorneys.

The judge said he could revisit the perjury matter, if he is required to do so by law, and if it is determined what specifically, Mr. Wippert is alleging.

In an interview after Friday's hearing , Haney who usually gets high marks from defense attorneys for being straightforward and easy to work with was visibly frustrated and upset about Mr. Wippert's perjury allegation.

Mr. Haney said he didn't know whether he will return to the court to ask for a contempt of court hearing against Mr. Wippert or g to the State Bar and file a grievance.

"It's just an effort to remove me from this case," Mr. Haney said, about Mr. Wippert's perjury accusation.

On Thursday, the judge denied a motion by Medina's lawyers to recuse the District Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case.

Mr. Wippert and Ms. Bramson represented another youthful offender in a high-profile case, Brandon McInerney.

Mr. McInerney who is now 18 years old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a plea agreement stated that he would serve time only for manslaughter and firearms charges.

In December, Mr. McInerney was sentenced to 21 years for the 2008 homicide of 15-year-old classmate Larry King.

Some say Mr. Wippert and Ms. Bramson are very hardworking lawyers who employ pit bull-style legal tactics when they represent their clients.   Other attorneys, including prosecutors, however, say they engage in legal maneuvers attorneys have described in court as "gamesmanship" solely designed to delay and obstruct justice by filing piles of meritless and frivolous motions.


The Brandon McInerney Link at Alex Medina's Competency Trial

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

In the civil competency trial of Ojai teen Alex Medina, there was a strong link to another high-profile homicide involving another youthful offender, Brandon McInerney.

McInerney who is now 18 years old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a plea agreement stated he would serve time only for manslaughter and firearms charges.  In December, he was sentenced to 21 years for the 2008 homicide of 15 year-old classmate Larry King.

Both Medina and McInerney hired Attorneys Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson to represent them.

Before the start of the competency trial, prosecutors wanted to admit as evidence two separate grievance complaint forms that Medina wrote and circulated among those in his juvenile detention housing unit.

The prosecution wanted to show that not only Medina was intelligent but he also possessed leadership skills.

Basically, one grievance circulated by Medina complained that the youthful offenders were required to participate in gym activities. However, they were complaining that they weren't allowed to shower after they did so or given gym clothes to engage exercises. So they went back to their cells in the same juvenile-issued-detention garb, sweating and smelly.

The other complained about an unfair disciplinary point system, and that there were some on the staff at the detention center who simply didn't care how they performed their jobs

Both were signed by several boys including Brandon McInerney whose name appears up high on both grievances.

After objections by Medina's lawyers, the judge allowed the grievance complaints to be seen by jurors but McInerney's name was redacted because it might prejudice the jury against Medina.

During the closing arguments of Medina's competency trial, prosecutor Maeve Fox showed up to listen to Senior District Attorney Bill Haney make closing arguments in the civil case.

Fox prosecuted McInerney.

 Also McInerney's mother Kendra showed up one day at Medina's competency trial to listen to the testimony.

She sat with Medina's family members including Medina's mother.


Questions for Prospective Jurors Have been Whittled Down to Seven

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

Right after reviewing a proposed 10-page jury panel questionnaire submitted by the prosecution,  Judge James Cloninger concluded with a smirk on his face that prosecutor Bill Haney  had asked everything except  what a juror's astrological sign is?

Cloninger spoke to veteran prosecutor Bill Haney and defense attorney Robert "Bobby" Schwartz during some legal housekeeping for the murder trial of Isaac Gil.

Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in the Gil case.

Haney told the judge that it is the district attorney's policy to use a detailed questionnaire for murder trials.

The judge, however, said he finds jury questionnaires time-consuming, adding that he prefers not to use jury questionnaires except in cases involving sexual abuse cases.

"My experience has been that it is just a waste of time," said the judge.

Schwartz who opposed the use of the questionnaire immediately chimed in with a big grin: "As usual, your honor, I agree with the court."

Cloninger added: "We do a perfectly exceptional job without the questionnaire."

The judge said he preferred his one-page jury questionnaire with seven questions that include  "Do you have anything in your mind or any feelings about the charge or charges that would make it difficult to be fair and impartial in this case?" and "Have you heard or read anything about this case other than what has been said here in court?"

Outside the courtroom, Haney said in an interview that it's up  to the court to decide whether or not to use a questionnaire or the court's preference of jury selection.

"We typically submit them in all murder cases. I did one in this case," said Haney.

When asked about the judge's astrological-sign remark, Haney smiled and said: "He was just making light of our very thorough and methodical way of probing jurors for their bias."

Schwartz, however, said he was pleased with the judge's decision, saying that written questionnaire slows down jury selection.  He said passing out the questionnaires to prospective jurors, collecting them and reading them takes up an entire day of trial.

The judge's one-page jury questionnaire will be used during jury selection.


The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at