Results tagged “Hall of Justice” from The Court Reporter

Hall of Justice Fun Fact

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Myth: Ventura County Superior Court judges use pocket calculators during the sentencing of defendants.

Fact:  False.  Many just use their fingers.


"If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself." - Charles M. Schulz 


Beware of Wolves With Law School Sheepskins

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I bumped into a private investigator outside the Hall of Justice in Ventura this week.  He told me that a couple of unscrupulous criminal lawyers who have offices in another county have been advertising in Ventura County.

What they do is milk clients for cash and then withdraw  from the case after a person runs out of money.

The investigator said these lawyers never take these criminal cases to trial and do little legal work for their clients.

There is also the practice of other lawyers of sending advertising mail-outs to defendants after they get arrest and get out of jail.

Some of these lawyers who sent the mail outs  are lazy, incompetent and charge high fees for their services, the investigator said.

He said people should be leery and not fooled by ads offering legal services  and make outlandish promises, especially in civil cases.

I agree.

There are lawyers in the courthouse I see in the hallways on a daily basis that I wouldn't hire to represent me for a parking violation.  These guys are the punch lines for lawyer jokes.

People looking for a lawyer to represent them in criminal, real estate, probate, family law or other legal matters should call the Ventura County Bar Association.

The Bar Association, which is a nonprofit organization, has an attorney referral service that charges $35 for a consultation with an attorney, according to Mr. Steve Henderson, who is the executive director of the association.

Mr. Henderson explained that a person calls the association and is asked a few questions - where do you live and what is the nature of the problem.

He said the receptionist will set up  the appointment with an attorney who lives close to the person's residence and who specializes in the area of law that the caller seeks.  For example, Mr. Henderson explained people might get referred to a real estate, criminal, copyright law, probate, sports or an attorney with another legal specialty, depending on what legal service that the caller needs.

The consultation is for at least 30 minutes, and if the person wants to hire the attorney to handle his legal matter, then he can do so at that time. However, there are times when the chemistry between a lawyer and a legal consumer isn't there.

"That's not uncommon," said Mr. Henderson. "It's infrequent."

Much of the time, this happens because,  Mr. Henderson said, "the lawyer isn't telling them what they want to hear."

If the first consultation doesn't work,  the  consumer can always go back to the Ventura County Bar Association and to set up another consultation with another attorney, said Henderson.

He said there are 112 attorneys listed in the Ventura County Bar Association's lawyer referral service, and a software program ensures that the names on the list are automatically rotated so the same lawyers don't keep getting all the referrals.

Mr. Henderson said the Bar Association gets about 14 calla day from people seeking the help of the Bar Association's lawyer referral service.

He noted that the Ventura Bar Association does a follow-up survey with a legal consumer to gauge its attorney referral service and get feedback from the consumer.

Also Mr. Henderson said one of the best ways to find a lawyer is by word-of-mouth, asking friends or family who they would recommend.

For more information call the Ventura County Bar Association at 650-7599 or go to the organization's website: http://www.vcba.org

Complaints against lawyers can be made through the California Bar Association: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/FilingaComplaint.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Courthouse Deputies

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One of the safest places to work in Ventura County is at the Hall of Justice.

Security at the courthouse is provided by dozens of professionals who work at the Sheriff's Department, many of them are assigned as courtroom bailiffs like Deputy Ramirez on the first floor in Courtroom 12.

In the afternoons, he plays music and on Wednesday, Andrea Bocelli's tenor lungs filled the air.

It serves a purpose.

Deputy Ramirez's music is played loud enough to allow attorneys some privacy when they talk to the jailed inmates who are inside a detention cell  that is in close proximity to the front rows.

Some of the music also seems to have a calming effect on the dozens of people waiting for the judge to take the bench.

Upstairs in Courtroom 22, Deputy Plassymeyer will give you the capital of any state. A few weeks ago, I stumped him, however, with Alabama. The capital is Montgomery.

Deputies Ramirez, Alvarez, Frates, Veloz, McLaughlin, Plassymeyer and Tumbleson are a few example of textbook professionalism. There are so many others.

I've seen the deputies come running into a courtroom or the hallway within a minute or so to handle a situation that got out of hand.

These ugly courthouse incidents are few and far between.  In a place where emotions often run high and several hundred inmates are bused there daily, much of the credit for maintaining the peace belongs to the deputies.

It's sometimes simply knowing how to defuse a potentially explosive situation before it gets out of hand.

Yeah, no doubt, there are bad cops. There are also bad journalists, doctors, lawyers, priests, pastors and rabbis.

But I know that Sheriff Dean won't tolerate unprofessionalism among his ranks.

There is another side I sometimes  get to see.

Deputies walking over to hand a box of Kleenex tissues to tearful families of crime victims and even relatives of defendants.

It's doesn't matter hurt is hurt.

This week during a jury recess on Tuesday, I was in a courtroom.

A deputy and I were the only ones in the courtroom.  It was quiet. He was near the bench, but I could still hear him talk to someone about his dog, "Hendrix."  The animal was in so much pain, and the deputy was going to have to make the decision on whether to put down the animal.

"He can't handle the pain," the deputy told the person on the other end of the phone. "We can cremate him but what's the point?"

He quietly walked over and stood a couple of feet from a wall of large crime scene photographs, evidence being used in an aggravated assault trial. He quietly wept, wiping his eyes with Kleenex tissues.  For a while, he said nothing while facing the photographs with his back still toward me.

 "I'm sorry. It's just tough man,"  the red-eyed deputy told the bailiff who had entered the courtroom and found out about Hendrix.

The  deputy who is 6-foot-plus and muscular said his dog, "Hendrix,"  is13 years old, and Hendrix is an old dog but he's family.

I told the deputy about an old cockatiel I found on top of my apartment roof more than five years ago. I didn't want the bird. I took out a newspaper ad and called the Humane Society.  No response. I then planned to drop off the bird at the bird sanctuary in Summerland.

The cockatiel is my buddy and he's family too.  I named the bird "Pretty Bird." It was the name I gave him when I first saw him up on the roof.  I told the deputy that when my bird is no more it's going to bust me up inside.

On Thursday,  good news.

The deputy told me that he went to another veterinarian and got a second opinion. The deputy was happy. Hendrix, it turns out, has a bad case of arthritis and a prescription for drugs was written.

So Hendrix still has a many more years left, he said with a calm smile.

Friday afternoon, Deputy Plassmeyer knew the capital of Florida.  In Courtroom 12, Deputy Ramirez was playing oldies - Sweet.

 

Put Down the Remote and Head to the Hall of Justice

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Occasionally, I'll bump into a person in the Hall of Justice corridors, usually a college student on a school assignment, who will ask if he or she is allowed to go inside a courtroom.

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court makes this very clear: courtrooms are open to the public and can only be closed if there is a compelling reason to do so.

Here what is what the Supreme Court has said about courtroom trials.

In the U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 case Richmond Newspaper vs. Virginia, the justices stated that trials must be open to public access unless there is a compelling reason in closing them, and only after a hearing concludes that no other means exist to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial.

In that court case, then Chief Justice Burger noted that "where a trial has been concealed from public view, the unexpected outcome can cause a reaction that the system at best has failed and at worst has been corrupted."

The Supreme Court found four benefits to open trials: public confidence is enhanced in the judicial system; the public serves as a watchdog against abuses; public trials promote the truth finding process and helps achieve a community catharsis following a serious crime.

Also people can attend preliminary hearings and jury selection.

This is what happened in Georgia in 2007: A judge threw out the uncle of a defendant during selection, saying her courtroom was too small to accommodate both potential jurors and the public.

The judge said:

" 'Well, the uncle can certainly come back in once the trial starts. There's no, really no need for the uncle to be present during jury selection... . [W]e have 42 jurors coming up. Each of those rows will be occupied by jurors. And his uncle cannot sit and intermingle with members of the jury panel. But, when the trial starts, the opening statements and other matters, he can certainly come back into the courtroom.' " 

 

The defendant, Eric Presley who was convicted of trafficking in cocaine, appealed, citing his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

In 2010, the United States Supreme in the case of Presley vs. Georgia agreed with the defendant and overturned Presley's conviction, noting that the public trial right is founded in both the Sixth and First Amendment.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling:

"Trial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials. Nothing in the record shows that the trial court could not have accommodated the public at Presley's trial. Without knowing the precise circumstances, some possibilities include reserving one or more rows for the public; dividing the jury venire panel to reduce courtroom congestion; or instructing prospective jurors not to engage or interact with audience members."

So put down the TV remote and go watch our judicial system. It is a tremendous learning opportunity.

To review the entire Presley vs. Georgia case courtesy of Cornell University School of Law go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-5270.ZPC.html

 

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 rhernandez@vcstar.com.