Results tagged “Ventura County Superior Court” from The Court Reporter

Jury Hangs in Teen Resisting Arrest Trial

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 After a four day trial, a Ventura County Superior Court jury couldn't reach a verdict in the Zoe Valenzuela resisting arrest case.

Wednesday, the jury told Judge Kevin DeNoce that they were hung by a vote of 7 guilty to 5 not guilt.

The 19-year-old Valenzuela, of Santa Paula, was charged with the misdemeanor offense of resisting, delaying and obstructing a peace officer.

Santa Paula police officer Shane Norwood stopped Valenzuela's car for speeding on Santa Maria Street in Santa Paula at 10:25 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2012, according to court testimony.

Valenzuela's lawyer Marie Meth said today that the District Attorney's Office will decide Friday whether to retry Valenzuela.

During closing arguments in the trial, prosecutor Chelsea Noble told jurors  that Valenzuela ignored Santa Paula Officer Shane Norwood's commands and instructions, including to put her hands where he could see them.

 Meth, who works at the Public Defender's Office, argued in court that Norwood arrested Valenzuela because she mouthed off to him, used curse words and challenged Norwood's authority.

Meth said Valenzuela was trying to comply with Norwood's commands and trying to find her driver's license. She then became upset with Norwood, mouthed off and cursed at Norwood who approached the car with his gun drawn.

Meth claims that Shane used excessive force against Valenzuela. But Noble said the bruises and cuts on Valenzuela's body were probably caused by her resisting arrest.

FOOTNOTE: I got Ms. Noble's and Ms. Meth's first names incorrect when I initially posted this story this week. My apologies to both ladies.


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 

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office - Part II - Screening Criminal Cases

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There are thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases filed by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office every year.

There are  86 prosecutors who work at the office, and currently, the DA is hiring more attorneys to fill its authorized ranks of 96 authorized positions.

In 2009, the office handled 4,562 felonies and 19,743; in 2010, there were 4,160 felonies filed and 17,331 and in 2011, there were 4,101 felony and 15,011 misdemeanors filed.

Through 2011, the number of both felony and misdemeanor cases has been decreasing in accordance with local and national crimes statistics, according to prosecutors.

The DA's office says the crime decrease is due to many reasons including changing community demographics, improved sophistication in police crime-fighting techniques, improved anti-theft technology in automobiles and increased prison sentences.

Here, Chief Deputy District Attorneys - Mr. W. Charles "Chuck" Hughes and Mr. Michael Frawley  -- answer questions about how these cases are screened and when charges are filed against defendants.

Q: How are misdemeanor and felony cases screened by your office? Take me through the process. Who looks at the reports from law enforcement to determine whether a criminal complaint should be filed against a suspect by the District Attorney's Office?

Frawley explained how the process works: six law enforcement agencies in the county submit incident reports on an alleged crimes, the vast majority  being  general misdemeanors and general felonies.

"We have reviewing (DA)  deputies. That's their job all day long is to look at misdemeanor cases or felony cases and see what's been presented is a provable case, and whether it should be prosecuted," said Frawley.

If it gets filed as a criminal complaint and the defendant doesn't plea  guilty at arraignment --  he noted  that the vast majority of criminal cases do --  then,  the case gets assigned to a prosecutor, according to Frawley.

The prosecutor who is assigned the case reviews it again to make sure it is a provable case, said Frawley.

And if the prosecutor doesn't think he can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, Frawley said, "their job is to go to their supervisor and say, 'I think I've got a case that is not provable.' So at least two sets of eyes would be on every case before it  went to trial."

A supervisor always reviews a case before it goes to trial, said Frawley.

"So that is a third set of eyes that would look and evaluate that case before it ever went to trial," said Frawley.

Hughes added that most felony cases goes through a preliminary hearing and after a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor makes notes about the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing.

"And that's going to be round tabled at a meeting, including the supervisor of that unit and the members of that unit. They are all going to have input, 'hey, is this a case we have sufficient evidence that we should proceed.'"

He said: "Some of the cases don't get filed after a preliminary hearing. Most of them do."

Also Frawley said sometimes after a preliminary hearing and after the round table meetings, some of the criminal charges could be dismissed.

Q: Critics say that once a case is filed by police that prosecutors use a so-called  "shot-gun" approach in charging defendants.  In other words, the district attorney piles criminal charges against defendants with little or no evidence to justify doing so.

An example might be a parking lot fistfight, which can be turned into a felony by simply tagging the legal words "likely to produce great bodily injury" to a misdemeanor battery crime.

Critics say that this action results in defendants having to pay higher bails to get out of jail, cases lingering in the criminal justice system, and in most instances, these crimes that are eventually dismissed or defendants are allowed to plead to lesser charges.

This is a waste of the limited resources and time of the Ventura County Superior Court, which has seen the cut in staff and hours as a result of the state's financial crisis, the critics say.

How do you respond to this?

Hughes denies that this happens at the District Attorney's Office.

"Do we, as a matter of practice, take a 'hey, let's file everything and coerce a guy into pleading to something less approach?'" Absolutely not. We just don't do that."

Adding, "and you're right I've heard those types of criticisms all over the state, all over the nation.  You watch CNN when there is a high profile trial, and somebody is there in front of the camera talking about prosecutors who overcharge. That is a common misconception."

Adding, "if you speak to most prosecutors, they'll tell you that's their worst fear,  that is, convicting somebody of something they didn't really do. I have no interest in doing that. There is nothing to be gained by overcharging somebody."

Hughes said this approach would harm the criminal justice system.

"What happens sometimes is that during the course of the case additional information comes to light. Sometimes it's through our own investigation, sometimes the witnesses tell us things, sometimes, the defense discovers things or knows things that they tell us about. And, we always reevaluate things and at the end of the day, just short of trial, sometimes the case looks very different then it did when it came in."

Sometimes, felony charges are reduced to misdemeanors as the case goes through the process or more felony crimes are tacked on to the criminal complaint, according to Hughes.

Part Two on Friday:  The issue of "Missing Complaints."



The Court Reporter's Notebook

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Deputy Dan is Packing It Up and Leaving for the Streets of T.O.

Dan McLaughlin is the kind of cop that you want to show up at your door after you call the 911-dispatcher.

Mr. McLaughlin, who works at the Ventura  County Sheriff's Department,  is the bailiff in Courtroom 23.

Tuesday, however, is his last day at the courthouse. Afterwards, he begins his new assignment, patrolling the streets of Thousand Oaks.

Mr. McLaughlin has been assigned to the courthouse for nearly five years, and has been a deputy for nearly a decade.

Mr. McLaughlin, who is the son of a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, is courteous and friendly--firm, yet fair when he did his job as bailiff, which is to maintain order during court proceedings.

On his off hours, he puts in a lot of hours at the gym usually arriving there early in the morning. He one of the best candy dishes on his desk that jurors, lawyers and others dip  into.

Mr. McLaughlin spent nearly 10 years in the Air Force where he was a crew chief for experimental aircraft.  His courtroom desk and wall are filled with photographs and models of aircraft, and his knowledge and details of jets and experimental aircraft is impressive.

"I miss the smell of jet fuel in the morning," said McLaughlin and laughed.

But the northern California native said his dream has always been to be a police officer and is now looking forward to his new assignment.

"I'd like to think of it that I am no longer serving the county," he said. "It's more personal. I am serving my community."

The courthouse's loss is Thousand Oaks' gain.


Courthouse is in Stabilizing Mode After Austere Years


With a sluggish economy showing signs of improvements, including the state comptroller office saying that revenues are up 4 percent and home foreclosures down,  it's still going to be a while, however, before the courthouse lines to file legal papers gets shorter, say court officials.

 "I think right now we are just in a kind of stabilizing mode. We are not looking to increase staff at this point," said Robert Sherman, assistant executive director of the Ventura County Superior Court.

There were 20 layoffs at the end of June in addition to 16 voluntary separations and the elimination of 45 vacant positions.

That's slowed down, even more, the wheels of justice at the Hall of Justice in Ventura.

"Less (staff) people, longer waits, longer processing times, and that's the new normal of operating at this point," he said.  "We might see some improvement for the future. "

The courthouse at Simi Valley will continue to remain open two days a week until the end of this fiscal year, said Sherman.

 "We'll have to wait to see what happens next (fiscal ) year," said Sherman.

Sherman said the courthouse will be closed this Wednesday, the before Thanksgiving and for five days between Christmas and New Year's Day to save money.

Only emergency legal matters will be handled during those days, said Sherman.

The Ventura County courts have 29 judges with one judicial vacancy and a staff of 375 people, said Sherman.

More Than 100 Penny Pinching Ideas Surface to Save Money 


Aside from laying off 20 courthouse workers, giving others voluntary separations and eliminating 40 vacant positions at the courthouse, judges and courthouse staff came up with dozens of other ways to save nickels and dimes  during these last two years during this statewide financial chaos.

 "We've got maybe 100, 150 things that have been done over the last couple of years," said Robert Sherman, assistant executive director of the Ventura County Superior Court.

Some of these things including changing the color of the paper used by staff at the courthouse, said Sherman. White paper is cheaper than colored paper; therefore, colored paper is not used, according to Sherman.

Also court reporters, whose job is to record the courtroom proceedings, will now have to ride with judicial assistants to go to the mental facility instead of taking separate vehicles and submitting two separate mileage reimbursement requests for the same trip, according to Sherman.

In addition, there is better coordination of the court calendars allowing one court reporter to cover multiple courts, he said.



Alleged Gang Members to be Retried for Santa Paula Drive-By Murder

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By Raul Hernandez

The district attorney will retry two men accused of a 2007 murder of a 27-year-old man during an alleged gang-related, drive-by shooting.

Prosecutor Stacy Ratner told Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger today at a hearing that the District Attorney's Office plans to retry Paul Carrillo, of Ventura, and his cousin Manuel Rodriguez, of Santa Paula, for the murder of Edgar Flores on Aug. 24, 2007.

Judge Cloninger set the trial for Nov. 14.

The decision to retry the case comes weeks after a mistrial was declared in the trial and after attorneys learned that during trial that a key prosecution witness and a co-defendant in this case allegedly told people during jailhouse conversations that he had lied during his testimony.

That witness Miguel Gonzalez, who admitted that he was the driver of the sports utility vehicle used in the drive-by, is now the center of a controversy for what he allegedly said in jail after taking the stand.

Gonzalez made a deal with prosecutors and agreed to plead guilty in 2011 to voluntary manslaughter and carrying a loaded weapon in connection with the killing. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in exchange for his truthful testimony.

Rodriguez's lawyer Ron Bamieh said Gonzalez lied on the stand and he was recorded in jail conversations saying repeatedly saying that Ratner threatened him..

"Threatened him that if he didn't spice up his testimony and put a little 'hot sauce' on it that she would withdraw his deal, and he felt pressured at the trial to say things that were not true because he thought Ms. Ratner would pull his deal from him, " Bamieh said.

Bamieh said he's listened to the recorded jail conversations that Gonzalez had with others and is reviewing 12 more he recently obtained.

"Ms. Ratner has crossed the line," said Bamieh. "I agreed I wouldn't say anything about that.  I agreed I'd let them make a good decision about the case and keep quiet. They apparently want to go to trial. Deals are off. Now, I'll speak freely about what she did and said."

Bamieh said he interviewed Gonzalez last week. Bamieh said Gonzalez told him that Ratner was upset because of Gonzalez's  testimony, saying that  his lawyer told him Ratner wanted to withdraw the plea-bargain deal.

If Gonzalez is used as a witness he will seek to recuse the District Attorney's Office from prosecuting his client, Bamieh said.

Ratner said it hasn't been decided whether Gonzalez will testified in the murder trial.

Ratner said that Bamieh typically makes these allegations in murder trials against prosecutors, accusing them of unethical conduct . She declined to say whether she had reviewed any of Gonzalez's recorded jail conversations or comment on Bamieh possibly filing a recusal motion.

She said she will not go into any details surrounding this case, citing pending litigation. Also Ratner said she doesn't try her cases in the press, adding that Bamieh shouldn't be doing this either.

Bamieh said three prosecution witnesses, including the victim's brother Ronnie Flores, testified that they didn't see Rodriguez at the crime scene.

Ratner said it hasn't been decided whether Gonzalez will testified in the murder trial next month.

Gonzalez's lawyer Victor Salas who was at today's hearing said he hasn't had any conversations with Ratner about whether the deal with his client will be withdrawn.

"I assuming that if Mr. Bamieh's client Rodriguez is still in it then they are still going to be interested in hearing the testimony of Mr. Gonzalez," said Salas.

During the murder trial, Gonzalez testified that he and three others stopped the pickup in front of Flores' house in Santa Paula and were talking to a man Carrillo knew when Flores walked down the driveway.

Gonzalez said Flores had one beer in his hand and his left hand in his pocket as he approached the truck. Gonzalez said Flores asked him and the others, including Carrillo and Rodriguez, why they were disrespecting his house.

Carrillo stuck out his hand and shot Flores six times, and the truck sped away, Gonzalez testified.

Gonzalez testified that he saw Rodriguez give his gun to Carrillo and that Rodriguez said he would have shot Flores if he had been sitting in Carrillo's seat.

Gonzalez said Carrillo fired because he believed Flores had a gun in his pocket and was approaching them.


New Presiding and Assistant Presiding Judges Elected

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Ventura County Superior Court judges unanimously elected Brian J. Back as presiding judge and Donald D. Coleman as assistant presiding judge for 2013 and 2014, caourt officials stated.

The new term begins Jan. 1.

Judge Back was appointed to the Ventura Municipal Court by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1997 and elevated to the Superior Court in 1998.

He has been  a judge for 14 years and has served as the Superior Court assistant presiding judge since January 2011, according to court administrators.

Judge Back, who is currently assigned to the criminal division, has previously been assigned to juvenile delinquency, family law, guardianship, domestic violence, and adult mental health courts, according to court officials.

In 2003, he was named Judge of the Year by the Ventura County Trial Lawyers Association, court officials stated.

Before his appointment to the bench, Judge Back was an attorney with Arnold, Back, Matthews, Wojkowski  and Zirbel from 1990 to 1997.

Judge Back has a bachelor's degree from Claremont Men's College and is a graduate of the University of Santa Clara Law School. He also holds a master's degree in government from Claremont Graduate School.

Judge Coleman was elected to the Superior Court in March 1996.

Before being elected to the bench, Coleman was a member of the Ventura County District Attorney's Office for 18 years where he achieved the position of chief deputy district attorney, according to court administrators.

Judge Coleman earned a bachelor's degree at UCLA and his law degree from Southwestern Law School. 

He is a Vietnam veteran and served there with the U.S. Army.


LA Courthouse Budget Cuts Impact Hundreds of Employees

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This week, Ventura County Superior Court officials said 20 employees, including seven temporary court reporters, are going to be let go by June 22 because of a state budget reduction of as much as $14 million.

All but one part-time court have been relocated to Ventura from the Simi Valley courthouse because of the financial reduction.

In Los Angeles, it's much worse. 

The state-budget wrecking ball impacted hundreds of  jobs along with closing down dozens of courtrooms,  LA court officials announced today in a press release.

Los Angeles Superior Court officials stated that 431 court employees will be impacted because of its $30 million budget deficit.

This will affect nearly 1 of every 10 workers at Los Angeles Superior Court, the largest trial court in the nation, officials stated today in a press release.


To save $6.8 million, 56 civil and criminal courtrooms will be closed.


The 431 court staff impacted includes 157 employees being laid off, according to court officials.

There will be 108 workers who will lose 40 percent of their salaries when they are moved to a three-day-week schedule.

Eighty six of the staff will suffer pay cuts of between 5 percent to 40 percent when they are reclassified to lower-level positions.

Eighty workers will be transferred to new jobs because their old positions have been eliminated.



Lessons from "Wild" Can Be Found In This Week's Judicial Race

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The lessons of the jungle aren't far from this week's race to don the black robes at  Ventura County Superior Court.

I love watching National Geographic's television program "Wild" because the animal kingdom sometimes seems to be one up on the human race.

As long as I've been watching the program, I've never seen a lion take down a bull elephant, even if the four-legged beast is up in years. I am sure there are rare examples when this happens, especially if the elephant is limping or mortally wounded.

This is why I and others were baffled when Attorney Bradley Bjelke who is a bright judicial candidate and constitutional scholar who works at a Westlake law firm, decided to challenge veteran Judge Harry Walsh --  "Papa Bull with a Bowtie," who is a well-respected justice.

There were seven judicial candidates up for reelection, including Walsh. None of the other six drew an opponent.

So, there were other candidates who had little or some courtroom experience, no name recognition and who would have a hard time raising campaign contributions.

(In Nat Geo "Wild," the lion usually goes after the weakest prey like the antelope. And it's usually the one who appears to be daydreaming standing near a waterhole and is the last one to finally figure out that the herd's collective bolt means "ruuuuun!")

There was speculation that Mr. Bjelke believed that Judge Walsh would decide that he didn't want to go through the ardous task of running for reelection and simply decide to hang up the robe and retire.

Mr. Bjelke denied it, saying age had nothing to do with his decision.

Adding that it didn't matter who his opponent was.

"I bring new life and a new vision. It's really all that I am running on. It's not about picking apart another person," he said.

It's hard to find  weaknesses in an opponent who has more than 10 years on the bench, who seems to have a law library in his head, is as sharp as a razor, and doesn't seem play favorites in his court.

(Yeah, sometimes he can be cranky on the bench. As I wrote before, the judge looks like he could be type cast to play in the role of the school teacher in the novel, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" by James Hilton.  And, when lawyers irritate and frustrate him, he leans forward toward the bench, lowers his head and peers above the eyeglasses and bowtie and stares at them. Stares hard like they forgot to turn in an assignment.)

By his own admission, the judge said he has to work on his deportment on the bench. The Ventura Bar Association gave him a score of less than perfect score on that.

Judge Walsh said judges aren't "political animals" so they have to figure out what to say and what not to say to get reelected. Their campaign people probably tell them how to stand and pal around a bit.

I saw a glimmer of hope.

In a rare glimpse of Judge Walsh on the main floor of Hall of Justice just days before the election, I saw a bounce in his step and a very spirited mood while talking to a couple of lawyers.

I thought, wow. What a transformation. I said to myself, thanks Brad.

The judge said he took Mr. Bjelke as a serious challenger.

When Judge Walsh won the judicial race not too many people at the courthouse were surprised. But when he got the lion's share of the votes -- 80 percent of the vote - it made more than a few jaws drop.

In an email sent Wednesday, Mr. Bjelke stated: "As anyone involved in politics knows, it is difficult to win when you are outspent more than 10 to 1."

(Oh yeah, that's another thing I learned from Nat Geo. When the bull elephant charges the lion, it brings its massive body and big tusks.)

Bjelke tried to put a "Happy Face" on very lopsided defeat.

"We received nearly 17,000 votes (20% of the vote) which is a huge accomplishment and a testament to our hard work and dedication over the past 3 months," he stated in the email

The final tally was that Mr. Bjelke raised nearly $9,000 in contributions. He had nearly $8,000 in expenditures.

Judge Walsh raised $144,910 in contributions and spent nearly $98,000 in his campaign.

Walsh's top contributors were Ventura Attorneys Diane and Peter Goldenring who each contributed $1,499. Bjelke's biggest contributions were $100 donations.

The list of the judge's contributors included a Who's Who in the legal community along with many of the judicial brethren. In addition, Judge Walsh and Co. were able to get the endorsement of more than 500 lawyers.

Running for a judgeship in Ventura County takes a lot of money and time to persuade voters to oust the incumbent judge.

The judicial races simply come down to who has the most experience and the thickest and most impressive resume.

A judge or judicial candidate is limited to what he or she can say about such things as crime, abortion, gun control or the death penalty or the judge can later be recused by lawyers who end up in his or her courtroom.

Unless a sitting judge moonwalks on top of the bench during trial or if the judge catches  some serious attention from the state's Commission on Judicial Performance's disciplinary unit or gets continuously reversed by the appellate court, they're hard to take down.

It was interesting. There were rumblings at the courthouse when the race began picking up steam: "Who is this Bjelke guy?" and "Who does he think he is."

Truth to the matter is that it takes a bit of courage and a thick skin to run against a judge in Ventura County or almost anywhere else. And, when it happens, it is good.

It keeps everyone at the Hall of Justice on their toes and contributes to a healthy judicial process, and so, the residents of Ventura County benefit.

Mr. Bjelke said his passion is law and his dream is to become a judge.

He told me that he isn't sure when or if he'll run for judicial post, again. If he does and wins, I get to write the story about the "Come Back, Kid."

For now, Brad, go click on the National Geographic Channel.


Opening Statements in a Sexual Assault Trial Begin Monday

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Opening statements in the trial of a 29-year-old Oxnard man charged with sexually assaulting six male minors in their teens begin Monday at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 47.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Brian Back will preside in the trial of Joe Richard Maldonado, 29, who is charged with multiple sex crimes.

These crimes include luring, sodomy, and numerous counts of lewd acts with a child sodomy along with oral copulation of an unconscious person, according to court records.

Court documents indicate that the first boy, who was 16 years old, reported the sex assault to the Oxnard Police Department in May 2010. The victim told police that he knew Maldonado's brother, who was also 16 years old.

The victim and several other high school friends spent the night at Maldonado's residence where they "hung out" and played video games, according to court documents.

On the second evening at the house, Maldonado offered the victim an alcoholic beverage and offered him money if he would drink the beverage. As the evening progressed, Maldonado asked the victim to perform lewd acts for money. But the victim refused.

The victim passed out and woke up to Maldonado performing a lewd act on him, court records indicate. The victim got up, quickly left and subsequently, the police were called and an investigation began, court records show.

Police secretly recorded conversations between the victim and Maldonado. A meeting was set up for Maldonado to meet the victim. Maldonado allegedly wanted the teen to perform a lewd act in front of him for money, according to court records.

When Maldonado arrived at the location to meet the victim on May 26, 2010, police arrested him. Upon further investigation, Maldonado allegedly named three other boys who he had engaged in sexual acts with.  Police found two other minor teens who Maldonado also had allegedly sexual abused, according to court documents.

On Friday, Maldonado's lawyer Justin Tuttle declined to comment.




Fed Warning on Bogus Phone Calls on Jury Service

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Federal authorities are warning citizens that in some states residents are being targeted by phone calls and threatened with prosecution for failing to comply with a jury summons.

The call is used by conmen to coerce those they call into providing confidential data, which can lead to identity theft.

Neither federal nor state courts require anyone to provide sensitive information in a telephone call.

For questions or information about jury service at Ventura County Superior Court go to:

Go to Services and Programs and then click Jury Services.

It's On and the Winner Wears the Robe

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Five Ventura County Superior Court judges who were up for reelection this year didn't draw opponents, and I am sure they're doing back flips because it's an arduous and almost a full-time job running for office.
These judges were John Smiley, Brian Back, Glen Reiser, Mark Borrell and David Hirsch.
One novice judge candidate told me that there is a lot of begging involved to get campaign contributions along with hours and hours of putting up campaign signs.
The judge who did draw an opponent was Harry Walsh, a veteran justice who wears a trademark bow tie. In my opinion, he could be cast as the school teacher in the novel "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" by James Hilton.
Judge Walsh is being challenged by Attorney Bradley Bjelke who practices labor and employment law with the law firm of Jackson DeMarco Tidus and Peckenpaugh in Westlake Village. Bjelke is a graduate from Boston College Law School. He attended Cal Lutheran.
I just interviewed Judge Walsh at the Starbucks on Victoria Street near the courthouse. Judge Walsh can't be interviewed about his reelection campaign at the Hall of Justice because of judicial ethics.
I am setting up an interview with Mr. Bjelke.
These are two nice gentlemen trying to convince county residents that they deserve their votes.
Both the Walsh and Bjelke campaign stories will probably run later this month.

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