April 2012 Archives

Jeri Lynn Unregistered to Vote Today to Stop the Political Mail

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Jeri Lynn unregistered to vote today because she was tired of getting bombarded by the political parties with their endless mailing of brochures, pamphlets, letters, postcards and other literature.

The 5-foot something woman was upset and determined when she walked up to the counter of the county Elections Department and dumped a large stack of political mail sent to her Ventura condominium.

There was old and new campaign literature in all shapes, sizes and a rainbow of colors from several people and political committee including Das Williams, Mike Stoke, the Small Business Action Committee, Elton Gallegly for Congress and Steven Hintz for county treasurer.

There were the political persuasions and urges that came via the mail: "We Urge You to Vote for Measure H" and "Vote No on Prop 24."

And, this gem that summed it all up: "Confused About the Candidates?"

Jeri Lynn declined to give me her last name, saying she was a very private person. She said she has a "tiny mailbox" and wanted the mailings to immediately stop.

A polite and patient county clerk named "Olivia" held a calm smile and listened to Jerri Lynn.

Olivia explained that  the county sells the voter's registration listing with names and addresses to politicians who use the listing to mail out their political campaign literature.

She said it's out of the county's hands on who gets this political mail. Olivia tried to hand Jeri Lynn a leaflet of those running for office, their addresses and phone numbers.

"What's the use?" said Jeri Lynn.

The feisty woman was troubled that she wasn't given a chance to reject these political mailings, saying "this whole thing" was undemocratic.

"You're holding a gun to my head," she told Olivia.

Olivia said she would ask another county employee who might be able to shed more light on this matter.

The male Elections Department employee told Jeri Lynn that long before he started working there, state legislators passed a law about 20 years ago saying that voter registration information can be sold to the public.

Jeri Lynn said she has been able to "opt out" of getting flyers, coupon magazines, letters, leaflets,  and other ad mailings from businesses.  She said she is so frustrated that she can't stop the mailman from continuously stuffing her mail box during the frenzy of a political campaign.

Why don't you just do what the rest of us do? Throw this stuff in the trash can as soon as you get it.

(Actually, I sometimes keep the long pamphlets and large fold outs for other purposes.  I am convinced I have the most politically astute bird in the neighborhood.)

Jeri Lynn described herself as being eco-friendly and believes in recycling.

"I believe they're killing trees and that's not very green," she said.

Jeri Lynn said there is no recycling trashcan near her home and she has to walk quite a distance to find one to dump all this political literature.

Seriously,  what you are doing seems pretty  extreme.  I mean kids died on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq and other places so we can live in a free country and vote,  I said.

"You don't even want to go there," Jeri Lynn fired back. "That's a huge debate."

Well, Jeri Lynn is no longer a registered voter.

I pointed out that people who are running for office will probably run for reelection the next time around, and some might dust off old voter registration listings.

"I guess I'll have to move away and not leave a forwarding address or die," she said as she left.


Today's Quote

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"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure."  -- Murphy's Law

Japanese Man Sentenced for Smuggling Protected Reptiles

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LOS ANGELES:  A Japanese citizen who federal authorities describe as "a major wildlife trafficker" was sentenced today to nearly two years in prison for smuggling 55 reptiles into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

The majority of the turtles and tortoises were species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty, say federal officials.

The live reptiles that were inside snack food boxes stuffed in suitcases when they were found at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2011, according to federal officials.

Federal prosecutors argued in court that the method used to smuggle the reptiles from Japan constituted animal cruelty, and the animals posed the risk of transmitting Salmonella.

The judge ordered Atsushi Yamagami, 39, to pay $18,403 as restitution to the Lacy Act Reward Account, which is used to finance investigations conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, say officials.

During the investigation, authorities found out that Yamagami was a leader of an organized group of Japanese nationals who were responsible for smuggling protected turtles, tortoises, chameleons and lizards into and out of the United States through Honolulu and Los Angeles airports.

Yamagami sold or traded the animals at reptile pet shows across the United States and used proceeds from the purchases to buy snakes, turtles and tortoises native to North America.



NM State Official Pleads Guilty to Possessing Child Porn

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ALBUQUERQUE--A former state probation and parole supervisor who supervised the sex offender unit  pleaded guilty of possessing child pornography and is facing a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced, according to federal authorities.

Larry Franco, 57, entered the guilty plea Friday of having pornography depicting minors engaged in sexually, explicit conduct, stated U.S. Attorney's General's Office prosecutors.

Franco committed the offense when he was the supervisor of the sex offender unit of the Probation and Parole Division of the New Mexico Corrections Department in Farmington,

During an interview, Franco told authorities that he had the pornography because he was  "inquisitive" and "wanted to know what [his] probationer clients were looking at." Although Franco claimed that he eventually deleted the images and videos from his computers, he admitted saving videos in a folder titled "movies." During the interview, Franco also admitted knowing that child pornography was illegal.

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled, according to federal officials.


Alleged Copper Thief Caught Replacing Stores' Bar Codes

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SAN DIEGO: State officials arrested a man who ran a sophisticated scheme at San Diego area Lowe's and Home Depot stores in which he replaced the bar codes on expensive merchandise with bar codes that scanned at lower prices, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

Steve Allen Koski, 42, of San Diego, was arraigned Thursday on 11 felony counts, including grand theft and 10 counts of burglary.

Koski stole or attempted to steal more than $30,000 in copper wire and other merchandise from Lowe's and Home Depot stores. He then re-sold that merchandise to California recycling centers for over $180,000, according to state officials. 

The Attorney General's Office states that California is among the top five states with the highest reported incidences of copper theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports 1,342 metal theft claims in California from January 2009 to December 2011, with approximately 96% of these claims pertaining to the theft of copper. 

"Man in the Glass" Poem Read During Closing Arguments

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"When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father, or mother, or wife 
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He's the fellow to please - never mind all the rest
For he's with you, clear to the end
And you've passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass. "

Poem "The Man In the Glass" read this afternoon by defense attorney Charles Cassy to jury during closing arguments in the murder trial of Brian Starks, Corey Lamar Johnson and Terrance "Terry" Morrow.

Cassy, who represents Morrow, read the poem by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr. to emphasize to jurors the importance of their verdicts.

Cassy continues his closing arguments at 1:30 p.m.  in Courtroom 35. Johnson's lawyer Willard Wiksell is next, followed by rebuttal arguments to jurors by prosecutor Maeve Fox.


Feds Shutdown Dozens of Websites Selling Stolen Cards

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WASHINGTON-- Federal authorities seized 36 domain names of websites engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of stolen credit card numbers.

The seizures are the result of an FBI and U.S. Justice Department operation  targeting the sale of stolen credit cards via the Internet,  federal officials announced Thursday.

The websites of the seized domain names are commonly referred to as Automatic Vending Carts or AVCs, say federal officials. AVCs allow a user to buy stolen credit card data over the Internet, even using an online shopping cart, just like a traditional online retailer, say officials. 

Today's Quote

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"Never let the fear of striking out get in your way"
 --- Babe Ruth

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: http://www.ventura.courts.ca.gov/venturamasterframes18.htm

Go to Services and Programs and then click Jury Services.

Murder Trial Closing Arguments Underway in Courtroom 35

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Closing arguments in the trial of three defendants -- Brian Starks, Terrance "Terry" Morrow and Corey Lamar Johnson -- are underway in Courtroom 35.

The trial got off to a late start this morning. udge Charles Campbell had to read papers of instructions to the jury before arguments could begin. He finished reading them at about 11 a.m..

The court took an early lunch and jurors were ordered back at 1:30 p.m.

Opening statements from lawyers are expected to take several hours.

he three are accused of murder during the commission of a robbery along with conspiracy and other criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting of drug dealer Michael Wade and the wounding of Kenneth Pecaro in 2009

Thought You'd Like to Know

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Why do we say that a graduating lawyer has "passed the bar"?

To control rowdiness, a wooden bar was built across early courtrooms to separate the judge, lawyers, and other principle players from the riffraff seated in the public area. 
That bar, first used in the sixteenth century, also underlines the English word barrister or lawyer.
When someone has "passed the bar" or "has been called to the bar," it means he or she is now allowed into the closed off area of the courtroom --- according to "The Little Book of Answers."

Former Alabama Police Officer Sentenced for Taser Incidents

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BIRMINGHAM ­­­­­­-  Former Tuscaloosa Sheriff's sergeant was sentenced today to five years in prison for civil rights violations in connection with illegally using a Taser against three detainees, according to the U.S. Attorney and the FBI.

Sgt. Althea Mallisham, 52, admitted she used an X26 Taser to electro-shock the pre-trial detainees who were either restrained in handcuffs or securely locked in a jail cell, federal officials stated.  None of the detainees posed a physical threat to any officers or other detainees when they were electro-shocked, according to federal authorities.

Mallisham used the Taser to shock the detainees as a means of punishment.

Closing Arguments in Murder Trial begin Thursday Morning

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Closing arguments in the trial of three defendants -- Brian Starks, Terrance "Terry" Morrow and Corey Lamar Johnson -- are expected to begin Thursday morning in Courtroom 35.

The three are accused of murder during the commission of a robbery along with conspiracy and other criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting of drug dealer Michael Wade and the wounding of Kenneth Pecaro in 2009

Oxnard Man Pleads Guilty to Pimping, Facing Deportation

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The prosecution was ready to go to trial today along with its subpoenaed witnesses, including several law enforcement officers

They were going to testify against an alleged 31-year-old Oxnard pimp.

But Carlos Hernandez, who was arrested last year on suspicion of being a pimp and engaging in human trafficking along with other prostitution-related crimes, had a change of heart. He decided to plead guilty to pimping.

Hernandez  pleaded guilty to felony pimping and is looking at 3 years in prison when he is sentenced in June. Also he pleaded guilty to aiding in prostitution, a misdemeanor.

Since Hernandez is not a U.S. citizen, Attorney Heather Tomka who works at the Public Defender's Office, said her client is going to be deported after he serves his prison time.

Tomka said her client pleaded guilty out of fear of being sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence.

Hernandez was arrested with a 22-year-old Los Angeles woman who was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor prostitution were arrested at a home in the 100 block of South Hayes Street in Oxnard, according to the Oxnard Police Department.

A search warrant was also executed at the home following a four-month investigation by the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with the Oxnard Police Department.

Police found a loaded handgun along with paraphernalia related to prostitution.

According to jail records, Hernandez who is 5-feet, 6-inches tall and weighs 390 pounds, was initially charged with false imprisonment by violence and human trafficking and pimping.

Hernandez was also charged with several misdemeanors: keeping or living in a house of prostitution, possession of a deceptive government document, two counts of aiding in pimping and keeping a disorderly house, jail records indicate.

As part of the plea bargain agreement with the district attorney, he only pleaded guilty to felony pimping and aiding in pimping, a misdemeanor. The remainder of the charges were dropped.

Authorities also served a search warrant in the 13200 block of Filmore Street in Pacoima as part of the investigation.

At that residence, police found paraphernalia related to prostitution and arrested two Pacoima women, ages 49 and 21, according to Oxnard police.

Tomka said this was an injustice, saying her client pleaded guilty because he didn't want to risk getting the maximum sentence, which is six years on the felony pimp charge.

She said 14 law enforcement officers had been subpoenaed to testify for the trial. She said some of the officers conducted a surveillance of her client for two weeks. Also undercover police agents were sent to the houses to have sex but left before doing so, according to Tomka.

She said the prostitutes were video-recorded by the District Attorney's Office when they testified at an earlier hearing.

"It was a huge operation," she said, adding that there was no evidence that the women were being held against their will or that human trafficking was involved.

"They still proceeded with the prosecution," she said. "Out of fear of getting more time (in prison), he pleaded guilty. I think it's sad. I think it's an injustice...It's too much for what he did, and he pleaded out of fear."

Hernandez provided security for the prostitutes and would sometimes take them shopping, said Tomka.

She said Hernandez would put the money that was earned from prostitution in an envelope and give it to the "head honcho" who in turn paid Hernandez.  Tomka said these envelopes with amounts scrawled on them were found during the execution of the search warrant.

Tomka said the prostitutes got $40 from each customer to have sex, and the "house" charged $20 a customer to use the residences.

Tomka said the "head honcho" remains at large and her client has refused to cooperate with law enforcement.

"They wanted my client to be a snitch," she said.

Hernandez along with the three prostitutes is facing deportation by immigration, said Tomka.

Prosecutor David Russell said pimping is a very serious crime and a person convicted of this crime can't be put on probation. He said probation is not an option on any prostitution conviction in the state. He said the highest sentence for a first offense for pimping is up to six years behind bars. The lowest possible sentence is three years, according to Tomka.

She said the prostitutes are also facing deportation.

Russell said law enforcement took about a month or more to investigate this case.



Today's Quote

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"The only fool bigger than the person who knows it all is the person who argues with him."

- Stanislaw Jerszy Lec

"Flip" Scheme Arrests in Multi-Million-Dollar Real Estate Fraud

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Santa Ana -- Six people were arrested this week in connection with a multi-million-dollar real estate "flipping" scheme, according to a press release issued today by the U.S. Attorney General Office in Los Angeles.

Investors were promised title to homes that could be easily resold but in fact did not have "clean" titles, were uninhabitable or were simply worthless, federal prosecutors stated.

There were more than three dozen victims who lost a total of $4.2 million, federal officials stated.

The six defendants,who are from Laguna Beach, Tennessee, Irvine, Huntington Beach and Florida, sold these properties for as much as $45,000, which they purchased for less than $10,000, according to federal officials.

The scheme ran from mid-2009 through mid-2010 and in some cases, the properties were condemned or there were issues with the titles.

Today's Quote

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"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

In Other Courthouses Across the Nation

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BUFFALO-- A former union president was sentenced to a year in prison on Monday after he was convicted of stealing from the union, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

Ellis Wood, 61, of Clarence, New York, devised a scheme to defraud the Buffalo Education Support Team or BEST. It is a union representing more than 900 teacher's aides and assistants in the Buffalo School District, the Attorney General stated.

Woods used a credit card between November 2008 and February 2011 to pay for personal expenses, including gambling expenses that he incurred at local area casinos. Woods stole a total of $44,987 from union funds,  according to federal officials.

OKLAHOMA CITY-- Coy C. Coleman, 42, of Olympia, Washington is going to federal prison for 30 months for interstate stalking two Oklahoma women, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Coleman was sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty in December. He admitted that he was originally from Oklahoma, moved away from the state, and used the mail, a computer service and a facility of interstate commerce to cause substantial emotional distress to the two females, according to federal officials.  

From April 2008 through September 2009, Coleman sent one victim several postcards and letters from around the world, posted MySpace messages about her, and helped to place telephone calls to the victim, officials stated. He also admitted that his conduct was rude and derogatory and were meant to harass and frighten her.



Murder Defendant Denies that He Tried to Rob Other Drug Dealers

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Cory Lamar Johnson denied ever robbing anyone and said he only agreed to get a house on South E Street in Oxnard so an exchange of drugs and money could take place.

He denied that he was involved in a ripoff of other drug dealers with murder co-defendants, Brian Starks and Terrance "Terry" Morrow.

"I never robbed in my entire life. I would never associate with people that do that," said Johnson.

Johnson, Starks and Morrow are on trial for the murder of Michael Wade during the commission of a robbery and conspiracy. Wade and his friend Darrell Babagay wanted to buy a large quantity of cocaine, and Kenneth Pecaro was going to set up the deal with Starks, who knew Pecaro from prison.

Johnson who was on parole said he was told that Starks was going to sell a kilo or 2.2 pounds of cocaine. Testimony showed that Wade and Babagay wanted to buy 3 kilos or six pounds for $55,500. Johnson described himself as a small-time drug dealer who wanted to watch Starks sell a large amount of cocaine

"I'm just a curious person," Johnson said.

Johnson said he was told by Starks that the drug buyers might have weapons. Johnson said Morrow told him that he had a gun. Johnson said he went "around the corner" and paid his mechanic $60 for a rifle that the mechanic's son was selling.

He said his job was to sit on a table outside the house and act like a "Centennial" with the rifle. When asked by his lawyer Willard Wiskell, Johnson used a yardstick while inside the witness stand to show jurors how he was holding the weapon as he sat on the table on Nov. 9, 2009.

Johnson said he felt uncomfortable sitting on the table and remembered thinking that he was in full view of people who might go by the alley.

"I was just sitting there thinking what if police drive-by. It doesn't seem too intelligent," Johnson testified.

Johnson said he got up, walked over into the courtyard and went inside the house. He said he heard gunshots, went to see what was going on and saw Morrow and Pecaro struggling for a gun. Pecaro was shot in the hand, ran and was later detained by police nearly four blocks away.

Michael Wade was shot twice in the back by Stark as he ran away from the house, according to court testimony. Starks is claiming self-defense. 

Johnson said he never armed himself when he did his own drug deals until he agreed to act as a guard for Starks.

He said he doesn't want to spend a single day in jail, takes his freedom "very seriously" and doesn't commit crimes.

"If I do commit a crime, I try to keep it as minimal as possible," Johnson told jurors.





Murder Co-Defendant Resumes Testimony This Afternoon

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Corey Lamar Johnson who was allegedly standing guard with a rifle during a drug deal that resulted in one man getting killed and another wounded is on the stand.

Johnson, a parolee, began his testimony at 11:30 a.m. and resumes at 1:30 p.m. after the lunch break. Johnson is on trial for murder.

Prosecutors say the alleged triggerman who killed Michael Wade was co-defendant Brian Starks. Johnson and Terrance "Terry" Deshun  Morrow were also charged with Wade's murder.

Johnson and Morrow are accused of aiding and abetting during the commission of a robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting of Wade and the wounding of Kenneth Pecaro on Nov. 9, 2009.

Prosecutors contend that the three defendants went to meet with drug dealers Wade and his friend and gambling buddy Darrell Babagay to rob them. Wade and Babagay wanted to buy 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500 and Pecaro who knew Starks from prison was setting up the drug deal with Starks.

Johnson who has short wavy black hair and a mustache testified that he had a sixth grade education, likes to write both fiction and nonfiction and is a tattoo artist.

"That's my majority of support," he said.

He described his relationship with Starks who he knows as Bilal or "Black" as not being close and that the last drug deal that they did together was in 2003.  Johnson said his dealings with Starks were more about business, and he never socialized with him.

However, Johnson said he was close to Morrow and his family and hung around with Morrow to get away from bad people.

"I've got a bad habit of hanging with people I shouldn't be handing around," Johnson said.

Johnson told jurors that he was convicted in 1996 for having a firearm and in 2004 for selling drugs. He said he dealt in small quantities of cocaine and was the middleman between the drug user and the dealer.

Starks finished testifying late this morning.




What's in a Name? A Rose by Any Other Name Would ......

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"The thing that you don't do is never call your wife the wrong name. It's just makes them mad. I don't know why"  Attorney Charles Cassy said during a court recess in a trial and laughed.

The remark came after a court bailiff kept calling the courtroom clerk by the wrong name, and this turned into a discussion on the importance of remembering people's names.

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.


Today's Quote

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"A Journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step," -- ancient Chinese proverb.

Starks Testified That a Drug Deal Was Being Done as a Favor

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Brian Starks testified that he was doing a former prison dormitory mate a favor by setting up a large cocaine deal with Starks' friend who is an Oxnard drug dealer named "Chava" who also owns a mechanic shop.

Starks said Chava gave him the gun when he went to do the drug deal with Michael Wade and Darrell Babagay who were going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the cocaine.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox told jurors that Starks, Terrance Deshun Morrow and Corey Larmar Johnson tried to rob Wade,  Babagay and Kenneth Pecaro who traveled to Oxnard to buy 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500. She said Starks is a small-time drug dealer who didn't have that amount of cocaine.

Starks is accused of striking Wade in the top of his head with the gun butt and fatally shooting the Northern California resident in the back twice with .40 caliber hollow-point bullets on Nov. 9, 2009. Pecaro was wounded in the hand during a struggle with Morrow.

Starks, Morrow and Johnson are on trial for murder during a robbery and conspiracy.

Pecaro, who knew Starks in prison, hooked him up with Wade and Babagy.  Starks recruited Morrow and Johnson who were armed with a gun and rifle, according to court testimony

Starks said Morrow found a residence in the 1400 block of South E. Street where a drug user named Keith Allen lived. Starks said Morrow who was armed didn't know the details of the drug transaction.

"I don't know if Terry Morrow is a drug dealer," Starks testified. "I know he does music."

"You trust him enough to find you a place and you've got three kilos of cocaine and you don't tell him anything?" prosecutor Maeve Fox asked Starks, a former Channel Islands High School graduate.

Starks said Pecaro and Wade were only going to check out the cocaine. The  part of the deal where money exchanges hands was going to be done later, Starks testified. He denied telling Morrow that he shot Wade in the buttocks.

Fox asked what were Morrow and Johnson supposed to do during the drug deal.

"Look tough," Starks replied.

Starks denied striking Wade on top of the head with the butt of his gun. He also denied that the plan was to walk Wade and Pecaro into the South E. Street resident. There an armed Morrow was waiting and Starks would be behind Pecaro and Wade to trap them. Later,  Babagay would be called to bring the cash to buy the drugs.

"You didn't think anybody in that house would call the cops?" Fox asked.

"Somebody did call the cops," Starks replied.

Fox relentlessly questioned Starks about he phone calls he made shortly before and after the shooting of Wade along with asking him about his ties to Oxnard drug dealers, which Starks named.

During hours of testimony, Starks sometimes mocked Fox who would ask questions that were often laced with sarcasm in an attempt to make Starks' answers to jurors sound unbelievable, at times silly.

"Mr. Morrow brought a gun and (puts) it in his backpack. That fact is unknown to you?" Fox said.

"Yes," Starks replied.  


Starks on the Stand Being Grilled by Fox

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Brian Starks is on the stand and is being grilled by prosecutor Maeve Fox who is questioning about the names, descriptions and addresses of the drug dealers that Starks has done business with in the past.

Fox told Starks that Erik Ek, an employee from her office, was in the courtroom taking notes so they can check out Starks' story.

Starks, who occasionally bickered Fox and sometimes grinned, appeared calm. He said he didn't know a lot of the dealers last names because drug dealers don't check each others IDs.

The questions from Fox began shortly after 11 a.m. and resume at 1:30 p.m.

Fox told jurors that Starks, Terrance Deshun Morrow and Corey Larmar Johnson tried to rob Wade, Kenneth Pecaro and Darrell Babagay who traveled to Oxnard to buy 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500. She said Starks is a small-time drug dealer who didn't have that amount of cocaine.

Earlier, Starks answered questions from his lawyer Gay Zide.

He testified that the victim Michael Wade who had a razor knife threatened to kill him while they were about to do a drug deal.  He said Kenneth Pecaro, who he knew in prison and put together the drug deal for Wade and his friend Darrell Babagay, ran into the house in Oxnard where the deal was going to be done.

Pecaro maintains that Morrow put a gun to his head has he walked into the house. Pecaro grabbed the weapon and a struggle ensued.

Starks said Wade and him ran toward the fence of the residence in the 1400 block of South. E Street in Oxnard. Starks said he fell and Wade reached for something in his pocket and threatened Starks.

'I'll kill you. I'll kill you. He started going crazy. He was waving the razor," Starks testified.

Then Starks said Wade began spinning and "doing the tornado." Starks said Wade was seven to ten inches near Starks' feet, he testified.

Starks said he took out his gun and fired. Wade was shot twice in the back, according to court testimony.

"I shot in front of me. I was just thinking don't shoot your feet off," Starks testified.

Fox went through text messages from several women who Starks had knew. She read a few excerpts from some of the text messages Starks received that included curse words and one telling him that she loved him but was "done" with him.

"Do you consider yourself a player?" Fox asked.

"No, not at all," he replied.

"Women love you because you're very charming, and you have a lot of success with woman, correct?"

"Objection," Gay said.

"Sustained," Judge Charles Campbell responded.


Testimony By Alleged Triggerman Starks Continues Friday

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The man accused of fatally shooting another drug dealer in the back and is claiming self-defense testified this afternoon.

Brian Bilal Starks who is charged with two others with the murder of Michael Wade, a Northern California resident, told about how he began selling small quantities of drugs before making big drug deals worth thousands of dollars.

He boasted about knowing different drug dealers and having as many as 60 customers who paid higher prices in Santa Barbara than Oxnard.

"You got a reputation of having high quality (drugs)," asked Stark's lawyer Zide Gay.

"Yeah," Starks replied.

Starks who is a tall, black man with a bald head resumes his testimony Friday morning.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox told jurors that Starks, Terrance Deshun Morrow and Corey Larmar Johnson tried to rob Wade, Kenneth Pecaro and Darrell Babagay who traveled to Oxnard to buy 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500.

Fox said Starks who recruited Morrow and Johnson to pull off the robbery is a small-time drug dealer who never had that large amount of cocaine to sell to Wade and Babagay who were big-time narcotics dealers and gambling buddies.

Pecaro who shared a prison dormitory with Starks put him in contact with Wade and Babagay, court testimony indicated. Babagay had a "bad vibe" about doing business with Starks and didn't go with Wade or Pecaro to the South E Street address, staying behind at convenience store parking lot several minutes away, court testimony showed.

Pecaro was shot in the hand as a result of a struggle with Morrow for a gun.

Starks who was convicted for selling drugs in Santa Barbara in 2005 testified how he made a lot of money traveling almost daily from Camarillo to Santa Barbara to sell mostly powder cocaine, according to court testimony

Zide told jurors that Starks had a large quantity of cocaine to sell when he took Wade and Pecaro to negotiate the drug deal at an alley in the 1400 block of South E. Street in Oxnard.


Murder Trial Continues - Alleged Triggerman on Stand Today

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Despite objections by a prosecutor this morning, a defense toxicology expert testified in the murder trial of three defendants - Brian Bilal Starks, Terrance Deshun Morrow and Corey Larmar Johnson.

Toxicologist John Treuting is still on the stand testifying about the possible effects of methamphetamine on a person.

He told jurors that the murder victim, Michael Wade, had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his blood system.

Starks the defendant accused of pulling the trigger and killing Wade is expected to take the stand this afternoon. Starks is saying that he acted in self-defense.

Outside the jurors' presence today and before the trial began, prosecutor Maeve Fox had objected to Treuting taking the stand, saying that the reason Treuting was being put on the stand was to confuse the jury.

But Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell ruled that he would allow jurors to hear Treuting's testimony, saying that Fox can put on a rebuttal witness later to counter any issues she may have with what Treuting tells jurors.

Campbell, however, rejected motions by defense attorneys to dismiss conspiracy and robbery charges against the three defendants who argued that the evidence was very thin that this was a robbery and the men had conspired to commit it.

The three defendants are on trial in Courtroom 35 for the murder of Wade.

Fox claims that Wade and Kenneth Pecaro were trying to purchase 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500 from Starks. She maintains that Starks was a low-level drug dealer who never had that much cocaine and lured Pecaro and Wade to the 1400 block of South E Street in Oxnard to rob them.

Fox said Starks recruited Morrow and Johnson to help him rob Wade, Pecaro and another drug-dealer Darrell Babagay.

Morrow pulled out a gun and pointed at Pecaro's face, and they were involved in a struggle for the gun. Wade bolted and was shot in the back twice by Starks, according to court testimony. Pecaro was wounded in the hand.

Starks will testify that he fired in self-defense at Wade because Wade came at him with a razor knife. Morrow and Johnson claim they were recruited to provide security during Starks's drug deal with Wade and Babagay, who testimony indicated are high-level drug dealers and gambling buddies.

Pecaro was Starks' prison cellmate and was putting the drug deal together. Morrow will claim that Pecaro startled him as he entered the residence in Oxnard, and he pulled out a gun at Pecaro.

Citing the law during her objection to Treuting's testimony, Fox said an expert's purpose is to help jurors understand a "subject matter" that is not understood by them.

Defense lawyers argued that Treuting was there to tell jurors what the possible effects would be on a person who has a high-level of methamphetamine in his blood.

Testimony in the trial indicated that Michael Wade had 256 nanograms of methamphetamine per milliliters of blood in his system. The therapeutic level for legitimate medicinal purposes such as narcolepsy and hungry suppression is between 20-80 nanograms per milliliters.

Fox told the judge that she is concerned that Treuting is going to say that Wade could be portrayed as psychotic, aggressive or violent. Defense lawyers countered by saying that the expert isn't going to pin down Wade's thought process or draw a conclusion about what Wade was experiencing while on methamphetamine

Defense lawyers told the judge that the measurement of methamphetamine in the blood is the same as blood-alcohol levels in that it effects the central nervous system, conceding that neither methamphetamine nor alcohol in the blood can't be used to assign what it will do in a person who is under the influence.

This is because people have different tolerance levels to drugs and how they act mentally or physically while under the influence can't be predicted without observing them including Wade, according to Treuting's testimony.

"I was not there. I did not observe him," Treuting told jurors. "It varies from individual to individual."

However, Treuting repeated on the stand that methamphetamine is effects the central nervous system.



Federal Indictments Handed Down Today in Other Cities

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BROOKLYN -- An 18-count federal indictment was unsealed today charging 11 people, including several made members and associates of the Genovese organized crime family with racketeering conspiracy, extortion, illegal gambling, union embezzlement and obstruction of justice.

SALT LAKE CITY--Former Box Elder Deputy Sheriff  Scott R. Womack, age 36, of Brigham City, was charged with using his position as a law enforcement officer to deprive eight woman of their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The eight-count misdemeanor information alleges that Woman used his position as a law enforcement officer to require the victims to expose parts of their bodies without a lawful reason for doing so.

Defense Puts on It's Case on Thursday Morning

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Defense attorneys representing three men accused  murdering a Northern California man in a failed drug-related robbery will begin putting on evidence and testimony on Thursday morning.

The trial resume at 9;30 a.m. on Thursday at Courtroom 35.

Brian Bilal Starks who is accused of pulling the trigger that killed Michael Wade is expected to take the stand.

In an interview, Johnson's lawyer Willard Wiksell said he'll put his client, defendant Cory Johnson, on the stand on Monday.

It is unclear whether Morrow will testify.

The prosecution finished putting on witnesses on Wednesday afternoon.

Starks lawyer Gay Zide who works at the Public Defender's Office said her client acted in self-defense after Wade pulled out a razor knife.

The prosecution finished putting on witnesses on Wednesday afternoon.

Prosecutors allege that Starks, 37; Terrance Deshun Morrow, 31; and Johnson, 34, had a rifle and two handguns and were there to rip off drug money from Wade, Pecaro and Darrell Babagay.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox maintains that the three defendants didn't have and never intended to sell  6.6 pounds of cocaine for $55,500 to the victim and Babagay, who testimony showed were high-level drug dealers.

Starks allegedly recruited Morrow and Johnson to help him rob Wade, Pecaro and Babagay, said the prosecutor.

Defense lawyers say the trio had the cocaine and were there to do a drug deal. Lawyers said this wasn't robbery because Pecaro and Wade had no money.

New Laws Mean More Protection For Homeowners/Tenants

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 With the signing of seven bills in the California Homeowners Bill of Rights, homeowners are now afforded more protection from unfair practices by banks and mortgage companies.

The bills also protect tenants in the foreclosure process and allow neighborhoods better remedies against blight, The Attorney General's Office announced today.

It also gives more power for the office to investigate mortgage-related fraud.

For more information go to: http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/print_release.php?id=2663

Hey, Who Subpoenaed the Dog?

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"Cody" the police K-9 caused quite a stir when the animal showed up to court with his handler who was testifying in the trial of three men accused of murdering a Northern California man.

During a jury recess break and long after Cody's handler took the stand, defense attorney Willard Wiksell told the judge that bringing a police dog into the courtroom was inappropriate. Wiksell said the animal's presence "inadvertently bolstered the credibility" of Cody's handler's testimony.

"We should be alerted to that when that cute dog walked into the courtroom," Wiksell told the judge, noting that the handler snapped his fingers and the dog sat down.

The two other defense lawyers Charles Cassy and Gay Zide agreed, saying that they should have been alerted by prosecutor Maeve Fox before the dog came into the courtroom so they could make their objections to the judge.

Veteran criminal defense lawyer Cassy said the dog's presence in the courtroom was disruptive. He said he's never had a case where a dog walked into the courtroom in the middle of a trial.

Fox said she was aware that the dog was going to be with its police handler in the courtroom and made no apologies for Cody's courtroom appearance.

Adding that she would not describe Cody as being "cute" but that the animal was impressive and big, full of energy and well trained.  Fox said jurors should have been allowed see the animal.

The judge agreed.

The dog's sniffer was used to find firearms immediately after Michael Wade was mortally wounded and collapsed at an alley in the 1400 block of E Street in  Oxnard.

Three men -- Brian Bilal Starks, 37; Terrance Deshun Morrow, 31; and Corey Lamar Johnson, 34 - are on trial for Wade's murder on Nov. 9, 2009.


Today's Quote

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"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." 

- Abraham Lincoln

But Your Honor.....

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The story goes that a 75-year-old bank robber told federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis that he was too old and sick to serve a 15-year sentence.

"I ain't got that much time left," the elderly robber whined.

The tough, tobacco-chewing judge replied: "Well, just do the best you can."

Landis later became Major League Baseball's first commissioner on Jan. 12, 1921

Thought You'd Like To Know

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A preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial where prosecutors put witnesses and/or evidence against a felony defendant. Unlike a trial where the legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, in a preliminary hearing there is a lesser legal standard of probable cause for the charges.

This decision at a preliminary hearing is made by a judge, not a jury.

If the judge finds there is no probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, he or she must dismiss the criminal complaint and discharge the defendant.

But the prosecution can turn around and file charges again against the defendant for the same offense.

About 95 percent of the preliminary hearings that I have attended result in findings of probable cause to hold defendants for trial.

For more information on preliminary hearings courtesy of Cornell School of Law go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_5-1

Local "Flash Incarceration" Case Lands at State Supreme Court

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The California Supreme Court wants the state Attorney General's Office to respond by Thursday to a legal petition filed by local defense attorneys that challenges the constitutionality of a statewide policy called "flash incarceration."

Attorney Michael McMahon, a chief deputy with the Public Defender's Office, filed the writ last  month on behalf of Adam Vanstane with the Supreme Court asking it to review the policy which, he says, allows some parolees in the state to be put in jail for up to 10 days without any hearing and based solely on the strength of county probation officers' word.

"The parolee doesn't have the right to be heard or call witnesses or defend himself or herself,"  said McMahon said Friday.

The case landed in the state Supreme Court because the writ of mandate was rejected without a hearing by a Ventura County Superior Court and the appeals court in Ventura.

McMahon said this case could wind its way to the highest court in the land.

 "I don't say this often. This issue could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said.

McMahon said the state's highest court could decide not to hold a hearing on this case or could order the appeals court to conduct one based on the issues raised by McMahon.

Michael Schwartz, special assistant district attorney, said his office joined the county's counsel in supporting flash incarceration on post-release community supervision or PCS, arguing that flash incarceration is lawful.

Adding, "Because those released on PCS have agreed to supervision terms, including possibility of flash incarceration, they are not entitled to a hearing or counsel before this brief period of incarceration is imposed."

The flash incarceration policy became effective on Oct. 1 as part of statewide realignment.  Realignment, which was implemented as a result of the state's budget crisis, means that nonviolent criminals who haven't committed sexual offenses are transferred to county jails to serve their sentences instead of prison, making these inmates when they get out under the supervision of the county probation department.

The parole officer doesn't need any type of court order to put a realignment parolee in jail for up to 10 days for such infractions as showing up late to a meeting or associating with relatives who may be gang members, according said McMahon.

McMahon believes that flash incarceration has been used hundreds of times in Ventura County, including one time about a month ago when a parolee was sent to jail for arguing with another restaurant patron.

The case can be viewed at: http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/dockets.cfm?dist=0&doc_id=2009239&doc_no=S201150

The Witness

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The witness nervously laughed sometimes as she told her story in court today about the New Year's Day night attack when the two men who sat in front of her in the courtroom came to the apartment to do a dope deal with her boyfriend.

Then suddenly, it became violent.

Amanda DeCoste told a defense lawyer that she had dated the defendants Kenneth Holland and Chad Loera very brief, perhaps, a few days or maybe a week. It was long ago, and she hardly remembered doing so.

Suddenly, her expression froze on the stand and she began to cry.

She told the judge that she needed a break.

After the break, prosecutor Derek Malan told the judge that for the record that Holland had mouthed "I'm sorry" to the witness while she was on the stand, and she started crying.

Her testimony continued.

The 21-year-old who had been stabbed seven times by Loera sometimes would apologize to the court for stumbling with words and not remembering some specific details about the day when Loera pulled out a knife, Holland took out a gun and things got ugly.

She cried and wept a few more times on the stand.

"It's just really hard for me to have to think about it," she told the judge.

The witness stepped down from the stand and went and hugged her mother who sitting in the audience.

"This is hard, mom," she said crying.

"I know," the mother said above a whisper.

Loera and Holland were held to answer.


In Other Courthouses This Week

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LOS ANGELES-- The FBI along with the U.S. Attorney's Office filed charges on Thursday  against 12 defendants for narcotics and firearms violations as part of an Inland Empire investigation known as Operation Squeeze Play.

Law enforcement officials initiated an investigation into criminal activities of  several San Bernardino based criminal gangs including the California Garden Crips and the Delmann Heights Bloods.

SANTA ANA--  A federal grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday against the former chief financial officer of an Irvine-based technology company. He is charged with participating in a fraud scheme to embezzle approximately $16 million from Trustin Technology.

Jean Joseph Ibrahim, 33, formerly of Rancho Santa Margarita, was returned to California Thursday. He was arrested last month when he came back to the U.S. through New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

HOUSTON-- Former Houston Police Officer Leslie Aikens, 46, has been sentenced on Wednesday to more than 15  years  after he was convicted by a jury on Nov. 15, 2011 to aiding and abetting possession of a controlled substance by providing an escort for narcotics through the Houston area in his police department vehicle.

The 19-year-veteran  accepted a $2,000 bribe to provide the protection for the vehicle he believed to be transporting seven kilograms of cocaine.

Jurors saw a video recording which detailed the transaction.

Murder Trial of Trio Continues in Courtroom 35

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The trial of three men charged in murdering a Northern California man resumes in Courtroom 35 on Friday at 9 a.m.

A key prosecution witness Kenneth Pecaro who was with the victim Michael Wade was on the stand on Wednesday and finished his testimony on Thursday.

Prosecutors say defendants, Brian Bilal Starks, 37; Terrance Deshun Morrow, 31; and Corey Lamar Johnson, 34, had a rifle and two handguns and were there to rip off drug money from Wade, Pecaro and Darrell Babagay.

Defense lawyers say the trio had the cocaine and were there to do a drug deal. Attorney Gay Zide who represents Starks said her client shot Wade in self-defense,  Zide claims that Wade had a razor knife. Morrow shot Pecaro in the hand. Lawyers said this wasn't robbery because Pecaro and Wade had no money.

Pecaro testified that he was walking toward a residence on the 1400 block of South E Street in Oxnard in the afternoon on Nov. 9, 2009. He said he was walking in front of Starks and Wade was behind Starks. Pecaro said as he was about to go inside the residence when he saw Morrow pointing a gun to his head. He grabbed Morrow's hand.

Pecaro said a struggle ensued and he was shot. Pecaro admitted lying to police many times about what happened and said he was going to get $3,000 for his role in the cocaine deal.

Starks is accused of hitting Wade in the head with the gun and shooting him in the back twice as he ran.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox said Wade ran out of his shoe as he bolted  and then stumbled before he collapsed with two mortal wounds on his back.

Court testimony indicates that Wade and his friend and gambling buddy Babagay were in Oxnard to buy cocaine. The two were going to pay $18,500 for 2.2 pounds of cocaine and wanted to buy 6.6 pounds. Pecaro contacted Starks who was his prison cellmate to buy the cocaine, and Starks, in turn, recruited Morrow and Johnson.

Starks and Johnson will probably testify.

On Friday morning, Sheriff's Sgt. Carlos Macias who worked as a narcotics officer continues his testimony as an expert. He is testifying about the inner workings of the drug world, including the pricing and packaging of cocaine.


Today's Quote

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"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.

State Supreme Court Employee Lunch Ruling

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The California Supreme Court said today that employers are under no legal obligation to ensure that workers take a legally mandated lunch and rest breaks.

But they must give them an opportunity to do so.

The decision will have far-reaching impact on retail, hospitality and other business in the state, according to lawyers who followed this case and were at the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in November.

Basically, Attorney Dana Peterson, of the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP in San Francisco, said in an interview that the Supreme Court's decision allows employees to give workers the opportunity to take a 30-minute lunch breaks rather than ensuring that workers actually take them in order  to comply with state law.

Ms. Peterson said the lunch break opportunity must come no later than at the end of the fifth hour of work.

"You have to make it available," she said.

This means that a worker can't be asked to perform work or any other work-related task while during the 30-minute lunch opportunity, said Ms. Peterson.

The complaint was certified as a class-action complaint with 63,000 former and current employees. Originally, the lawsuit was filed by five employees who claimed the company illegally denied them meal breaks for every five hours worked, according to court documents.

Brinker officials have also argued that meal periods only be provided, allowing workers to pass on their breaks and continue working if they choose.

The case of Brinker Restaurant vs. Superior Court of San Diego is a wage and hour case that stems from a workplace-related dispute that landed in the courts nine years ago, according to court documents.

Restaurant workers of Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's and other restaurants, complained that they missed breaks in violation of California labor laws, according to the lawsuit.

A copy of the Supreme Court opinion can be viewed  at:  http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions.htm



Computer Crash

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State officials decided last month to pull the plug on a computer system that would have linked all the courthouses in California and law enforcement agencies to share information.

The Judicial Council voted to stop the California Court Case Management System, which was going to transform court operations into a paperless process throughout the state, a system that cuts down the information retrival process from days to a few clicks of the mouse.

The project's billion-dollar-plus price tag, vociferous critics including hundreds of judges and its slow progress contributed to its demise.

Quite frankly, it was also a tough sell in a state  where courtrooms are shutting down and the lines are growing in the courthouse just to file legal papers because of the state budget crisis.

Robert Sherman, the assistant executive officer with the Ventura County Superior Court, said Ventura County was. first to pioneer this new technology when it was spawned 10 years ago by the state. Since then, millions of state dollars were poured into the county's family and civil case management technology, said Mr. Sherman

As a result, the county has a Cadillac civil computer management system,  according to  Mr. Sherman.

"We have the best computer system in the county and possibly the state," said Mr. Sherman.

Also 25 percent of all civil filings in the state are currently processed using Case Management System, according to the Judicial Council's Administrative Office of the Court.

Ten years ago, six test counties -- Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, Orange, San Diego and Ventura -- were the first to use the civil portion of the system to varying degrees to handle civil, small claims, probate and mental health cases.

Mr. Sherman said the county must now look for money to gradually upgrade the county's criminal computer system.

The Pimp Case

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The  pimp case landed in Courtroom 48 on Tuesday.

It caught my attention because there were a lot of people involved in this preliminary hearing, including a female employee with the District Attorney's Office who had video equipment to record the testimony of two prostitutes.

Usually people who are video recorded while testifying are very elderly witnesses or witnesses who have health issues or are leaving the country.

The two prostitutes were going to testify against Carlos Loaezo Jimenez, the alleged 20-year-old  Oxnard pimp. He is being represented by attorney Josie Banuelos who works with the Public Defender's Office.

Jimenez is charged with felony pimping, three misdemeanor aiding pimping counts and a felony , for possession of  cocaine.

What's this about? I asked Banuelos as I watch the video camera on a tripod sitting inside the empty jury box.  The camera lens is pointing toward the witness stand.

With a half-smile, Banuelos said this case is about how the state and county uses courthouse resources to prosecute cases like this.

The response isn't unusual from a defense attorney, I thought.  I asked her to elaborate.

 "If you hear what it's all about, you'll get my point," she replied. "That's all I'm going to say."

In the courtroom, there are two Spanish interpreters, one for Mr. Jimenez and the other one is shared by the two prostitutes. Also the prosecutor David Russell sat next to Oxnard police detective James Langford. The prostitutes are there and so are their attorneys, Matt Bromund and Joel Steinfeld. Both prostitutes have been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.

They have both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor prostitution.

The judge, David Hirsch, enters the courtroom and the court clerk and bailiff and the court reporter are ready.

There is no one in the audience as the testimony begins.

The 26-year-old prostitute testifies that she uses the fake name "Angelica." She sits next to the interpreter while on the stand.  Bromund stands behind her about five feet away and remains there until she finishes her testimony, which begins around 10:30 a.m.

The woman, who is not quite five-feet tall according to jail records, is grilled by Russell. He asks dozens of questions and digs for details, even wants to know who paid for the condoms that she supplies to her customers.

Russell is trying to make a strong connection to Jimenez.  The alleged pimp is 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighs 134 pounds according to jail records.

 He sits at the defense table between the interpreter and Banuelos.

Angelica said she charges $40 for each trick and gives Jimenez $10, and she only works on the weekends.  After she pays Jimenez, she pockets about $600 during the weekends.

She tells the court that she works as a prostitute because the hours are more flexible, and she wants to spend more time with her children. She worked a regular job but it cost a lot of money to pay for a babysitter, and it was a hassle dropping off her three-year-old son with the sitter. Angelica said she also gets the time to take her daughter to school.

Angela said she began working as a prostitute in January and for a couple of weeks, she was self-employed. Like other prostitutes, she used the parking lot of a popular market in downtown Oxnard. Angela said men approached the car, knock on the windows and ask the females inside a car, are you working?The prostitute will say yes and the going price is usually $40 for a trick, Angelica testified.

Angela  said she decided to hire Jimenez to work for her and drive her around in his Toyota Corolla to pick up customers.  She said Jimenez picks up male customers  and much of the time is spent at the market's parking lot with Jimenez. They both talk to customers about prices, and some call her and others call Jimenez's cell phone, Angelica testified.

She said Jimenez never dated her, they had sex and Jimenez was a customer at first.

Angelica said she used two residences in Oxnard to bring customers there for sex and kept track of the clients using "a little cardboard."

There is a lunch break shortly before noon, court is in recess and everybody involved in the case is instructed to come back at 1:30 p.m.

The hearing resumes and Angelica is cross examined by Banuelos  who asks why she hired  Jimenez.

"Well, I like him and he didn't have a job at the time and I asked him if he wanted to work," Angelica said. "It was a way of helping each other. I was going to help him, and he was going to work for me."

She denied telling anyone that she worked for Jimenez, saying he never demanded money or told her how to dress. She said there were days she didn't work because she didn't want to do so.

"I said I paid him $10 but I never said I worked for him," she told the court.

The money is to pay for Jimenez's gasoline and time, Angelica testifies.

Angelica said she was interviewed by police who asked if there were other prostitutes out there, and she said yes. Angelica said she was asked how many, and before she could answer,  the detective said, "50?"  Angelica said she told him no, about 12.

Angelica said she came up with 12 based upon what she had seen at the parking lot of his market.

She is off the stand at 2:25 p.m.

The second prostitute's testimony is brief. She doesn't know who Jimenez is and he is sitting about 12 feet away. She is shown his photograph and says she doesn't know who the man in the photo is.

About five minutes on the stand, she is done. The video recording is clicked off and hauled away.

Oxnard narcotics officer Patrick Dolan testifies that a search of Jimenez's house with 10 bedrooms  turns up two bindles of cocaine, one weighing 1.5 grams and the other 1.8 grams. 

Jimenez later admitted to police that it was his cocaine

Oxnard Detective James Langford testified  that police surveillance began on Jimenez  in January and one surveillance includes eight officers. He testified that on three different occasions three paid confidential informants were sent to the market's parking lot to solicit sex from Angelica and Jimenez. Another confidential informant was told by Jimenez to go to the parking lot across the street from the market after the heat was turned up.

All the informants paid to have sex with Angelica but none did, according to Langford.

One informant said Jimenez told him that he could get a tall Australian prostitute who would be willing to travel as far as Carpinteria, Langford testified  A photo was later found of Jimenez standing next to a tall white woman with his hand placed on her genitalia, according to Langford.

Langford testified there were "a dozen or so" instances of surveillance of Jimenez since January, including one surveillance where he named eight officers who were involved.

Jimenez later admits that he was in the prostitution business for a year, Langford testified.

The defense doesn't call any witnesses. The testimony ends at 3:45 p.m.

Russell argues to the judge that anyone who derives profit from prostitution like Jimenez is a pimp.

Banueloes said Angelica was self-employed and never worked for Jimenez. Banuelos said that the photo only shows Jimenez standing next to a tall white woman.

Judge Hirsch said there is enough evidence to hold Jimenez for trial. However, he said he found Angelica's testimony credible and said he would have reduced the felony pimping to a misdemeanor based on the evidence. But, by  the way the law is structured, the judge said he couldn't do this.

Angelica is held as a material witness in the case. The other prostitute will be turned over to immigration authorities to be deported.Jimenez and Angelica who were arrested March 16 are also facing deportation after the pimping case is resolved.

Outside the courtroom, Russell said the most significant thing was that the judge held Jimenez to answer for trial for felony pimping. As far as Judge Hirsch saying that he would reduced the charge to a misdemeanor if the law allowed him to do so, Russell said  "That's not really for me to comment on."

Langford said it was worth the time and police department resources to take a suspect off the streets who is taking advantage of young women.  He declined to comment on whether there is any evidence that Jimenez is a prostitution ring leader.

In an interview, Banuelos said the whole thing was "pretty amazing" considering the time spent in court and all the resources devoted to this case. She said prosecutors have never offered to let her client plea to misdemeanor pimping, maintaining that they want to prosecute him on the felony pimping charge. She said Jimenez doesn't have a criminal record.

"He can get a year of local time, whatever," as a sentence and then, we'll be deported, Banuelos said.

Adding that if a plea bargain to a misdemeanor would have been offered, Jimenez would have taken it.

"But for some reason they think this is the crime of the century and here we are," Banuelos said. 



Today's Quote

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"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear."
Mark Twain

Murder Trial Notes etc.

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 Attorney Willard Wiksell who is representing murder defendant Corey Lamar Johnson was able to convince the judge that Wiksell's investigator should seat very near the defense table.

Wiksell had argued before the trial started and while jurors waited outside the courtroom that his investigator should sit behind him.

Judge Charles Campbell looked over and told Wiksell that "for the record" Wiksell's investigator was six-feet away. The investigator was behind the wooden bar sitting in the front row.

The bailiff said the corner was already too cluttered. In the corner, there were defense files and one of the deputies was sitting close behind Johnson. Also the bailiff said there were no more chairs because they were all being used by jurors.

Wiksell had offered to get a folding chair for his investigator.

Johnson along Brian Bilal Starks and Terrance Deshun Morrow are on trial for murdering Michael Wade, of Northern California. Wade and his close friend and gambling buddy Darrell Babagay were trying to buy three kilos or 6.6 pounds of cocaine for $18,500 a kilo.

During closing arguments, Wiksell told jurors that his investigator who had to go through volumes of telephone records with him will prove that the murder case against Johnson is weak.

"It's almost nonexistent," Wiksell said.

Wiksell said Johnson went on the dope deal only to "supply" the place where the cocaine would be exchanged. Johnson who Wiksell described as a small-time drug dealer looked at this cocaine sale as big time opportunity to get in on a big buy. So, he also took a rifle with him to do something extra to impress Starks who recruited him. Johnson was hoping that this big drug deal would result in him getting a big reward from Starks.

"It's just like the valet parker. He gets a tip." Wiksell told jurors. "If he washes your car, he gets a bigger tip."

The murder trial in Courtroom 35 could boil down to who has the most credible witnesses. Prosecutor Maeve Fox is going to have a difficult time convincing jurors that one of the prosecution's key witnesses, a San Bernadino parolee Kenneth Pecaro, can be believed.

Pecaro was the one who set up the drug deal with his former prison roommate, Starks who, prosecutors say, shot Wade. Pecaro told police different versions about what happened.  Fox described Pecaro as a "cry baby" and drug user who was wounded in the hand by Morrow, ran, was detained by police nearly four blocks away and broke down and cried.

"He's a piece of work and you will meet him," she told jurors.

Fox maintains that the defendants had no cocaine and were there to rob Wade, Pecaro and Babagay. Babagay decided at the last minute that he wasn't going to go on this drug deal because he had a "bad vibe." He was left by Wade and Pecaro at the parking lot of a convenience store about two minutes from the crime scene. Wade and Pecaro drove off to do the drug deal.

Starks has a conviction for drug dealing in Santa Barbara. A crack cocaine user lived in the residence in Oxnard that was being used by Starks and the two other defendants to allegedly lure and try to rob Wade, according to Fox.  


Trial Begins Today

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The trial of three men accused of killing a Northern California man is underway in Courtroom 35 with prosecutor Maeve Fox beginning opening statements shortly before 10 a.m. today.

Brian Bilal Starks, 37; Terrance Deshun Morrow, 31; and Corey Lamar Johnson, 34, are charged with the murder of Michael Wade who wanted to purchase more than six pounds of cocaine for about $18,500 for 2.2 pounds from the defendants in Oxnard in 2009.

The defendants didn't have any money to buy the cocaine and were going to rob Wade and his friend Kenneth Pecaro, said Fox. Wade and Pecaro didn't have money with them and were there to check out the cocaine, according to prosecutors.

Outside the presence of the jury and before the trial began, Johnson's lawyer Willard Wiksell told the judge that he wanted his investigator to sit near him at the defense table so he could consult with him during the trial. But the bailiff told Wiksell that the investigator would have to sit in the front row.

"I've never had him sit in the front row because he is too valuable to me," Wiksell told the judge. "He doesn't need to be mother-henned by a security officer."

Judge Charles Campbell told Wiksell that "for the record" he looks like he was about six feet behind him in the front row.

Wiksell said his investigator who is licensed and a retired Ventura police officer is helping him with the volumes of police reports this case has cranked out and the investigator's consulting goes along with reviewing these files He said this sometimes ocurrs when a witness is on the stand.

"It's that important to me," said Wiksell.

The bailiff said the corner was too cluttered and there were no more chairs because they had all been taken up by jurors.

"For want of a chair?" Wiksell countered. "We could bring a folding chair."

The judge said he'd decided whether the investigator could sit closer to the defense table before witnesses begin testifying.

The court recessed for lunch at about 11:30 a.m. after Fox made her opening statements.

Defense lawyers begin their opening statements at 1:30 p.m. when the court reconvenes.




Russell Takasugi Will Be In Court on Friday

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Russell  Takasugi, the son of late Assemblyman and Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi, will  be in court on Friday and more than likely his sentencing will be postponed and the case continued, said his lawyer Brian Vogel today.

The 57-year-old Takasugi is scheduled to be in Courtroom 37 at 1:30 p.m.

Vogel said his office is still reviewing thousands of pages of discovery on the new criminal case.

In a plea deal, Takasugi was going to be sentenced in December to five years in prison for stealing money from former client Oscar Muro, 71, who died of cancer in 2007. But more criminal charges were filed against Takasugi alleging that he also stole from the estate of Hazel McVey, who died at 80 years of age in October 2002.

Vogel said his client can't be sentenced for the Muro case until the McVey case is resolved.

Prosecutor Marc Leventhal had said he will ask the judge to sentence Takasugi to 10 years in confinement. Vogel said talks are underway with the DA to try and work out a plea agreement and keep this case from going to trial.

Takasugi who is in custody has been disbarred. He was a Simi Valley lawyer.

Thought You'd Like to Know

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Why do we say, "justice is blind?"
The Egyptian pharaohs concerned that courtroom theatrics might influence the administration of justice, established the practice of holding trials in the darkened chambers with absolutely no light. That way, the judge wouldn't be moved by anything but the facts. It's this principle that inspired Lady Justice, the statute of the woman with the blindfold holding the scales that everybody recognizes and is often found outside courtrooms -- according to "The Little Book of Answers" by Doug Lennox.

In Other Courthouses Across the Nation This Week

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In Alexandria, Virginia, 47-year-old John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, was indicted for disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee involved in classified activities, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
In another federal courthouse in El Paso, a Juarez drug cartel leader in Juarez and Chihuahua, was sentenced to life in prison for his participation in drug trafficking and acts of violence with the Barrio Azteca prison gang.
Jose Antonio Acosta-Hernandez, 34, also pleaded guilty to seven murders including the triple homicide in Juarez of U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Enriquez, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Salcido, the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee.
In Baltimore, Antonio Martinez, also known as Muhammed Hussain, 22, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a federal judge for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against an armed forces recruiting station.

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.

Murder Trial of Three Defendants Begins Monday

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Opening statements in the murder trial of three men accused of killing a Northern California man in Oxnard begin at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 35 on Monday.
The three --Brian Bilal Starks, 37; Terrance Deshun Morrow, 31; and Corey Lamar Johnson, 34 - are charged with the murder of Michael Wade during a drug deal.
A judge recently ruled that Wade's words when he was fatally wounded can be heard by the jury, which will be in the form of a 20-minute recording.
The judge ruled that this wasn't a dying declaration because, by law, Wade wasn't told by police or paramedics that he was dying. So it can't be used as a so-called dying declaration.
But Wade's comments can be heard by jurors as "spontaneous" statements to describe what happened before he was fatally wounded, including that three black men robbed him.
Defense lawyers argued that Wade had reason to lie since he was a drug dealer and argued unsuccessfully that Wade's remark about being robbed shouldn't be heard by jurors.
Dying declarations carry more weight because a dying man tends to be more truthful about his words than a person who isn't about to die according to the law, said defense lawyer Willard Wiksell.
Prosecutors say Starks shot Wade, 49, in a robbery and killing in the 1400 block of South E Street in Oxnard on Nov. 9, 2009.
This case is loaded with interesting legal ins and outs along with some eye-opening testimony about the first two cops at a crime scene treating a dying man while at the same time securing a crime scene where armed suspects might still be inside a nearby residence.

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.