July 2012 Archives

A Ventura County Judge is An Alternate Juror in a Murder Trial

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

Monday morning opening statements are set to begin in the murder trial of Gregorio Aguilar and in the jury box will be Ventura County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bennett.

Judge Bennett answered his jury summons and neither Aguilar's lawyer Richard Hanawalt nor prosecutor Rebecca Day excluded him from serving on the jury.

"I think the other judges are pissed off," said Hanawalt in an interview Friday.

Yeah, there were rumblings among a few of the judicial brethren at the Hall of Justice because someone has to do Bennett's work and there is a shortage of judges.

Bennett is one of the three judicial workhorses  on the first floor: The other two are judges Kevin McGee who is assigned to Courtroom 12 and Donald Coleman who is assigned to Courtroom 13.

These three judges are Clydesdales in robes.

It's not unusual to have  the trio -- Judge Bennett, McGee and Coleman --  handle  up to 200 criminal cases or more a day.

Hanawalt said he really didn't know how Judge Bennett who has a strong prosecutorial background ended up in the jury box.

"I am not sure how it happened," said Hanawalt.

But he said Judge Bennett  has a reputation  of being fair to both prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Both prosecutors  and defense attorneys have filed judicial disqualification motions or 170.6 motions against Judge Bennett. This legal motion allows lawyers to disqualify  a judge who the attorney genuinely believes biased, said Hanawalt.

Lawyers do not have to state a reason to disqualify a judge under  170.6 motions. All judges in the courtroom have been hit with 170.6 motions if they have been on the bench for more than a month.

Although an alternate juror doesn't go into the jury room to deliberate, Hanawalt concedes that this could change if one of the 12 jurors gets sick or for some reason is unable to fulfill his jury duties. Then, he said either Judge Bennett or the other alternate juror will step in to fill his or her shoes.

"And boom, he will be on the jury," said Hanawalt.  "I think he is truly fair."

Hanawalt said he went to Judge Coleman's Courtroom on an unrelated criminal matter and believed JudgeColeman might have a comment to make to him about Judge Bennett being on the jury.

Hanawalt  said it didn't  happen.

"He was totally business-like," said Hanawalt.

 How was Judge Bennett's demeanor while he was on the jury panel?

Hanawalt said the judge was patient, not irritable and  "he answered all the questions."

All the judges at the Hall of Justice preach to jurors about the importance of jury duty and what it means to the criminal justice system  to answer a jury summons and sometimes, be willing to serve on a jury, said Hanwalt.

Hanawalt said Judge  Bennett simply practices what he preaches.

Opening statements in the murder trial of 22-year-old Aguilar begin Monday at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 45.

Judge Charles Campbell is presiding over the case, and Hanawalt said the trial will take about a week so.


Omaha Man Gets More than 17 Years in Prison For Producing Child Porn

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

NEBRASKA  -- A 50-year-old man was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for producing child pornography, federal prosecutors announced today.

Douglas Suing, of Omaha, was arrested in Navajo County, Arizona on Jan. 12, 2011 as he was driving back to Nebraska, say federal authorities. A search of the hard drive found in Suing's vehicle revealed over 9,000 videos of child pornography, federal authorities stated.

Authorities identified a child engaged in sexually explicit in a series of short videos and images produced by Suing's camera as a 12-year-old living in Omaha.

In addition to the images of the 12-year-old produced by Suing, there were more than 200 videos of child pornography to include infants and prepubescent children engaged in acts of sexual penetration and bondage, federal prosecutors stated.

This matter was investigated by the Omaha FBI's Cyber Crime Task Force.

Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation, say federal  authorities.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood go to: www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"I once told Nixon that the Presidency is like being a jackass caught in a hail storm. You've got to just stand there and take it."--  Lyndon B. Johnson

Nationwide Law Enforcement Drug Crackdown Results in 90 Arrests

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

WASHINGTON  -- A DEA drug bust resulted in the arrest of more than 90 people , more than five million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs seized and more than $36 million in cash confiscated,  the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced today.

Operation Log Jam was conducted by the DEA, ICE along with the IRS, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and Food and Drug Administration.

Also state and local law enforcement officials participated in this crackdown that federal officials say is the first-ever nationwide law enforcement   action against the synthetic designer drug industry.

Law enforcement targeted the synthetic designer industry, including retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers in 109 U.S. cities, according to the DEA officials.

Spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said in an interview that there were seven Southern California cities where the crackdown took place: Los Angeles, Corona, Laguna Niguel, the City of Industry, Rolling Heights and San Juan Capistrano.



Memphis Man Sentenced to 40 years in Prison for Robbing Two Banks

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

MEMPHIS-- A man who robbed two banks on the same day and used an assault rifle to fire at a police officer who tried to arrest him was sentenced this week to 40 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.

On Dec. 9, 2009, Philip Thompson, 27, of Memphis who was armed with an assault rifle  robbed the Trust One Bank.  About 15 minutes later, Thompson who was now armed with a black handgun robbed the Cadence Bank,  prosecutors stated.

Thompson's vehicle was spotted by officers. He refused to stop his truck, firing 12 shots with an assault rifle at a police officer, federal officials stated.

He was later arrested. 

Thank you, Judge Ryan Wright

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

I received an email from Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright about the U.S. Supreme Court case -- Presley vs. Georgia.

This is the case where the nation's highest court said that courtrooms should be opened to the public even during the jury selection process.

I stated in my blog that was posted on Monday that twice in the last three months I have been told by  courtroom bailiffs that I couldn't stay for jury selection because all the courtroom seats would be taken up by  jury panels.

In a nutshell, Judge Wright stated in his email that he was glad I wrote the blog post, saying that as a student of American History he understands that there are very sound reasons why courtrooms must be open.

"I personally brought your blog post to the attention of the Presiding Judge and the Sheriff's Department. They are taking care of it. I doubt you will have that problem again," Judge Wright stated.

Thank you for your help, Judge Wright.

Live Link to Friday's Discussions on Trial Courts Budget Allocations

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

On Friday, the Judicial Council will meet to discuss budget allocations to the trial courts for the 2012-2012 fiscal year.

The judicial branch faces $544 million in cuts in this coming fiscal year, with the trial courts having to absorb $285 million in cuts.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in San Francisco.

A link to the live audiocast will be posted on the California Courts website at approximately 9:45 a.m. The agenda for the meeting is postedhere.

Ventura County Judges and Others Comment on State Judicial Report

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

There were more than 450 comments, mostly from judges, that were made on an Administrative Office of the Courts' report that harshly criticized the state agency for being top heavy with upper management, bloated with employees and lacking transparency and oversight.

Four of the 450-plus comments were made by Ventura County Superior Court Judges Ryan Wright, Jeffrey Bennett,  Matthew Guasco and Roger Lund:

"In recent years, the AOC's staffing level grew steadily - even as trial courts encountered budget shortfalls and staff layoffs," the Strategic Evaluation Committee or SEC's 200-plus-page report states.

The committee was established last year by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to look into the role and operations and staffing of the Sacramento-based Administrative Office of the Courts.

Cantil-Sakauye, is the chairwoman of the Judicial Council, which is the governing body of  California's 58 Superior Courts.  The Council also  appoints the administrative director of the AOC, which develops rules of the courts, disperses court funding, handles human resources and addresses technology needs.

The committee is meeting all day Aug. 9 to read the comments and go over every recommendation, according to Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the Judicial Council's Executive and Planning committee.

Here is what Ventura County Superior Court Judges had to say about the report:

Judge Ryan Wright: "Ventura County."I strongly urge the recommendations made in the SEC report be implemented immediately.

As a Judge who has been on the Bench for less than two years, I realize that I may lack some of the institutional knowledge of many of my colleagues. I do, however, realize that the AOC has grown too large and too powerful. The people who work at the AOC are not subject to re-election challenges every  years, as we are. We have to answer to voters for decisions made by people who are not accountable to us. That is an incredibly difficult position to be in. The SEC recommendations are well thought out and timely. They need to be immediately embraced and implemented."

Judge Jeffrey G. Bennett:  "I urge the Executive and Planning Committee, the Chief Justice, and the Judicial Council to immediately implement every recommendation of the Strategic Evaluation Committee."  

Judge Matthew P. Guasco: "I am impressed with the breadth, depth and thoughtfulness of the SEC's work and recommendations.  I am generally supportive of all of the  recommendations, although I urge caution concerning the timing and scope of their implementation given the already fragile state of trial court funding and operations. 

Additionally, I urge the Judicial Council to retain the core educational programming provided by the AOC, which I find to be of very high quality and value.  Finally, I hope that whatever cost savings and efficiencies will be achieved by implementation of the SEC's recommendations will inure to the benefit of trial court operations and judicial staff.  The latter have endured far too much in the way of job insecurity and lost income due to furloughs given their invaluable contributions to our operations on a daily basis."

Judge Roger L. Lund: "I strongly urge the Executive and Planning Committee, the Chief Justice, and the Judicial Council to immediately implement each and every recommendation of the Strategic Evaluation Committee.  As a newer judge, I have watched quietly from the sidelines for the past few years to try to determine what the proper course of action would be.  The report sets forth numerous bold and clear reforms that, if implemented, would begin to restore credibility to the Judicial Council as a governing body and the AOC as an effective institution supporting the judiciary.  These reforms also would begin to restore credibility to the branch leadership with the judges around the state and the other branches of government with whom we interact. To do nothing would only prove that the Judicial Council is incapable of reforming the body over which it should preside, and perpetuate a bureaucracy of uncontrolled overindulgence that is now the AOC, with the result that courts across the state are losing and unavailable to allow access to justice by the many deserving citizens of our communities. The members of the SEC should be rewarded for their countless hours of hard work by implementing all of the reforms forthwith."

To look at all the comments made on the Strategic Evaluation Committee report visit:http://www.courts.ca.gov/programs/18441.htm  



Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards." -- Mark Twain

Woman Allegedly Mailed Hoax Anthrax Letters to U.S. Senators

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Federal officials unsealed an indictment today against a woman, charging her with nine counts of mailing hoax anthrax letters to the offices of U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
If convicted, Kathryn Cohen Allen, 45, is facing up to 45 years in federal prison.
She mailed similar letters that contained a white powdery substance to other state agencies and offices and three private citizens, say federal prosecutors.
According to the indictment, between June 24, 2011 and June 28, 2011, Allen mailed the threatening letters containing the white powdery substance.

Orange County Banking VP Sentenced to Prison for Stealing from Customer

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

 SANTA ANA  - A judge today sentenced an Orange County man who served as a vice president of Farmers and Merchants Bank and was the manager of the institution's Laguna Hills branch to 41 months in federal prison for stealing nearly $2 million from a customer's account, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

        Matthew J. Walker, 34, of Orange, was also ordered Walker to pay just over $1.8 million in restitution.

        Walker pleaded guilty to one count of theft of bank funds in November 2011, specifically admitted that he stole nearly $2 million over a 16-month period that ended in July 2010. Walker withdrew money from a line of credit in the name of a trust that held an account at Farmers and Merchants. To cover up the scheme, Walker made interest payments on the money supposedly loaned to the trust, according to  Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Waier.

        Walker "stole almost $2 million dollars from a client for a personal venture where he was trying 'to hit it big,'" according to a sentencing memo filed by prosecutors. "Much like gambling, [Walker] used the money on a start-up company that he was intimately involved in and where he could win or lose. Like most risky gambles, he ultimately lost it all."

        The case against Walker was investigated by the FBI.

Psst...U.S.Supreme Court Wants Courts Open During Jury Selection

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar


The U.S. Supreme Court is very serious about keeping courtrooms open to the public even during jury selection.

It's been two years since the Presley vs. Georgia case and the word hasn't apparently filtered down to the Ventura County Hall of Justice.

Twice, I have been told by  courtroom bailiffs that I couldn't stay for jury selection because all the courtroom seats would be taken up by  jury panels.    

Today, was the second time it happened within the last three months.

(The judges and lawyers, not the bailiffs, should be the ones who make sure the Supreme Court ruling is followed.)

What I am surprised at is that neither defense attorneys nor defendants are aware of the high court ruling because denying the public the right to attend the jury selection process will probably get a criminal conviction tossed out.

 Here is some information from an earlier column I wrote on my blog about Presley vs. Georgia.

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."

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

             In addition,  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.


Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"When you live for the opinions of others, you are dead.  I don't want to live thinking about how I'll be remembered."  -- Carlos Slim, the world's richest man

Former Desert Hot Springs Officer Sentenced to Prison for Abusing Suspects

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

LOS ANGELES -- A federal judge today sentenced a former police officer with the Desert Hot Springs Police Department to four years in prison for abusing suspects by using pepper spray and a Taser, according to federal prosecutors.


Anthony Sclafani, 42, was convicted of violating the civil rights of two suspects in police custody, federal officials stated in a press release.


        A federal jury convicted Sclafani in February of two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law.


Sclafani, "a police sergeant and watch commander at the Desert Hot Springs Police Department, abused his authority when he willfully used excessive force by pepper spraying and shocking with a Taser gun two arrestees on two consecutive days without any lawful justification," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.


        The evidence presented at trial showed that Sclafani used an X26 Taser gun to stun suspects in two incidents in February 2005. In one incident, the suspect was handcuffed when Sclafani used pepper spray and the Taser on the suspect.


        "I don't believe I should have to live in fear of police brutality, no matter what my background or where I come from," the victim told the court today.


        In the second incident, a female suspect - who prosecutors argued was too drunk even to stand on her own - was in a locked cell when Sclafani opened the door to spray her in the face with pepper spray and to use the Taser on her.


        Sclafani "intimidated, abused and repeatedly assaulted two helpless victims who were in his custody at the jail in two separate incidents without any lawful justification," prosecutors wrote in court papers. "To cover up his illegal conduct, he then concocted lies that the victims were combative and physically resistant to justify his use of force."


        The case against Sclafani is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.



Prison Cell Lease Agreement Drawn Up By Federal Inmate

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
Prison Cell Lease Agreement

SOURCE: Leasing Agreement Found Inside the Cell of an Inmate Serving Time in a Southern California Federal Prison

Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway." 

-  Mother Teresa

Navy Seal Gets Long Prison Sentence for Trafficking in Arms

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

A federal judge this week sentenced a Navy Seal who was convicted last fall of multiple felony weapons and other criminal charges to more than 17 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.

The federal judge imposed a harsher sentence against Nicholas Bickle, 34, of San Diego, because of the large number of firearms involved, the types of weapons and because the weapons were stolen and trafficked, according to federal officials.

U.S. District Judge Roger L. Hunt also found that Bickle was the mastermind of the criminal operation and abused his position of trust.

"The weapons trafficked in this case were not your ordinary firearms; rather, they were fully-automatic machineguns that likely would have ended up in the hands of criminals," U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden stated in a press release.  "The defendant's conduct was serious, and the court imposed a lengthy prison sentence that should serve as a deterrent to anyone who is considering trafficking in machineguns or other firearms."

Form about 2009 to November 2010, Bickle transported the majority of the weapons to Nevada and Colorado where his co-conspirators sold them to others, including an undercover law enforcement agent who expressed the intent to smuggle the weapons to Mexico. 

Devils Diciples Motorcycle Club Members Indicted for Various Crimes

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

MICHIGAN -- Thirty-nine members and associates of the Devils Diciples motorcycle club, including the national president and vice president, were named in federal indictments charging them with participating in numerous crimes, including drug trafficking and weapons charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.


According to the federal indictment, the Devils Diciples is a criminal enterprise with its national headquarters in Clinton Township, Mich.   The Devils Diciples operates regional chapters located in cities throughout Michigan, Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere.   The Devils Diciples engage in criminal activities for financial gain, including distribution of narcotics, theft, transportation and sale of stolen motorcycles, conducting illegal gambling businesses, robbery, extortion and acts of violence.


"Removing violent criminal organizations from our community is essential to attaining the quality of life we expect and deserve," U.S. Attorney McQuade stated in a press release. "Federal law enforcement is using all legal tools available to prosecute violent criminal enterprises like this one."

Connecticut Man Indicted for Arson That Killed Two Adults, Boy

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

CONNECTICUT - A federal grand jury returned an indictment against a New Haven man for setting a house on fire that resulted in the death of three people including an eight-year-old boy, federal officials announced Thursday.

Hector Natal, also known as "Boom Boom," was charged with arson of a multi-family house that caused the deaths of 42-year-old Wanda Roberson, her  eight-year-old son Quayshawn Roberson, and her 21-year-old niece Jacquetta Roberson on March 9, 2011, federal authorities stated in a press release.

Natal, 26, along with his father Hector Morales, 50, of New Haven were charged with drug dealing which led to the arson and tampering with witnesses, federal officials stated.

According to the federal indictment, Natal and a resident of the multi-family house engaged in many telephone calls, including three that occurred within hours of the arson.

Federal prosecutors allege that Natal set the fire to the two-story residence in part as retaliation for failure to pay a drug debt. Morales served as Natal's driver during drug transactions, according to officials.

Largest Prescription Medicaid Scam Ever Nets 48 Defendants

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

What is believed to be the largest single prescription drug, medical fraud scheme ever charged resulted in criminal charges against 48 people today in New York, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.

The scheme caused losses estimated at more than half-a-billion-dollars in Medicaid, say federal officials.

Defendants were in custody in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas. Some defendants remain at large, say federal law enforcement officials.

 "As alleged, these defendants ran a black market in prescription pills involving a double-dip fraud of gigantic proportions," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a press release. "It worked a fraud on Medicaid--in some cases, two times over--a fraud on pharmaceutical companies, a fraud on legitimate pharmacies, a fraud on patients who unwittingly bought second-hand drugs, and ultimately, a fraud on the entire health care system. With the dozens of arrests we made today, we have taken a significant step toward exposing and shutting down the black market for second-hand drugs, and our investigation is very much ongoing."

The prescription drugs involved in this scheme were drugs designed to treat various illnesses, including HIV, schizophrenia, and asthma, and were non-controlled substances that did not lend themselves to abuse, federal authorities stated.

These second-hand drugs were originally dispensed to Medicaid recipients in the New York City area who then sold them into collection and distribution channels that ultimately ended at pharmacies for resale to unsuspecting consumers, say federal officials.

 The defendants and their co-conspirators profited by exploiting the difference between the cost to the patient of obtaining the prescription drugs through Medicaid, which was usually nothing, and the hundreds of dollars per bottle that pharmacies paid to purchase those drugs to sell to their customers. In order to maximize their profits, the defendants and their co-conspirators targeted the most expensive drugs, which often cost more than $1,000 per bottle.

During the investigation, the FBI seized more than $16 million worth of second-hand prescription drugs, comprised of more than 33,000 bottles and more than 250,000 loose pills, kept in uncontrolled and sometimes egregious conditions by various defendants and their co-conspirators, according to federal prosecutors.


Federal Inspector Arrested for Taking Bribes and Cash from Aliens

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

SAN DIEGO - Hector Rodriguez, a customs and border protection officer, was arrested today along with Gerardo Rodriguez and Vanessa Moya for allegedly conspiring to bring in aliens for cash and bribes, according to federal prosecutors.

The defendants conspired to smuggle aliens from Mexico by driving them through the inspection lane manned by Hector Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was arrested while on duty at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, federal authorities state.

The defendants received thousands of dollars in smuggling fees from the illegal aliens, and that Gerardo Rodriguez, 42, provided Hector Rodriguez, 45, with the use of luxury cars, apartment rent payments and other bribes, according to federal officials.

Hector Rodriguez would tell Gerardo Rodriguez and Moya, 29, of his work schedule at the port of entry, including date, time and lane number to which he was assigned as a primary inspector.

Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." -- Buddha

Starline Tours Agrees to Provide Wheelchairs for Handicap People

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

LOS ANGELES -  The oldest and largest sightseeing tour in Los Angeles, Starline Tours of Hollywood, Inc., has agreed to reform its policies and practices to settle allegations and ensure that any new vehicles purchased or leased for use in its sightseeing tours will be accessible to people who use wheelchairs, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced today.


Starline Tours agreed to reform its policies and practices to settle allegations that it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles used for its sightseeing tours, according federal prosecutors.


Be Back in a Week

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

I'll be out of the newsroom until July 16

Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall."  --

Nelson Mandela

Homeland Security Agent Wounded in Texas; Suspects Arrested

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

MCALLEN, TX - A man and his son who allegedly shot and wounded a Homeland Security Investigations special agent in the back on Tuesday were arrested and charged with assault, according to federal prosecutors.

Pedro Alvarado, 41, and  Arnoldo Alvarado, 18, were also charged with knowingly using and carrying a firearm during a crime a violence,  the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Texas stated in a press release.

Federal officials said the special agent was conducting surveillance, anticipating a drug deal to be occurring near Hargill. While parked at an intersection of Farm to Market 493 and Cemetery Road, the special agent was allegedly approached by another vehicle from which shots were fired, according to federal authorities.

The special agent drove north and was chased by the suspects who continued shooting. The agent lost control of his vehicle and was found by law enforcement. The agent had been shot one time in the back, say federal officials.

The Alvarados who are from Hargill, Texas were taken into federal custody. A third person, a minor was turned over to state authorities, according to federal officials. 

Questions for Prospective Jurors Have been Whittled Down to Seven

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marine Guilty of Possessing Machine Gun Smuggled from Iraq

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

RIVERSIDE  - A former  U.S. Marine was convicted  of possessing a chrome-plated AK-47 machine gun that was plundered from Iraq after the fall of Saddam, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The jury on Friday found Joel Cleve Miller, 40, of Twentynine Palms, guilty of illegally possessing a machine gun after a four-day trial.

Miller is facing up to 10 years in federal prison.

The jury that convicted Miller acquitted him on charges of possession of another machine gun, according to federal prosecutors.

Miller, who returned to the United States from a 14-month tour in Iraq in 2005, showed several people the AK-47 and told them he had smuggled it into the United States and that the weapon once belonged to Saddam Hussein's royal guard, according to federal officials.

Miller was in the Marine Corps for more than 20 years, reaching the rank of staff sergeant before being discharged in December 2011 for approving false travel claims and stealing from the United States government, according to federal authorities. 

Today's Quote

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

LA Man Convicted of Using Elderly Information to Get Credit Cards

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

LOS ANGELES - A jury  on Friday found a  Los Angeles man guilty of federal fraud charges for his role in international identity theft and credit card fraud scheme that targeted elderly cardholders, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Doren Harold Ward, 37, of Park La Brea was convicted of six felony counts, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, credit card fraud and aggravated identity theft.

As part of the scam, British members of the fraud scheme impersonated elderly cardholders and asked credit companies to send replacement cards to Southern California.

The British members would claim to be on vacation in Southern California and said they planned to make large purchases while there, say federal authorities.

Ward and other domestic members of the scheme picked up the fraudulently obtained credit cards at "mail drops," according to federal officials.

Ward and other members of the scheme used the credit cards to attempt to purchase more than $250,000 in luxury goods including Rolex watches and items at Louis Vuitton, Geary's and Ben Bridge Jeweler's stores in Southern California, say federal prosecutors.

Ward faces a statutory maximum sentence of 104 years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 24

Thought You'd Like to Know

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar

In the sentencing of Jeremy McCubbin on Thursday, a judge gave him 16 years in prison after his lawyers filed a so-called Romero motion which allows the defense to ask that the court dismiss a strike.

In considering the sentence, Judge Kevin DeNoce  struck one strike allegation, which means McCubbin couldn't receive the harsher three-strike sentence of 37 years to life that the prosecution wanted.

Judge DeNoce sentenced McCubbin to 16 years in prison.

In the 1996 Jesus Romero vs. the People, the California Supreme Court ruled that defense attorneys can ask judges to "strike" strikes, and the judge can use his or her discretion and strike strikes, according to the law provided courtesy of Standford Law School.

Two years after California voters and legislatures passed the "Three Strikes" law, Jesus Romero was convicted of possessing a small quantity of cocaine, which would normally had sent him to prison for up to three years, the state's high court ruled.

 But under the tougher three strikes law, Romero was facing a life sentence because of his two prior felony convictions burglary and attempted burglary.

The judge felt that the sentence was too harsh. However, he couldn't ignore the mandatory Three Strikes provisions. So the judge exercised the court's discretion under California law, according to the Romero case.

The prosecution objected.

After a strike was tossed out, Romero avoided a life sentence. Instead, he got six years in prison, which was more because of three prior prison sentences.

The prosecution appealed. But the California Supreme Court sided with the judge, saying he could use the court's discretion to strike a strike.

For more information about the Romero Case visit the Standford Law School web site: http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-superior-court-romero-31738

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.