February 2013 Archives

Court Reporter's Notebook

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Jail Inmate Gets Chewed Out by Judge

During a recess in Andrew Luster's hearing, I briefly stepped into Judge Brian Back's court and a short time later, the judge became upset at a tattooed jail inmate who apparently flung a pencil at a probation officer.

This guy went into a Salvation Army program, decided he had enough and walked away and by doing so he violated the terms of his probation.

The judge told the inmate that he could have been charged with assault by throwing the pencil at the female officer.

"Deal with her respectfully," the judge said raising his voice. "We worked with you. You've got to admit that. You shined us on."

Adding, "I don't know what you have to do to get out of custody but do it."

The judge who is pretty laid back sentenced this guy to 150 days in jail.

Jury Selection in Murder Trial of a Man Accused of Killing His Sister

Jury selection is underway in the murder trial of David Morales, of Fillmore, who is accused of the death of his younger sister Maricruz Morales, a 20-year-old Fillmore High School graduate.

She was beaten to death on Sept. 15, 2010 during a domestic dispute at the family's Sespe Avenue apartment in Fillmore, according to authorities.

Morales is charged with assault with force causing great bodily injury stemming from the beating of his mother who tried to help her daughter.

Jury selection continues Friday in Courtroom 25, Judge Patricia Murphy presiding.

Morales' lawyer is Claudia Bautista with the Public Defender's Office; the case is being prosecuted by Rebecca Day.

 

 

 

From the Court Reporter's Notebook

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

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

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

Stop Seeing My Sister, Andrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are not Experts, the Judge Ruled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Yeah, and, I am a Walrus)

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

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

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

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

Back on the Planet Earth

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

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

Newly Appointed Judge to be Sworn into Office on Friday

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

The oath office will be administered by Judge Patricia Murphy.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prosecutor Pointed to What Others Say Was The Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

It was no secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The courtroom deputies ordered the camera to be turned off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Peyton Found Guilty of Theft and Receiving Stolen Property

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Lee Peyton who I wrote about on this blog was found guilty of using a stolen debit card to steal $300 at an ATM in Ventura and stealing a CD case on Tuesday.

"He was surprised by how fast they came back," said Attorney Victor Salas, who served as Peyton's court-appointed co-counsel.

It took jurors less than an hour to find Peyton, 34, guilty of two counts of receiving stolen property and one count of identity theft.

Salas said Peyton has filed four legal motions immediately after the jury trial and three had been decided by Judge David Hirsch.

Salas said a total of 10 legal motions were filed by Peyton after the jury's decision.

Judge Hirsch had offered Peyton seven years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea; and the District Attorney's Office offered Peyton seven years and four months.

Salas said he was at nine years, and he has been able to whittle that down to seven years.

Peyton, who has Tourettes syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntarily movements and vocalizations called tics, said he was willing to plead guilty for a six year sentence. Peyton wanted to be given credit for time serve along with credits earned for good behavior which now total more than five years.

"This thing should have been resolved in 2009," said Salas.

Initially, the District Attorney's Office wanted to put Peyton who has two robbery convictions  behind bars for the rest of his life under the three-strikes law, said Salas.

But Proposition 36 changed the Three Strikes Law and was approved by voters in November. Only felonies that are considered serious or violent offenses can be considered a third strike. So Peyton's charges don't meet this new criteria approved by voters.

Prosecutors admitted as evidence two convictions against Peyton for possession of stolen property 1999 and 2003, including the theft of what they allege is another CD case.

Closing Arguments Set Tuesday in Lee Peyton Trial

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Closing arguments in the trial of Lee Peyton who is charged with using a stolen debit card to steal $300 at an ATM and two weeks later, stealing a CD case begin in Courtroom 48 on Tuesday morning.

Peyton, who is representing himself but is getting help from court-appointed lawyer Victor Salas, will make most or all of the closing arguments.

The trial, which has lasted two weeks, has seen 14 witnesses take the stand, including four defense witnesses and six Sheriff's deputies for the prosecution.

The case has lingered in the courts for more than three years, and it has cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars to take this pro per case to trial.

Peyton has been assigned seven, court-appointed lawyers, including Salas, who is being paid $150 an hour. Also two defense experts have been paid more than $13,000, so far.

In addition, Peyton was awarded $7,500 to pay for a private investigator to help him in his defense, according to Salas.

There also have been four prosecutors assigned to this case including the latest prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Stuart Gardner.

Gardner said he was assigned the case two weeks before it went to trial on Feb. 5. The last prosecutor Brian Weilbacher recently went into private practice.

The Charges Against Peyton

The 34-year-old Peyton was arrested on Jan. 27, 2010 and has been in jail since that time under a $175,000 bail.

Peyton, of Ojai, allegedly got a stolen credit card after a vehicle was burglarized in the Ojai Valley and used the card an hour later at a Wells Fargo ATM  machine in Ventura to withdraw $300. Two weeks later, prosecutors said another vehicle was burglarized and a CD case was stolen.

Sheriff's deputies testified that there had been a rash of vehicle burglaries in the Ojai area.

Peyton is charged with two counts of receiving stolen property and one count of identity theft. He has never been charged with burglary in this case.

Peyton maintains that he couldn't have broken into the car in Ojai, drove to an ATM in Ventura and accessed the bank account within an hour without knowing  the PIN number.

The victim believed the PIN was inside an address book that was missing, and the number was in the W section (Wells Fargo).

There Are Three ATM Photographs of the Suspect Admitted as Evidence

Prosecutor Gardner said the hooded suspect in the grainy photograph is Peyton.

That photograph appears to look like Peyton, according to Peyton's friend of 12 years who testified as a defense witness last week.

"It appears to be him but I wasn't there when the picture was taken," said Steven Robertson.

Robertson also had his photograph taken from the same Wells Fargo ATM that allegedly captured Peyton withdrawing money. He testify that he couldn't recognize himself from the ATM photograph and  was admitted as evidence for the defense.

The photograph is just a bright light with no discernible image of a person.

For his part, Peyton maintains that the person in the photograph captured by the bank's security camera isn't him.

Peyton's court-appointed expert Ron Guzek, who got into hot water with the judge for his off-the-cuff comments to jurors, testified that he can't identity of the person on the ATM photo.

There Were Offers to Plea Guilty to the Crimes

Judge David Hirsch has offered Peyton seven years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea; and the District Attorney's Office offered Peyton seven years and four months.

Salas said the offer was up to nine years, and he has been able to whittle that down to seven years.

If convicted on all the criminal charges, Salas said the most Peyton can get is 10 years in prison and he'll end up serving about two more years behind bars.

Peyton, who has Tourettes syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntarily movements and vocalizations called tics, said he was willing to plead guilty for a six year sentence. Peyton wants to be given credit for time serve along with credits earned for good behavior which now total more than five years.

"He wants to go home. So, he'll accept going home even if he has to plea," said Salas.

Initially, the District Attorney's Office wanted to put Peyton who has two robbery convictions  behind bars for the rest of his life under the three-strikes law, said Salas.

But Proposition 36 changed the Three Strikes Law and was approved by voters in November. Only felonies that are considered serious or violent offenses can be considered a third strike. So Peyton's charges don't meet this new criteria approved by voters.

Prosecutors, for their part, admitted as evidence two convictions against Peyton for possession of stolen property 1999 and 2003, including the theft of a what they allege is another CD case.

Peyton the Jailhouse Lawyer Insults the Judge and Others

During his time behind bars, Peyton has filed 50 legal motions and has spent hundreds of hours researching the law while in jail.  Some of his legal arguments have made their way to the appeals court and the California Supreme Court.

Salas said he is impressed by his client's legal writings and knowledge of the law.

Along the way to trial, however, Peyton has insulted or belittled prosecutors and judges, including Hirsch who he accused of being a bully and unfair.

The judge who was extremely patient and calm while on the bench accused Peyton of "gamesmanship," noting that Peyton of causing deliberate disruptions and delays.

On the day his trial on Feb. 5, Peyton insisted on wearing his jail garb to trial and fired his lawyer Salas, again. The judge ordered Salas to take over Peyton's defense after Peyton refused to stay in the courtroom during his trial.

He later changed his mind and through a partially opened detention cell door adjacent to the courtroom he told the judge he wanted to return to court.

Salas talked to Peyton who agreed to let Salas sit next to him during his trial, insisting that Salas sit four feet away from him. Later, Salas and Peyton were smiling and the attorney-lawyer relationship was back on track.

Prosecutors maintain that Peyton has wasted the court's time and resources, including filing frivolous legal motions. One motion asked the judge to give him money for new clothes so he could wear them for his trial.

Inconsistent Statements of One Victim and Experts Testify

Last week, the defense focused on questioning the prosecution's witnesses about the inconsistent statements of what the victim of the second burglary told police.

It also put two court-appointed experts on the stand.

Thursday, defense video and audio expert Ron Guzek, of Yorba Lina, testified that he had been paid $12,000 for 18 months work and is still owed $8,000. He said he submitted two reports.

He testified about the photographs lifted from a Wells Fargo's ATM cameras that prosecutors say grainy photograph of Peyton withdrawing $300 by using a debit card stolen from a burglarized vehicle in Ojai.

After being grilled about JPEG or the compression of digital photography, the enlargement, cropping, compression and positioning of photography among other things, Guzek  said there is no way to say the person in the ATM photo is Peyton.,

 "That's a picture of Mr. Peyton?"  Gardner asked Guzek.

"I couldn't say that," he replied.

During one point in his testimony, Judge Hirsch admonished Guzek after he commented that it would be unfair to send Peyton to jail for a photo taken by an ATM security camera that was not the right size.

The judge said this was inappropriate testimony because Guzek had inserted his personal opinion about a possible sentence against Peyton if he is convicted.

After his testimony, Guzek got the judge angry.

Guzek walked out of the courtroom during a court recess as jurors were also leaving and wished some of the jurors a "Happy Valentine's Day," which caught the ear of the judge who became furious.

"Don't say anything take a seat," the judge told Guzek, accusing him of committing a "contemptible act" by talking to jurors as they walked out.

The judge ordered Guzek, who had testified in court numerous times as an expert, to sit on the witness stand while everybody else, including the lawyers, went on a 15-minute break. The judge said he was going to leave the court and return with a decision as to whether there would be a contempt hearing against Guzek.

Guzek sat quietly on the stand during the recess, looking straight ahead.

The judge returned and told Guzek that he would not hold a contempt hearing and ordered Guzek to immediately leave the courtroom and not to smile, look at anyone or say anything  on his way out.

The defense's other expert Michael Eisen, is a professor in psychology from California State University in Los Angeles who testified about the impact of stress and trauma on memory.

Eisen said there is a myth that our memories are as powerful as cameras.

"We are not cameras. We are humans. We have limits," he said.

Eisen said the mind can be very selective about what it takes in and there can be gaps in memory that are often filled by sources. He testified that people do not pay enough attention to collect details.

"We infer information that sounds right to us," he said,

Although there were no eyewitness that saw Peyton steal the debit card or steal the red CD case,  Eisen said witness description of things at a crime scene including trucks seen leaving the area can also be skewed or embellished by victims who are sometimes stressed or want to help police find a suspect.

Police can also say things in a certain to witnesses that influence their judgment.

Salas gave a hypothetical situation to Eisen where a victim sees a truck and describes it to police and is later given one photo of Peyton's truck and asked if it was similar to the truck leaving the scene in a poorly lit area.

The victim whose CD case was stolen gave police different statement about the truck he saw leaving the area right after his car was burglarized, said Salas.

Eisen. who is the director of forensic psychology program, testified that he is paid $150 an hour and will get paid $1,500 for a day of testimony.

He said he's been testifying as an expert for more than 10 years, and the overwhelming time he has testified for the defense.

The Juror Who No Longer Wanted to be on the Jury

Wednesday, a young female juror told a bailiff that she checked at her work and was no longer going to be paid while she was on jury duty.

The bailiff told the judge. The judge called the juror into the courtroom and she told him that she wanted an alternate to replace her because her job was no longer paying her while she served on the jury.

The judge said he couldn't legally release her at this point of the trial and told her she would have to continue with her jury service.

The juror walked out with a frown on her face.

There are seven women and five men on the jury, including three teachers and two engineers.

The Trial Of Lee Peyton Continues

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The trial of Lee Peyton, who is representing himself, enters its second week in a case that is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Peyton's lawyer and court-appointed co-counsel, Victor Salas, said his client offered to plead guilty to the criminal charges and accept a six year sentence.

He has been in jail since January 2010 and has been charged with stealing a credit card and using it at an ATM to withdraw $300.

Two weeks after he stole the credit card, Peyton, 34, was charged with stealing a CD case which was found at a friend's house after a search warrant was served there.

But Judge David Hirsch said his offer is seven years behind bars; the District Attorney's Office said they will accept a guilty plea but Peyton must serve seven years and four months.

In an interview, Salas said he's tried to settle this case five times with Judge Hirsch and the offers have gone from nine years to seven years.

"He wants to go home. So, he'll accept going home even if he has to plea," said Salas.

But nobody is budging on their offers.

Ventura resident and court watcher Mickey Schlein reflects some of the frustration and concern of people who have watched this case.

"You're watching your tax dollars go up in smoke," said  Schlein. "This is so ridiculous."

When asked whether this case was a good use of court resources and time, Gardner replied in an interview: "Justice is always a good use of the court resources."

Adding, "If you want to talk about government waste, you need to talk to this guy (Peyton). Or talk to the victims that have been dragged through the mud by this guy."

The Charges Against Peyton

Peyton, of Ojai, allegedly stole a credit card after burglarizing a vehicle and used the ATM card to withdraw $300 and two weeks later, another vehicle was burglarized and a CD case was stolen.

The use of the ATM card and access to a bank account occurred about an hour after a person's car was broken into in Ojai, according to Salas.

The big question for us is that how in the heck did that happen within an hour, said Salas.



Peyton maintains that he couldn't have broken into the car in Ojai, drove to an ATM in Ventura and accessed the bank account by using  a someone's PIN number.

Peyton is charged with receiving stolen property and identity theft, according to court records.

The Body Language Inside The Jury Box

There are 12 jurors and two alternates in the jury box.

In the court, an additional two Sheriff's deputies have been assigned there - They are posted near the exit doors and there is the deputy who is the court bailiff who is behind the desk.

The jurors' faces throughout the trial have been stamped with frustration, occasionally glares are aimed at the defense and the prosecutor Stuart Gardner. 

One juror in the front row was spent a good deal of time studying the tips of her long, black hair as a witness testified.

The jury body language speaks volumes about those in the jury box: Legs are crossed and recrossed, sometimes bodies are slump in their chairs, arms cross and uncrossed and hands or fists holding up the sides of heads or chins.

Tens of Thousands of Dollars and Court-Appointed Defense Experts

The case against Peyton lingered in the courts for three years, during that time, there have been four prosecutors assigned to this case; Peyton has been represented by seven court-appointed lawyers, including the latest lawyer, Victor Salas.

Peyton has been awarded $7,500 to pay for a private investigator who testified Friday. Also money was given for two defense experts, and Salas said he is getting $150 an hour.

Salas said  the video-recording expert testifies Wednesday and the eyewitness expert takes the stand Thursday.

The trial continues in Courtroom 48.

The Prosecution Has Put Several Witnesses On The Stand

The defense has put six Sheriff's detectives along with three civilian witness including Jennifer Ressler, an investigator with Wells Fargo in Rhode Island. She was flown down to Ventura to testify. She was asked questions about the banks' ATMs, how debit cards, the bank's security system, the inner and outer working of ATMs mechanisms and much, much more.

Ressler was on the stand for several hours and even missed a flight back to Rhode Island because Peyton asked numerous questions.

The bottom line, Ressler, who at the end of her testimony was rotating  what appeared to be a stiff neck, summed it up best about what her involvement in the case.

"The only knowledge I have are three (ATM) photos I pulled," Ressler testified.

During a recess in the trial, Judge Hirsch told Peyton that he's allowed him "wide latitude" in the questioning of Ressler but cautioned Peyton about repeating the same questions.

 "We've gone over this ground multiple times," said the judge who has been extremely patient with Peyton.

Peyton then asked the judge for an asthma inhaler that he claims the Sheriff's deputies aren't giving him after his prescription ran out. He said he rarely uses the inhaler but the fumes in the courtroom were bothering him.

The judge ordered that the jail get an inhaler for Peyton.

In an interview, Schlein said: "I feel so sorry for Judge Hirsch."

Overwhelming Evidence Against Peyton

Prosecutor Gardner told jurors during opening statements in the trial that there will be overwhelming evidence that Peyton committed both crimes.

The three photos lifted from the ATM's security camera show it was Peyton who used the stolen ATM.

The victim of the stolen card said the suspect could have read her ATM's PIN because she wrote it in her address book in the W section (Wells Fargo). She said her address book was missing along with her purse.

Gardner told jurors that the owner of the second vehicle couldn't  identify the man who quickly took off after he broke into his car. But the victim gave a description of Peyton's  "very distinguishable truck," Gardner said.

Also there are text messages from Peyton to an "associate" that discuss robberies, said Gardner.

Defense Criticizes the DA's Case and Sheriff's Deputies' Investigation

Salas said there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence against Peyton. There was a rash of car burglaries during this time in Ojai and pressure to solve who was involved; Peyton has never charged with burglary.

"Witnesses said different things at different times," Salas told jurors.

The video expert will dispute the accuracy of the three photos, which are grainy and show a hooded suspect, said Salas, adding that this is the only evidence the prosecution has against Peyton.

In addition, there were three other banks before Wells Fargo, which are Chase, Pacific Oaks and CitiBank, where the suspect tried to access the ATMs after the burglary, Salas said.

There were no photos or security camera videos obtained from these other banks, according to Salas.

He said there were five search warrants served in five different places including  the residence of Ben Kennedy. Kennedy had stolen items including purses in his house.

The text message are worthless because deputies allege that Peyton used Kennedy's phone to send them, according to Salas.

Kennedy was also arrested and told deputies that the CD case in his home belonged to Peyton, said Salas.

The deputy in charge of the investigation never went back to the place where car burglary took place, and was shown one photo of one truck to the victim of the second car burglary at the remote Hot Springs in the Ojai Valley. He said the place was dark at the time that burglary were committed.

Prosecutors Wanted To Send Peyton To Prison For Life

Initially, the District Attorney's Office wanted to put Peyton who has two robbery convictions  behind bars for the rest of his life under the three-strikes law, said Salas.

During opening statements, Gardner told jurors that Peyton has been convicted in 1999 of illegally possessing someone's credit card.  Also in 2003, Peyton broke into and stole a CD case from a vehicle.

But Proposition 36 changed the Three Strikes Law and was approved by voters in November. It revises the three strikes to impose a life sentence only when the new felony conviction is serious or violent.

Prosecutors have argued in court that Peyton is filing frivolous legal pleadings, including one request that he be given taxpayer money to pay for a suit to wear in court during his trial, a request that was denied.

Peyton Fights Back With Legal Motions  

Peyton has fought back in court, writing and filing about 50 legal motions, and some of the legal papers have made their way to the state appeals court and the California Supreme Court.

Salas said he is very impressed by Peyton's legal writing skills and grasp of the law. Salas said Peyton did a lot of his legal homework in jail and his citing of caseload to beef up his arguments is worth noting by experienced lawyers.

 Peyton, who has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntarily movements and vocalizations called tics, hasn't helped his legal cause by launching personal attacks against judges and prosecutors.

During the trial, his courtroom behavior is sometimes  disruptive and childish. He refused to participate in his trial when it started and then, changing his mind.

He has fired Salas and rehired him, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by Schlein.

"He fired Salas three times," said Schlein in an interview. "The next time you look and they are sitting close to one another again."

"All of this is just a show," said Schlein.

 

Armed Robbers Who Stole Rolex Watches Are Sent To Prison

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BALTIMORE--A 21-year-old man who stole 35 men's Rolex watches  valued at $275,475 with two other defendants  was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison today, according to federal prosecutors.

Reginald D. Dargan Jr. and two co-defendants Deontaye Harvey and Aaron Pratt drove  to a mall to commit the March 30, 2011.

Federal officials stated that Dargan was armed with a knife and Harvey and Pratt were each armed with a gun. They entered a jewelry store in the mall and brandishing their weapons demanded that store employees open the display cases, state authorities.

According to officials, one employee tried to run out into the mall to get help, but Dargan and Harvey went after him and brought him back into the store at gunpoint, while Pratt stayed in the store with the other employees. Dargan then had a store employee empty the men's watch display into a bag that Dargan was carrying and the three robbers left the mall, officials stated.

Pratt and Harvey, both age 22, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and were sentenced to more than 7 years and to more than 13 years in prison, respectively.

Louisville Man Prison-Bound For Concocting A Multi-Million-Dollar Real Estate Scam

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LOUISVILLE -- A 63-year-old man who concocted a scheme to induce people to invest in real estate business by promising returns on investments from 10 to 15 percent was sentenced today to three years in prison, according to federal authorities.

Russell N. Daniel was also ordred to pay more than $2.7 million in restitution.

 In court, federal officials stated that Daniel admitted that in one scam he solicited more than $700,000 to purchase houses purportedly located in Prospect, Shelbyville, Goshen, and Lexington, Kentucky, as well as Jeffersonville, Indiana, when in fact the addresses were fictitious. Daniel used the money received from investors in these fictitious transactions to fund unrelated matters, including using the investment monies to make payments of promised returns on unrelated investments.

Ventura County Lawyers Recently Disbarred by the California Bar Association

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Ronald A. Jackson, State Bar #49536, Oxnard (August 21, 2012). Jackson, 73, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity. He was charged with ten counts of misconduct warranting discipline.

In aggravation, Jackson had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect September 20, 2012 

Bruce G. Jones, State Bar #43448, Oxnard (October 9, 2012). Jones, 71, was disbarred for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In aggravation, Jones had a record of prior discipline, engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing, and demonstrated indifference toward rectification of or atonement for his misconduct. In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect November 8, 2012 

David P. Schwartz, State Bar #45914, Ojai (October 24, 2012). Schwartz, 70, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. In aggravation, Schwartz had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect November 23, 2012

Nicholas G. Demma, State Bar #47318, Thousand Oaks (July 11, 2012). Demma, 73, was disbarred for failing to comply with rule 9.20 of the Rules of Court.

In aggravation, Demma had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect August 10, 2012 

Courtesy: California lawyer Magaxzine



Today's Quote

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"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." - Leo Buscaglia

Two Allege Gang Members Indicted for Federal Hate Crimes

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LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury has indicted two members of the Compton 155 street gang on federal hate crime charges related to a racially motivated attack on four African-American juveniles at a residence in the City of Compton on New Year's Eve, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

            Jeffrey Aguilar, who uses the moniker "Terco," 19, and Efren Marquez Jr., who is also known as "Stretch" and "Junior," 21, were named in a five-count indictment returned late yesterday by the grand jury.

            "Hate-fueled crimes have no place in our society,"  United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. stated in a press release.  "No one should have to look over their shoulder in fear because of who they are. Incidents like the one described in the federal indictment prove that we must remain vigilant to ensure that the rights of every single American resident are protected at all times."

            Aguilar and Marquez allegedly are members of the Compton 155 street gang, which uses violence and threats of violence in an effort to drive African-Americans out of their "territory" on the west side of Compton. According to the indictment, members of the Compton 155 gang often refer to themselves as "NK" or "N***** Killers." To instill fear in African-Americans, members of the gang tag their gang moniker and "NK" throughout their "territory."

            The indictment specifically alleges that on December 31, 2012, Aguilar, Marquez and a co-conspirator confronted an African-American juvenile, who was walking on a street in Compton, and threatened him by referring to themselves as "NKs."

 The 17-year-old victim ran to his girlfriend's house, where three other African-American juveniles were located. Aguilar and Marquez followed the 17-year-old victim to the home, yelled racial slurs at the four juveniles at the residence, and demanded that the African-Americans get out of the neighborhood. Aguilar and Marquez then allegedly assaulted the 17-year-old victim with a metal pipe and threatened another juvenile with a gun, according to authorities.

            After the juveniles managed to escape and run into the house, the indictment alleges that Aguilar and Marquez left the scene and informed other gang members that the African-American juveniles lived in their "territory."

 Shortly thereafter, Aguilar and approximately 15 other gang members went to the victims' home and threatened them by yelling racial slurs and warning the juveniles that they did not belong in the neighborhood. During this time, a member of the gang smashed one of the windows of the house, federal officials state.

            If convicted, Aguilar and Marquez each would face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each of the five civil rights charges alleged in the indictment.

 

 

LA City Inspector Pleads Guilty to Taking $30,000 in Bribes

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LOS ANGELES A former inspector with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety took more than $30,000 in bribes in connection with a dozen properties in and around Koreatown District of Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

 

        Samuel In, 66, of Glendale, a 37-year veteran of the Department of Building and Safety agreed late yesterday to plead guilty to one count of soliciting and receiving monetary payments that In described to victims as "fees."

 

          Court documents state that a victim identified as T.C, who wanted to open a retail store in Los Angeles in 2008, paid $5,000 to In. The victim needed to convert office space in a process that required a building permit, according to officials.

                       

            The victim had limited English language ability and had a difficult time completing the Department of Building and Safety paperwork.

 

            In helped the victim and told him that he was a senior inspector and advised the victim about construction plans, state authorities.

 

            In went to the victim's  business and said he would take care of the inspections and other procedures through the final inspection of the retail if the victim paid $4,000, official stated.

 

In later increased the amount of his "fees" to $5,000, asked that any payments by check be made with the payee line left blank, and advised that checks made payable to LADBS would not be useful. The victim ultimately made several cash payments totaling $5,000, according to federal prosecutors.

 

        "Corruption by any official corrodes public confidence in governmental institutions," stated United States Attorney AndrĂ© Birotte Jr. "In this case, a government employee directly threatened the safety of the public by exploiting his position to line his own pockets. The victims were all the more vulnerable because they had limited abilities in English and depended on Mr. In to help them navigate through the inspection processes."

 

            The charge of bribery carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

       

            The FBI urges anyone with information about building inspectors or other officials accepting bribes to contact the FBI by calling its Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565, or by sending an e-mail to the dedicated anti-corruption address:  REPORTBRIBES@ic.fbi.gov

 

Today's Quote

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Former Corrections Officer Indicted For Smuggling Drugs and Cell Phones Into Prison

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PHILADELPHIA -- A former prison guard with the Philadelphia prison system is facing up to 50 years behind bars for alleged conspiring with a prisoner to smuggle marijuana, Xanax, pills, tobacco and cellular phones into the prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Dion Reid, 35, of Philadelphia, was indicted for two counts of honest services fraud and two counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, federal authorities stated.

Beware of Wolves With Law School Sheepskins

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The People vs. Lee Peyton

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On the second day of jury selection on Tuesday,  Lee Peyton who was representing himself at his trial fired his court-appointed,  co-counsel ,  Attorney  Victor Salas.

Salas was Peyton's Seventh Court-Appointed lawyer.

The firing took place right after Peyton launched scathing criticism against the judge who is presiding over his trial at Ventura County Superior Court for identity theft and receiving stolen property.

Peyton demanded that the judge appoint a new lawyer to represent him;  Judge David Hirsch refused. He accused Peyton of "gamesmanship" and admonishing him for his disruptions and delays in the court proceedings.

The Case Has Costs Thousands of Dollars and Has Been a Revolving Door of Lawyers

The case against Peyton lingered in the courts for three years.  During that time, there have been four prosecutors assigned to this case; Peyton has been represented by seven, court-appointed criminal lawyers, including Salas, and his legal defense has cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Peyton was awarded $7,500 to pay for a private investigator  to investigate his case and thousands more to hire an expert on bank security cameras to testify, according to Salas.

The 34-year-old Peyton  Was Arrested on Jan. 27, 2010.

Peyton, of Ojai, allegedly stole a credit card after burglarizing a vehicle and used the ATM card to withdraw $300 and two weeks later, another vehicle was burglarized and a CD case was stolen.

The use of the ATM card occurred about 25 minutes after a person's car was broken into in Ojai, according to Salas.

"The big question for us is that how in the heck did that happen within 25 minutes," said Salas.

Peyton maintains that he couldn't have broken into the car in Ojai, drove to an ATM in Ventura and accessed the bank account without knowing  the PIN number.

Prosecutors Say The Case Against Peyton Is Overwhelming

Prosecutor Stuart Gardner told jurors during opening statements in the trial that there will be overwhelming evidence that Peyton committed both crimes. He said Peyton took an hour or two to get to the ATM in Ventura and use the stolen card.

For his part, Peyton has pleaded not guilty, saying that the person in the photograph captured by a bank security camera - which is being enlarged and admitted as evidence - isn't him.

In the burglary of the second vehicle, Salas said in an interview that the house of an acquaintance of Peyton was searched and stolen items were found there. The acquaintance told police that a CD case belonged to Peyton, according to Salas.

The acquaintance implicated Peyton while in police custody, said Salas.

"Your guess is as good as mine whether this guy has any credibility at all," he said.

Gardner said the owner of the second vehicle  couldn't  identify the man who quickly took off after he broke into his car. But he gave a description of Peyton's  "very distinguishable truck," Gardner said.

Peyton Refused to Wear Street Clothes During His Trial

Before the trial began and outside the presence of jurors, Peyton refused to wear street clothes.

The wearing of street clothes or suits by defendants in custody is done so prospective jurors won't be prejudiced when they see the defendant in blue and orange jail garb.

While in the courtroom wearing the jail clothes and outside the presence of the jury, Peyton wasted no time in telling Judge Hirsch what he thought about how he fashioned his decisions and rulings.  He didn't mince words.

Saying that Judge Hirsch had "castrated" his constitutional rights via intimidation and using bullying tactics and unfair rulings against him.  Peyton said the trial was a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

"I am tired of dealing with you," Peyton told the judge.

The Judge Alleges That Peyton Is Engaging in "Gamesmanship."

The judge who was extremely patient accused Peyton of "gamesmanship," accusing Peyton of causing deliberate disruptions and delays.

After denying the appointment of a new lawyer, the judge said Peyton has had several court-appointed lawyers and another new attorney would take an additional six months to prepare for trial. The judge said Peyton had the legal skills to represent himself, noting  that these skills were the best the judge had ever seen in a pro per case.

Peyton told the judge that he didn't want to represent himself. He said his constitutional right to be represented by a lawyer.

Peyton, who has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntarily movements and vocalizations called tics, said his disability was getting worse because of the stress of dealing with the judge and the court proceedings.

Salas Appointed by the Court to Represent Peyton.

Salas said he is getting paid $150 an hour to help Peyton and didn't know how much he is owed for hundreds of hours of legal work.

 "I have been his advisory  counsel.  I sit at the table and help him," said Salas outside the courtroom. "I have also been standby counsel who sits in the back (of the courtroom) and doesn't do anything until called upon."

Peyton Has Been In Jail Since 2010 and Has Rejected Plea-Bargain Offers

Since his arrest in January 2010, Peyton has racked up more than five and a half years of actual and good-time jail credits at the county jail, according to Salas. He said Peyton has been offered seven years in jail if he pleads guilty, and has rejected the district attorney's offer.

"It's principle. He says he is not guilty," said Salas.

Peyton, who a remarkable grasp and knowledge of the law, is a prolific  writer, pumping one legal motion after another. Salas said Peyton's writing skills are pretty good.

"Better than most of the attorneys that I've practiced with," said Salas.

Adding, "he's filed about 50 motions that I can think of, and they're all pretty solid.  In fact, I made sure to keep copies of those because the law in them is top rate.  His research skills, nobody does a better job than he does of finding what is the current law,  even the unpublished cases."

Salas said Peyton's legal papers have made it to the state appeals court and the California Supreme Court.

Prosecutors have argued in court that Peyton is filing frivolous legal pleadings, including one request that he be given taxpayer money to pay for a suit to wear in court during his trial, a request that was denied.

Prosecutors Won't Talk About Plea-Bargain Offers Made to Peyton

Gardner declined to discuss the district attorney's plea bargain offer to Peyton.

In an interview, Salas said he's tried to settle this case five times with Judge Hirsch.

He said the offers have gone from  nine years to more than seven years in prison,  and now, it's at seven years. Salas said Peyton will plead guilty to the criminal charges for jail time already served.

"He wants to go home. So, he'll accept going home even if he has to plea," said Salas.

When asked whether this case was a good use of court resources and time, Gardner replied: "Justice is always a good use of the court resources."

Adding,  "If you want to talk about government waste, you need to talk to this guy (Peyton)," Gardner said in an interview.  "Or talk to the victims that have been dragged through the mud by this guy."

Initially, the District Attorney's Office wanted to put Peyton who has two robbery convictions  behind bars for the rest of his life under the three-strikes law, said Salas.

But Proposition 36 changed the Three Strikes Law and was approved by voters in November. It revises the three strikes to impose a life sentence only when the new felony conviction is serious or violent.

During opening statements, Gardner told jurors that Peyton has been convicted in 1999 of illegally possessing someone's credit card.  Also in 2003, Peyton broke into and stole a CD case from a vehicle.

Peyton Told Jurors That He Didn't Want To Represent Himself

Peyton told jurors who were being instructed by the judge at the start of the trial that the judge had lied by telling them that he wanted to represent himself.

A short recess was called and Peyton told the judge that he didn't want to be in the courtroom.

"I don't want to be in this courtroom during the entire trial," he told the judge outside the presence of the jury.

The judge called Salas who had been sitting in the back of the courtroom, reinstated him and ordered Salas to take over Peyton's defense. 

The judge denied allowing Peyton to go back to jail, saying he would be kept at the detention holding cell adjacent to the courtroom where a microphone was connected and he could hearing the proceedings. The judge said he would also allow the door to the holding cell to be cracked open to Peyton could hear the evidence and testimony.

Peyton requested to return to the courtroom but wanted Salas to sit away from him at the defense table.

After a brief discussion, Salas and Peyton  were  sitting at the same table, talking and smiling again. 

Peyton had agreed to dress in street clothes, a dark blue shirt and black pants.

The trial continues  in Courtroom 48.

Inland Empire Drug Dealer Gets Prison Sentence for Importing Heroin and Cocaine

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      RIVERSIDE - The leader of a drug trafficking organization based in the Inland Empire was sentenced today to 14 years in prison for his role in importing heroin, cocaine from Mexico and distributing it to residents of the Inland Empire, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

 

       Salvador Gonzalez-Chavez, 32, Fontana, was convicted last September of conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, heroin, stated officials.

 

       Gonzalez-Chavez was the leader of a drug trafficking organization involving at least 19 other co-conspirators, stated DEA officials.

 

        During the sentencing,  lawyers argued that the extreme dangers and addictiveness of heroin were best illustrated by an intercepted phone call that occurred on August 31, 2011 between a prospective buyer and a co-conspirator working for Gonzalez-Chavez's drug-trafficking organization.

 

        Federal officials stated that the prospective buyer tried to gain the co-conspirator's trust so that the co-conspirator would sell heroin to the buyer.  To achieve this, the prospective buyer told the co-conspirator that the buyer was a friend of a certain individual -- an individual whom authorities knew had died of a heroin overdose on April 5, 2011 in Redlands at the buyer's house, stated authorities.

 

       At that point, the co-conspirator's concerns were alleviated, and the two agreed to meet up to conduct the heroin transaction.

 

Today's Quote

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"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Man Pleads Guilty For His Role in an $80 Million Fraud Scheme

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SACRAMENTO -- A man pleaded guilty today for his role in a mammoth investment fraud scheme that brought in $80 million from more than 300 investors, according to federal authorities.

Anthony Vassallo, 33, of Folsom, is facing up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud with fines and restitution.

"Anthony Vassallo and his co-conspirators lied to hundreds of people and took in more than $80 million based on those lies. Vassallo's victims came from every walk of life and included his friends and family," stated U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.

According to court documents, between April 2006 and March 2009, Vassallo and others operated Equity Investment, Management, and Trading Inc. in Folsom, a hedge fund investment company purporting to use a computer program designed by Vassallo to time the stock market.

Federal officials said Vassallo promised investors an annual rate of return of 36 percent with little risk of loss. In fact, Vassallo and others operated EIMT as a Ponzi scheme using new investor funds to make "dividend" payments to previous investors, to make risky investments without investor knowledge or consent, and to fund his lifestyle, according to federal authorities.

Although Vassallo lost the investors' money and ceased trading in securities in about September 2007, federal officials stated that he lulled investors into keeping their funds on deposit through December 2008 by fabricating investment information, forging trading and bank documents, and reporting positive returns. Neither Vassallo nor EIMT was registered with the Securities Exchange Commission.

Co-conspirator Kenneth Kenitzer, 66, of Pleasanton, California, has previously pleaded guilty in a related case and is awaiting sentencing.

N.J. Man Admits Defrauding 17 Charities Out of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

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NEWARK--The owner and president of GAC Consulting Group LLC   today admitted  to his role in a scheme to defraud at least 17 charities and non-profit organizations, costing them more than $750,000 in losses from 2006 to 2010, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Gregory Ciccone, 36, of Woodland Park, New Jersey,  pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing false tax return, federal officials stated.

Ciccone contracted with charities and non-profit organizations and arranged for high-end prizes to be auctioned off to bidders during fundraising events.

These prizes included: a walk-on role on "Desperate Housewives" television show; tickets to the 2009 Tony Awards; an appearance by a celebrity cancer survivor and rounds of golf at the Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia, officials stated.

Ciccone convinced the charities and non-profit organizations to pay GAC both an up-front retainer and commission fees based upon his ability to provide certain prizes, authorities stated.

He did not deliver the vast majority of the prizes offered to his victims and never had the ability to do so.

A superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury on May 15, 2012, charged Ciccone with mail fraud, wire fraud, and filing a false 2009 tax return, federal officials stated.

After his Oct. 26, 2010 arrest, Ciccone filed a false 2009 tax return on May 13, 2011, in which he failed to list certain retainer fees and commissions received from his victims, as well as gambling winnings.

As part of his plea, Ciccone agreed to pay back $267,778 in criminal forfeiture.

He is facing up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, state authorities.

 

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.