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.