Saturday, June 6, 2009

An imperfect, but resilient, witness

Victim and witness SA held up OK under brutal cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Smith. She must come back Tuesday for more of the same.

The tepid prosecutor John Vacek ended his questioning just before the afternoon the noon break in People v. Joseph Patrick Griesa.

Smith came on strong, showing enough sympathy for witness SA so as not to alienate the jury, but not much more.

He immediately launched into the out-of-court settlement SA almost reached.

“You were going to get $100,000,” Smith said, implying that she was fabricating her story in her sex offense against case Mitchell Towing Service company manager Joseph Griesa upon the advice of her attorneys.

“The only thing they told me was to tell the truth,” prosecution witness SA replied.

There followed a grueling afternoon of Smith grilling SA. She generally held up under the questioning. Her memory failed from time to time and by late in the day she was visibly flagging. She asked for what appeared to be a restroom break about 4 p.m.

During the questioning, more details on what Griesa allegedly did. Suffice to say, he allegedly would call SA – 16 at the time – into his office, fondle her, pull down his gym shorts and jerk off. Griesa is reportedly in his mid-40s.

Smith showed no lack of energy in questioning SA over the details of her complaint against Griesa. He went into the photos she had of herself and of a facial bruise, the cell phone records, her previous testimony and other details.

A photo of her taken of her Oct. 26, 2007 showed no bruise, but the one taken of her shortly after that did, according to SA.

Smith challenged that by questioning the California Department of Motor Vehicles photo taken of SA and the plausibility of the follow-up photo provided of the bruise.

Frankly, as a spectator, the bruise photo of the bruise was so close up that it was impossible to know if it was taken of SA, or someone else.

“I alone can say it’s me,” Smith noted.

How was the picture taken, Smith wondered? She took it herself using a digital camera and using a bathroom mirror.

Where was the original film? It was on a simcard a toddler somehow got hold off and it disappeared, SA said.

Smith later got into why her family members didn’t notice all the bruises that peppered her body.

She wore long sleeves, SA said.

It got more intense.

Smith moved on to the incidents in which defendant Joseph Vacek allegedly sexually accosted SA. They involved touching, exposing himself, masturbating in his towing truck office and one strange incident in which he was a supposed to have transported a drunk SA to a Township countryside location, raped her and then transported her back to the office.

Defense produced photos of the physically layout of the dispatch office and Griesa’s private office.

If the incidents took place, how could they have gone unnoticed by co-workers and why didn’t SA shout out, Smith wondered?

These “sexual attacks (allegedly) took place when others were present, including Robert Griesa (the defendant’s father) were only 10 yards away,” Smith asked.

Smith furthermore warned SA that cell phone records would shout where she and the defendant were when suggestive text messages were recorded.

“You know we can subpoena your phone records,” the aggressive questioner, Smith, said.

He also asserted that records would show that SA initiated cell and text messages with Griesa.

One of the claims defense makes is that Griesa was out of town when some of the sexual offenses SA alleges took place and credit card records will show that.

“Not even feasible, you know that,” Smith said in his vigorous cross examination.

If SA was getting suggestive cell phone calls and text messages, why didn’t she just ignore them, rather than respond to them, Smith asked.

SA said she was afraid not to, because Griesa had mad threats against her and her family.

OK, Smith reasoned, then why did she take side jobs with Griesa cleaning houses and as a greeter at his poker games with police officers?

She was afraid, she said.

Smith got more detailed, asking more questions about when these in-the-boss’s-office sexual encounters took place.

Did they all take place in his office, how often, how many times, etc., Smith asked?

“Not every weekend, but frequently,” SA said.

Not all of the alleged offenses came out in the police report compiled by Marysville Police Department detective Randall Elliott, Smith noted.

Griesa claimed to be tight with the cops and she did not want to reveal all to them out of fear of retaliation, SA said.

Smith also wondered why SA would respond to cell phone calls from Griesa.

You’re phone had caller ID and you knew that “if I picked it up, I’d get molested,” so why did you just ignore the call, Smith wondered.

But, “He would call and you would show up.” Smith said.

Smith also interrogated SA on an alleged event in which Griesa allegedly drugged her, put her in his black Hummer, transported her to a remote area in the Township are south of Yuba City, exposed himself, exerted “pressure on her rectum” and then drove her back to an apartment, all in broad daylight.

Smith then got into an incident in which two teenage runaway girls, 14 and 15 years old, spent most of the night at Griesa’s home but were transported to the Mitchell Towing Service office.

SA asked why they were there. Griesa told her to say they were there for “training.” When the cops showed up looking for them, that’s what she did.

The cops didn’t believe her and one patrolman called her a liar. She knew something about the patrolman’s background, swore at him and reminded him that he had previously been bounced out of the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office.

She called Griesa and asked him what to do. He said, essentially, go with the flow.

The insulted officer yanked her downtown and booked her on minor charges. Charges were later dropped.

In the contest of that incident, Smith said in his question, so “When someone something you don’t like, you say bad things about them.” This clearly implied to the jury that the bad things SA was saying about Griesa were done out of revenge.

Interestingly, SA, who was close to or at tears while under prosecution questioning, held up fine while being quizzed by the defense.

The trial of People v. Joseph Patrick Griesa resumes Tuesday.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Griesa jury picked, witnesses called

A jury of eight women and four men with an unusually large number of alternate jurors including four men and one woman was sworn in Thursday morning. Opening statements immediately followed.

If defendant Joseph Griesa’s chances of escaping the numerous sex and tax charges he faces were to be judged by the quality of the opening statements by prosecutor John Vacek and defense attorney Charles Smith then one would assume Griesa will walk.

Vacek was curiously vague and rambling. At times he was barely audible.

His loudest moment was not bringing home how he intended to prove Mitchell Towing Service executive Griesa’s guilt of molesting several under-aged girls, but directing the jury’s attention to the fact that attorney Jesse Santana, was sitting in the gallery.

Santana and attorney David Vasquez are accused in a separate but related case of conspiring to unlawfully wangle $100,000 from Griesa for one of the teenagers he is alleged to have sexually battered.

He did mention how he intended to show, among other things, how in a bizarre incident in January 2007 Griesa struck victim SA in the face and then held a knife to her throat, displayed a handgun and bragged about having friends in high place to discourage her from complaining to anyone.

This all took place in his office at Mitchell Towing in Marysville, Vacek said.

Vacek cited two other minors, JS and GL, who were allegedly sexually victimized by Griesa in 2006 and 2007.

The complaints about Griesa first emerged when SA went to Marysville Police Department Detective Randall Elliott in September 2007 with information about the molestation and a cell phone containing sexually suggestive text messages from Griesa.

The tax charges in Griesa’s grand jury indictment involved paying at least one employee, SA, off the books, sometimes in cash, sometimes by check under another employee names.

Defense Attorney’s opening statement on the other hand was forceful, clear and concise.

The 18-count indictment and the prosecution’s claims were “all bark and no bite,” Smith said.

Smith, too, sought to divert the jury’s attention away from Griesa and to Santana seated in the gallery.

Smith characterized Griesa as a victim of a “corrupt scheme” by lawyers seeking to extort money from him.

He also accused the prosecution of manufacturing false evidence and suppressing other evidence that would exonerate his client – strong words.

Smith’s opening statement was halted for the lunch break and was resumed in the afternoon.

He gave examples of how the prosecution had hyped up the charges against his client.

For example, a portion of the 15 sex-related charges brought against Griesa involve two 14-year-old “runaway” girls who spent the night at Griesa’s home.

The prosecution claims Griesa hid the girls from their parents. In fact, they were at the Griesa’s home with Griesa’s similarly-aged son and some other boys. They had cell phones with them and could have called home any time they wanted to, Smith noted.

Rather than a predator, Griesa – a former Sutter County probation officer – was instead a “mentor” for kids with a history of coaching youth football teams.

In the afternoon session hammered again at the lawyers – whom he referred to as “handlers” – who attempted negotiate a $100,000 deal with Griesa.

“Her handlers (were) presenting false evidence,” Smith said, adding that SA’s “story grew.” When questioned about certain claims she was making, she allegedly said, “My lawyer helped me remember it.”

This case was “not about truth and justice. It’s all about money,” Smith said.

The first witness called was 23-year veteran MPD Detective Randall “Randy” Elliott, who testified a California Highway Patrol officer who was passing word along from a Mitchell’s tow truck operator who was concerned about what was going on in the office.

Contact was made and Elliott described a one and a half-hour interview conducted with SA in November 2007. Her sister and mother were present.

He listened to a cell phone recording SA kept of a long conversation with Griesa and numerous text messages from Griesa. He read out to the jury a long list of the text messages made between August and November 2007.

Elliott said he wanted to follow up with a “pretext” call from SA to Griesa, apparently to draw out statements blameworthy statements from him. That call never came off.

Photos were of bruises on SA’s forearm and leg.

He tried to get an interview with Griesa, but Griesa’s attorney, David Vasquez asked that the meeting be delayed. He was going on a sea cruise, but would contact Elliott on his return.

Elliott said that in the meantime he got a call from Santana saying his client, SA, no longer wanted to prosecute. She wanted instead to move to the San Francisco bay area where was to attend school.

Santana had advised SA “not to talk to you,” Elliott alleged.

A thorny issue in the SA case is whether Elliott had at one point advised SA not to pursue her criminal allegations against Griesa, but pursue a civil complaint against him.

In his testimony Thursday, Elliott denied doing that.

When Vasquez did get later get back to Elliott, he informed the detective that “a civil compromise” had been reached.

“It seemed all on the up and up,” Elliott testified.

However, when the experienced detective reported his findings to Police Chief Wallace Fullerton, he was told he was wrong.

The chief told him “You can’t buy your way out of a sexual assault case.”

In cross-examination, Elliott was asked to describe SA’s demeanor during the initial interview.

“Carefree” was the term Elliott used.

Smith asked if Elliott if he realized when he was told of the civil settlement that “$100,000 “was changing hands.”

“No,” Elliott said.

Asked what he thought a civil settlement consisted of, after some thought Elliot replied, “Something opposite of criminal.”

When SA was called to testify, she was anything but “carefree.”

SA was trailed into the courtroom by a victims-witness program escort who sat near her when she entered the witness box. Throughout her testimony SA verged on tears.

Vacek was very sensitive in his questioning. It took considerable for him to get down to brass tacks about the allegations.

SA described her $9-an-hour off the books job as a dispatcher for the tow truck drivers and how her Griesa’s first romantic approach to her came at a Christmas party, but soon got more serious.

Later she was from time to time was called into Griesa’s office for personal meetings. In on incident she was fondled and made to view a pornographic movie entitled “Anal Destruction.

Vacek was still questioning SA when the trial of People v. Joseph Patrick Griesa, case number CDF-08-458 was recessed at 4:30 p.m.

She returns to the witness stand today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A point of minor interest

The name of the prosecutor in the cases of People v. Santana, Vasquez and People v. Griesa struck my fancy. I looked it up.

I found that Vacek is an interesting name that is studded with glory. It also has a musical connection to Christmas.

According to, Vacek is a Czech name that derives “from a pet form of the personal name Václav, Old Czech Veceslav (cognate with Polish Wieceslaw, Latinized as Wenceslas). It is composed of the Old Slavic elements viece ‘greater’ + slav ‘glory’. It was borne by a 10th-century duke of Bohemia who fought against a revival of paganism in his territory, and after his death became patron saint of Bohemia.”

The name Vaclav, a name closely related to Vacek, should be well known to those who followed events in Poland’s "Velvet Revolution."

Vaclav Havel

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Santana, Vasquez delayed again; Griesa begins

The arraignment of attorneys Jesse Santana and David Vasquez was again delayed to give Judge John Darlington time to read through two lengthy grand jury transcripts, it was decided Monday, June 1.

In the same hearing, Yuba County Deputy District Attorney John Vacek agreed to provide additional prosecution documents the defense side says it needs in order to adequately answer the charges.

Santana and Vasquez allegedly conspired in a bribery scheme against Joseph Patrick Griesa, who now faces trial on multiple sex offenses against minor girls.

The prosecution’s basic claim is that Santana, who represented one of the alleged victims, and Vasquez, who represented Griesa, participated in a deal to have Griesa pay $100,000 to keep Santana’s young client quiet.

But every day all across California and the nation, lawyers are always reaching such out of court civil settlements so it is difficult to understand what out of the ordinary Santana and Vasquez are supposed have done.

“We still don’t know what we’re being accused of,” said Santana’s attorney, Roberto Marquez.

The defense also contended that the judge must read through the two grand jury transcripts to properly rule in the case. The transcripts run to about 3,000 pages.

“Do I have to read all of the transcripts?” Darlington asked, plaintively.

Darlington agreed to the reading, but needed some time to plow through the pages. He ordered the parties to return 10:30 a.m. June 29.

This case is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, it arguably may be one of the most convoluted political intertwining of cops, courts, DAs and judges in Yuba County history.

When the charges were brought against Santana, he was a lead figure in a short field of candidates for appointment to a superior court judgeship in Sutter County, just across the Feather River from Yuba County.

As soon as his indictment was announced, his chances of were killed and another candidate – generally considered much more likely to be prosecution-friendly – was named to the post, instead.

It gets more complicated.

Before the grand jury indicted him, Griesa had a tow truck service with contracts with the Marysville Police Department and had previously been a county probation officer.

He allegedly bragged to the girls he is accused of molesting about his political and law enforcement connections, apparently to make them believe it would do them no good to complain.

In fact, one of the key claims in the Santana-Vasquez matter is that MPD Detective Randall Elliott who was investigating the complaints, first encouraged Santana’s client and her mother to reach a civil settlement and then lied to the grand jury about it to the grand jury.

Some of the records the defense seeks from the DA and police will allegedly reveal what other news sources have called “a pattern of dishonesty” by law enforcement and the DA’s office.

Griesa was also in court yesterday, June 1, to prepare for jury selection, which begins today, June 2.

People v. Joseph Patrick Griesa, case number CRF-08458, carries 18 criminal counts. Fourteen allege felony sex offenses against minor girls The remainder relate to his alleged failure to pay taxes.

Judge Kathleen R. O’Connor is presiding in the case. Deputy DA John Vacek is also the prosecutor in this case.

O’Connor revealed to the parties that she was previously married to former Sutter County Superior Court Judge Timothy Evans and that Evans had briefly represented Griesa.

If Evans were to be called as a witness, would that present a judicial conflict, this case, O’Connor asked.

Neither Vacek nor Charles J. Smith, the Redwood City attorney representing Griesa, objected to her continuing as the presiding judge.

Redwood City is 148 miles and 2.5 hours away from Marysville, so you can see how far out of town Griesa had to go to get a lawyer to handle this extremely controversial case.

Because this case is so controversial and publicized, an unusually large number of potential jurors is to be called. Figures as low as 114 and as high as 200 were mentioned. They will begin filing out their juror questionnaires this morning.

Mid-day, the attorneys and the judge will go through the questionnaires and sort out the ones seeking excusal for further questioning.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sex, cops and lawyers

Legal procedures are expected to begin in Yuba County Superior Court Monday, June 1, on two complicated and interlocked law cases involving two prominent attorneys denying allegations made against them in matters revolving around a well-connected local businessman accused of sexually abusing teenage girls.

In a matter that has risen to felony level People v. Jesse Santana and David Vasquez accuses the two attorneys – Santana specifically – of improperly demanding a $100,000 payoff for settling a civil suit that was threatened against Joseph Griesa, a prominent businessman and former Sutter County probation officer.

Specifically, in People v. Santana, Vasquez, Yuba County Superior Court case #CFR-08-825, Santana’s attorney, Roberto Marquez, asked that visiting Superior Court Judge John H. Darlington order the district attorney’s office to provide important relating to allegations that a police officer lied to a grand jury. That defense motion was granted.

The former Nevada County judge agreed. A deputy DA assured Darlington that the information would be located and revealed.

Meanwhile, allegations proceed against Griesa, who is financially connected with the highly visible Mitchell Towing Service, which is a significant contractor with the Marysville Police Department.

The alleged sexual abuses Griesa is accused of took place between 2006 and 2007.

Griesa is alleged to have "sexually and physically abused young girls." The four victims mentioned in the documents were all teenagers at the time. They were only identified by pseudonyms.

Griesa’s alleged behavior included masturbating in front of the girls and incidents of roal copulation, court documents and news reports stated.

The matter became the focus of a grand jury probe in 2008. Santana and Vasquez have yet to enter pleas in the case. The whole matter could prove a serious professional embarrassment for prosecutors.

Court documents and news reports report that Griesa bragged about being immune to the cops because he was connected, as the saying goes. This could prove to be a possible a criminal conviction with lifetime penalties for Griesa.

“In typical child molester fashion, Griesa selects young girls, who are poor, neglected or runaways, and ‘grooms’ them to until he sexually abuses his young victims. Griesa then either showers them with money or gifts and or he threatens to kill them or their family, sometime using a firearm or knife,” according to a Marquez.

Defense filings April 20, 2009 specifically accused Griego of sexual abuse and investigating Marysville Police Department Detective Randall Elliot of “not being truthful” in his reports in order to give Griesa a free pass on his alleged behavior.

Santana’s attorney, Roberto Marquez, maintains that Elliott “has a pattern of dishonesty, of filing false report and or filing dishonestly.”

The long-running case became the focus of a Yuba County Grand Jury investigation that drew considerable controversy

Marquez has additionally alleged that Elliott not only attempted to persuade one girl and family who pursued a legal action not to sue Griesa but also lied to the grand jury about it.

While the Yuba County DA has accused Santana of attempting to prevent one of the victims from telling police and prosecutors about sexual and physical abuse by her employer in 2006 and 2007, it must recalled that this was at the time a civil suit and it is not uncommon for seeking a discreet out-out-court settlement.

The question remains whether the DA’s office and the MPD, which contracted with the towing company, were attempting avoid the embarrassment of the settlement.