Friday, June 11, 2010

Griesa's felony harassment trial set to go,
amid hints that sides may have cut a deal

The second compartment in the legal portmanteau of People v. Joseph Griesa and People v. Santana and Vasquez is set to open in Yuba County Superior Court Tuesday, despite doubts it will.

There are several signs flashing on the courthouse marquee that a deal may be imminent in the Griesa matter.

For one thing, Sacramento defense attorney Kenneth Rosenfeld was either hedging his bets or milking the situation for suspense, when he dodged Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young’s question whether the trial would finally start next week, or not.

“Anything could happen,” Rosenfeld coyly replied.

But the options may be narrowing...

Griesa faces his second trial on charges arising from sexual harassment complaints by one “SA,” a 17-year-old dispatcher at the Griesa-owned Mitchell Towing Service.

Griesa was convicted last year of misdemeanors cited in that complaint, but the whole jury could not arrive at a verdict on the felony charges involved in the same case. This second Griesa trial deals with charges leftover from the first trial.

Those trials and the People v. Santana, Vasquez matter are locked together, body and soul.

DA, grand jury interrupt negotiations

Attorneys Santana (representing “SA”) and Vasquez (for Griesa,) were in the midst of negotiating a financial settlement in a civil suit “SA” had proposed when the Yuba County District Attorney jumped in to take the matter to the grand jury instead.

Griesa’s testimony to the grand jury led Santana and Vasquez being indicted on felony charges, including bribery. Santana and Vasquez have vigorously denied the allegations.

The attorneys fought back with a slew of motions that have kept the matter mired in pre-trial hearings for two years. Consequently, not even a preliminary hearing has been held yet for a judge to rule on whether there is sufficient evidence to merit a trial in Santana, Vasquez..

The most recent action in Griesa was a ruling last week denying a defense motion to disqualify an out-of-town judge from trying the case.

Visiting judge rules that move out

San Joaquin County Judge Bernard Garber ruled retired Nevada County Superior Court Judge Ersel Edwards was sufficiently impartial to proceed with the case.

During his tenure on the Nevada County bench, Edwards’ earned a reputation not only for being fair and impartial, but also for not taking any guff or dilly-dallying from attorneys.

In a written response to the motion to recuse him from the Griesa case, Edwards griped that, “The only apparent affirmative preparation the defense has made in this case is to prepare motions to recuse the district attorney and the judge.

Moreover, he hinted he was suspicious of Rosenfeld’s timing of his motions.
“Each of these motions have come on the eve of scheduled jury trials,” Edwards wrote.

The tone and tack of the motions may not have pleased him, either.

As Young reported:
In motions Edwards has not yet ruled on, Rosenfeld contends that Griesa was "duped" into cooperating with the Yuba County District Attorney's Office; that the case cannot proceed until a different judge rules on motions in the case of two attorneys charged with trying to bribe the girl; and that that trial must be postponed to protect Griesa's constitutional rights.
Edwards is expected to rule on those motions Tuesday.

Some think this game may be called for rain

Meanwhile, there is hallway chatter about Griesa “pleading out” his case, possibly as early as Tuesday. There are also signs that the community in general is getting tired of hearing about this two-years-and-counting case.

For instance, readers commenting on Young’s recent article about the motion to disqualify the judge, suspicious readers had this to say:
So here we have a case of a defense attorney assuring himself a longer stint of employment by trying to drag this tired old thing out even further. Guess times can be tough for lawyers too...

-- Ninkasi

And, even more to the point in terms of local politics, another reader insisted:
This must be costing Dad a Fortune.

-- Thinker

Griesa is the son of the man who started the Mitchell Towing Service and there have been lingering rumors there may have been a falling out over the expenses being run up in his defense.

If the money is drying up for Griesa, now at least in his third attorney, that could explained Sacramento-based Rosenfeld’s hint that a concluding deal may be in the works.

These two cases, Santana, Vasquez and Griesa have been keenly followed by family members and long-time professional associates of the two attorneys and the legal community, up and down the state.

There is an unfailing peanut gallery of supportive attorneys at all Santana, Vasquez hearings. Others not attending are cagey in what they will say about it. The current president of the Yuba-Sutter Bar Association has yet to return a request for comment on this courthouse-consuming controversy, notwithstanding its serious nature.

by Tom Nadeau, with Sam Pierce


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