Sunday, August 29, 2010

Judge Darlington denies all motions;
Santana, Vasquez goes to trial, maybe

by Tom Nadeau

Visiting Judge John Darlington denied Friday all defense and prosecution motions to reconsider his previous rulings in the Yuba County felony matter of People v. Santana, Vasquez, CRF-#08-825.

Neither side was happy with his ruling. Each indicated they would, “take it to a higher court,” as the saying goes.

In early August, Darlington granted some – but not all – of the motions attorneys Jesse Santana and David Vasquez had made seeking dismissal of charges they had violated rules of law and ethics while negotiating a settlement between boss-sex attacker Joseph Griesa and his employee-victim, “S.A.”

Griesa was sentenced later the same day in that criminal case by a different judge.

The Santana, Vasquez proceedings Friday allowed the lawyers one last chance to persuade Darlington to revise his earlier decisions.

Darlington listened, but after a 20-minute recess, returned to say nothing the lawyers had said changed his mind. The two must stand trial.

If and when, maybe, possibly ...

If and when this case ever does go to trial – not a sure thing despite this ruling – Vasquez would face three criminal counts, the most serious being bribery. Santana would face two ethics-related counts.

Defense attorney Michael Barrette said the indicted attorneys would meet a two-week deadline for filing a writ of mandamus asking the state’s Third District Court of Appeals to negate Darlington’s rulings.

Lead prosecutor Supervising Deputy State Attorney General Michael Canzoneri declined comment, but indicated the prosecution will also ask the 3rd DCA for further action.

Darlington’s decision means this landmark case can finally go before a public jury after more than two years of closed grand jury proceedings and pre-trial preliminary hearings – in theory, anyway.

But both sides still have a battery of options left to them that could keep this legal beast – one Darlington has called “the Moby Dick” of criminal cases – alive and kicking around county, state and federal trial and appeals courts for years to come.

The defense has until Sept. 10 to file their writ. The prosecution has a short deadline after that to reply. The appeals justices at the 3rd DCA are likely to rule on the writ within 90 days, Barrette said.

Santana and Vasquez are scheduled to return to court 1 p.m. Oct. 1 to enter their official pleas. Despite two years of hearings, they have yet to be actually arraigned in this mammoth case. A calendar of pre-trial hearings will also be set that day.

When the appeals justices get the writs, they will have several options.

They could refuse to consider them. That would return everything back down to the Yuba County Superior Court for further action. Or, the justices could take the issues raised in the writs under advisement and render a decision on them. Meantime, any actions on the county level would be put on hold until the 3rd DCA justices ruled.

Looking at the possible twists and turns People v. Santana, Vasquez could face as it wends its way through the various state and federal district courts it is entirely conceivable that it might ultimately make it all the way up to the US Supreme Court.

Not many legal cases get that far. But this ostensibly obscure Yuba County legal dispute calls into question some a number of basic bedrock rights, customs and procedures long embedded in the US legal system, so it could very well get all the way up there.

Legal questions raised include:

-- How much must a client tell his or her lawyer when seeking advice?
-- How often must a lawyer remind a client of all possible consequences decisions entail?
-- If a client, attorney and the judge are fully aware of what’s going on, who is gets to be the goose if and when an error is alleged or discovered?
-- Is it the first to realize it, or the first to be told about it, or the last to hear of it?

People v. Santana, Vasquez is further complicated by the courthouse politics that lurk behind it. Everyone knows about it; but few dare talk about it. Jobs, careers and reputations hinge on the outcome.

Here is the background, briefly.

A prominent defense attorney in the equally prominent firm of Beauchamp an Santana, Santana was in the running for a judgeship on the Sutter County Superior Court bench. His personal and long professional record were sterling, unassailable. He was even Hispanic. The Governor’s pen was practically poised to ink Santana’s appointment.

But forces within the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office had other ideas. Their preferred candidate for the judgeship was a relatively young prosecutor. DAs like to have prosecutors not defenders ruling on the cases.

Somehow, Santana’s appointment had to be derailed. A useful tool was found. Too bad Vasquez had to go down with him. But, as they might say in a similar Sicilian organization: “Bidness is bidness.”

Suddenly, a district attorney across the Feather River discovered something to talk to the Yuba County Grand Jury about. The tool was unsheathed. Joseph Griesa testified behind closed doors; no rebuttals allowed.

Griesa had been linked for many to law enforcement in both counties. At the time he had an investigation pending against him relating to allegations made by some of the female employees at his tow truck company. One of the employees was “S.A.” She went to Santana for help.

Several charges against Griesa were waiting in the wings. Some were state. Some were federal All could be magnified or minimized, pursued or postponed.

Griesa and at least one of his several attorneys have claimed he was led to believe things might go easier for him if he told the Yuba County grand jury he felt pressured to cough up a financial settlement with “S.A.” He testified to the grand jury, twice.

Abracadabra! Grand jury indictments suddenly materialized against Santana and Vasquez and the governor appointed the golden girl prosecutor to the Sutter County bench.

All the two district attorneys had left to do now was ignore Santana and Vasquez until they went away – either by cutting a relatively painless plea deal, or simply vanishing from the docket, the quieter, the better.

But the various prosecutors’ preferred outcomes were not to be and the epic case of People v. Santana, Vasquez was launched.


Blogger advocate said...

Interesting! Sounds like a movie....perhaps a movie will shed a light on the politics in the criminal judicial system and of the overwhelming power that prosecutors hold in our country......something needs to change. A prosecutor should not have unreigned power.

August 29, 2010 at 12:35 PM  

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