Monday, October 4, 2010

Delay sought in Santana, Vasquez; documents now reveal DA plotting

by Tom Nadeau

The state Attorney General’s Office has asked the 3rd District Court of Appeals to give it 30 more days to answer the writs of mandate filed by Yuba-Sutter attorneys Jesse Santana and David Vasquez.

Meanwhile, a controversial document long missing and conspicuous for its absence from the public file in People v. Santana, Vasquez, CRF08825 has finally surfaced.

The document provides the first tangible evidence supporting suspicions that a cabal of local prosecutors conspired to lodge dubious criminal charges against Santana in order to scuttle his appointment to the Sutter County bench and snag the post for one of their own.

Names are mentioned.

Delay asked; one plot meal at Chinese lunch ...

The delay request was signed by Deputy Attorney General David A. Lowe and submitted Sept. 23. It is expected to be granted.

Lowe said, “This is our first – and only contemplated – request for an extension of time” in 3DCA case #C0660008, Santana v. Yuba County Superior Court & People.

The delay was needed, he said, because he still lacked one prominently cited “exhibit/transcript” and a few other key documents. Lowe added:
From a personal standpoint, I have family obligations Sept. 25 & 26 that will prevent further work on the instant opposition. As this court is likely aware as a result of the petitioner’s filing, the record in this case is significant in size and the parties have filed numerous exhibits and documents in support of their motions and oppositions….While I am familiar with most of these exhibits, given my time limitations and the absence of one exhibit, I will not have an adequate opposition completed in time for a timely filing.

In addition to this opposition, “the people also intend to file a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Aug. 27th, order, and with it, intend to ask this Court to reinstate counts II and III of the amended indictment which the superior court dismissed. The People will also be asking this Court to stay superior court proceedings pending resolution of the petition.”
In other words, when the parties meet again Yuba County Superior Court the state is likely to ask for – and get – an indefinite postponement, because:
“The issues between the petitioners’[Santana and Vasquez] petitions and the People’s [the AG] petition are inextricably intertwined as are the facts. Responding to petitioners’ arguments will at the very least necessarily implicate discussion of the lower court’s reasoning.”
Also conspicuous for its absence in Lowe’s request is any mention of related events that “necessarily implicate” the two county district attorneys’ offices and two prosecutors recently appointed to Yuba-Sutter benches.

Incriminating document surfaces

The document that implicates these public figures recently came to light and a full complete copy was obtained by Notable Trials.

The incriminating document is from a diary kept by Joseph Griesa, person whose two sessions of testifying to a Yuba County grand jury provided the springboard Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath used to indict Santana and Vasquez on felony bribery and ethical charges.

Here is the Jan. 18, 20008 entry in Griesa’s diary:
I received a call from a friend of mine who told me that Attorney Santana’s bid for Sutter County Superior Court was in jeopardy due to my case and the proposed civil compromise, and that it might have been a contributing factor for his non-continued representation of Ms. AXXX [a minor-aged person known elsewhere in court documents as “SA”] . He also said that attorney Jesse Santana and Attorney Mike were related by marriage and their offices related by marriage and their offices were practically next door to each other. He also told me of a luncheon’ [sic] he had been to at a local restaurant where members of both the Sutter and Yuba County DA’s offices were at. He said that one of the judges for Yuba County was there as well, along with the attorney that was running against Attorney Jesse Santana, who also works in the DA’s Office.

One of the topics at the table was the upcoming appointment of the new Superior Court Judge position for Sutter County.

A week later another friend of mine, who I spoke to about the circumstances of my case called me to tell me he had an investigator from the California Judicial Review Board call him and ask him questions regarding my case and what role Attorney Santana had had in my case. He believed the Yuba County DA’s office was very interested in my case but not for the obvious reasons, It was his belief that the appointment of Attorney Jesse Santana for Sutter County Superior Court Judge was highly contested by both the Yuba and Sutter County DA offices and that they wanted one of their own in that position. Neither Yuba nor Sutter County have a judge of anything other than white Caucasian, and because of Jessie’s [sic] Hispanic ethnicity he could get the appointment, The judicial review would be on-going until at least June of 2007 before a decision would be reached by the Governor’s Office, according to my friend. There are currently at least three female superior court judges in Yuba and Sutter County and the current DA’s choice is one of their own and she is a white female. According to my friend it is for that reason that the Yuba County DA’s office will strike before the appointment is announced. [Emphasis added} In addition, according to my friend, attorney David Vasquez has been reaping the benefits of having both of his former law office partners now on the bench for both Yuba and Sutter County. One of the judges is the presiding superior court judge for Yuba County. [Ed. Note: That would be the recently retired Judge James Curry.] It was his opinion that Attorney Vasquez is often the recipient of getting the top felony court cases that are appointed by the residing judge. IN addition, Attorney Vasquez had won several high profile criminal cases against DA McGrath to include a recent murder case in which David’s client went completely free despite several felony charges, It is for these reasons that my attorney friend is concerned about my case, the potential political fallout, and collateral damage it could do to me and my family. As he puts it, “Joe you are the appetizer of the dinner that McGrath is cooking.”
In a recent face-to-face jailhouse interview, Griesa revealed the name of the restaurant where the fateful luncheon meeting took place, the approximate date of the meeting, and, most importantly, the names of the key people there.

The players gather at a Chinese restaurant

The crucial get-together was held at the Szechuan restaurant in Marysville. It took place in mid-December, 2007. Attendees a included Yuba County DA Patrick McGrath; Yuba County Superior Court Judge Julia Scrogin (who had been a prosecutor in the Sutter County DA’s Office); and Sutter County Deputy District Attorney Susan Green (who was then competing for the Sutter County judgeship and was appointed to that position shortly after Santana was forced out due to the Yuba County indictment).

Absent from that meeting were Sutter County DA Carl Adams and Assistant Sutter County Frederick Schroeder, both of whom were strong backers Green’s appointment to the Sutter County bench slot.

The “friend” who provided the eyewitness information on the Szechuan meeting is a well-known local attorney with unimpeachable insider information on the politics of Yuba-Sutter judgeships and appointments thereto and a reason to know these facts.

Notable Trials is currently withholding that person’s name to protect that person and to protect our on-going investigation into possible criminal wrong-doing by top current and past officials in the two county DA’s offices and two sitting judges in the two counties.

More names floated, this time for judgeships

Notable Trials will also be taking a closer look at how gubernatorial appointments are being finagled in these two counties and into the backgrounds and political backers of the candidates for the open appointment to replace the recently retired Judge Curry in Yuba County.

According to Mark G. Steidlmayer, a Sutter County attorney who is keeping a close eye on the judicial appointments, at least five local attorneys have so far thrown their names in for the Yuba bench appointment.

They have been identified because they are included in query letter sent out by the state Judicial Nominee Evaluation Commission – known in the trade as “the Jenny Commission” – which investigates presents to the governor its list of recommended potential candidates for judgeships.

The current list of judgeship hopefuls include:

-- Steve Lamon: an attorney now in private practice in Sacramento County, but was formerly in Sutter County and still advertises heavily in the Appeal Democrat.
-- Steve Berrier: a private practice attorney with the Rich Fuidge firm in Marysville
-- Chris Carlos: currently a prosecutor with the Sutter County DA’s Office County
-- Benjamin Wirtschafter: Yuba County Public Defender
-- Brenda Harris> an attorney in private practice in Sutter County

“Questionnaires are sent to the attorneys, but responses are also taken “from anyone. Citizens included. If not asked I am sure citizen comments are nonetheless welcome,” Steidlmayer said.

The state Constitution calls for judges to be elected, but, under the law, if a bench vacancy should occur the governor may appoint a replacement. The appointee must then run for election in an open race at the next county election following the expired term.

How it was; how it is

Well, that’s the law anyway. However, many years ago the State Bar of Californiaand the Governor’s Office together connived to elbow out citizen participation.

The state constitution allowed the governor to appoint judges if and when judgeships became vacant through death or retirement.

The scam was developed in which a sitting judge would retire early – say, six or seven months before his or her six-year term expired – thus handing the governor a plum appointment to make.

Once appointed by the governor, the new judge got to run in the next election as an incumbent, a posh position that drastically reduced any possible rival candidates.

Not satisfied with that scam, the next step the SBA, the governor’s political operatives and interested parties such as so-called “watchdog groups” backed a successful ballot initiative that allowed county clerks to remove the names of sitting judges from the ballot if they were not opposed. No opposition, no need to be on the ballot, right.

It only took a few election cycles for the public to forget that judges were supposed to be elected. As a result, at least in the mistaken public mind, judges are appointed in California, not elected.

“That so many are seeking the post is an economic indicator as to small town law practice,” Steidlmayer notes, adding [It is] hard to match (with a conscience) Judge's pay and benefits.”

Steidlmayer, who freely admits to being a Santana supporter, concludes, “The sad irony is that Santana is shut out from even applying although he is most qualified. "Fragged" by the system is much too kind” a description of what was done to Santana.

Notable Trials has a detailed follow-up report coming soon on a formal request Steidlmayer has filed with the US Attorney in Sacramento calling for a full-blown investigation by an unprejudiced agency into possible misuse of official powers in the indictment of Santana and Vasquez and the appointments of local judges.


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