Thursday, May 6, 2010

The elusive Yuba-Sutter Bar Association:
how many are in it and what do they think?

A Google search for the Yuba-Sutter Y-S Bar Association turns up a site which provides scant information about itself, other that it is recognized by the State Bar Association and claims one “Molly S.” to be its contact person.

"Molly S." could be reached at certain. Or, at least, could be reached at that number once upon a time.

The live person answering that contact number advises callers trying to reach one “Molly S.” to call her at a different number, extension. #313.

That turned out to be the California Rural Legal Assistance agency -- or at least a pre-recorded message purporting to be the CRLA.

A pre-recorded voice ticked off a roster of persons who could be reached at a long list of telephone extensions. The person named at extension #313 was not “Molly S.”

The CRLA message advised that “Molly S.” was one of two persons who could be reached at extension #317. Alas, when the caller punches #317 in the connection is immediately terminated.

With fingers drumming on desktop, I think, OK. So forget this “Molly S.," the spokesperson who may or may not exist at a phone number that may or may not be functioning.

A wider Google search turned up a “Yuba-Sutter Bar Association.” Attorney Geoffrey Wander was listed it’s the current president. Wander is well-regarded in the legal community, so far as I know, and a nice guy, to boot.

Maybe he knows how many members the YSBA has, or knows someone who does.

Another pre-recorded message answers his phone. Mr. Wander is currently unavailable, but would respond if the inquiring party would please leave a call-back number.

My message was not returned that day, or the next – and the weekend was fast approaching.

By now, of course, my interest in the phantasmagoric entity operating under the moniker “the Yuba-Sutter Bar Association” had deepened considerable. It has no direct phone number, no email address and no live person to reply if it had either.

This was not the first time I’d had trouble establishing contact with the YSBA.

Years ago I tried to reach it in connection with a completely different story. In those pre-Internet times even less information was available on the organization. All that could be determined was that it was rumored to exist.

Many phone calls back then to reasonably friendly attorneys revealed that they, too, had heard there was a Yuba-Sutter Bar Association and it reportedly met semi-regularly for lunch at a local restaurant.

A name was floated for an attorney who was said to be president of the association in that bygone era.

I contacted him. I said I wanted to cover the organization’s next scheduled luncheon meeting. Maybe do a short news article about the issues the group discussed. Was a speaker planned?

I reassured the YSBA president that I had similarly covered the Sacramento, Nevada and Butte County bar associations. In fact, those groups had me on their frequently-called-media list.

I waited for a response. And waited. And….

After a noticeable blank space, the YSBA president finally filled the void with one of those classic yes-no-perhaps answers lawyers like to give.

Yes, there was a YSBA and it occasionally did meet, but not often and perhaps I might use my time more productively by focusing my attention, uh, elsewhere.

That man is now a superior court judge.

Recalling that experience sharpened my interest in tracking down the YSBA – the group that may or may not exist somewhere other than the Ethernet and the to-do appointments list of a few ambitious attorneys who liked to convene informally every so often to brag about their latest cases and schmooze with other movers-and-shakers with a keen eye towards someday running for a salaried public office, or a maybe a juicy gubernatorial appointment.

Wander – the last known president of the YSBA – is also one of the main stars of a stage play I had been writing about recently in a column for a daily newspaper. The column’s subject matter is completely unrelated to legal issues.

So I went that Sunday to the theater where Wander was appearing in a matinee. I buttonhole him before the show and asked him about the YSBA -- point blank, face to face.

Does this YSBA exist, despite all evidence to the contrary? Where is it located? How many members does it have? When and where do the members meet?

Wander was there and spared me a few minutes.

Yes, he had been president of the YSBA, but that was some time ago. One Dave Ashby, he thought, was the current president of the association. I should talk to him.

As to how many members the YSBA had, he wasn’t sure, Wander said. There were around 50-75 members in it when he was president.

“But that doesn’t represent all the lawyers in the area,” Wander reminded.

Lawyers must maintain membership in the State Bar of California. As the SBC puts it in its official publications:
Founded in 1927 by the legislature, The State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court. All lawyers practicing in California must be members of the State Bar. The mission of the State Bar: "Preserve and improve our justice system in order to ensure a free and just society under the law."
The dues and fees cover mandated training such as MCLE, or Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. These training sessions help lawyers up-to-date with California’s constantly changing laws and legal procedures.

Wander did share a few comments on the Santana, Vasquez matter and the keen interest it has sparked in the area’s legal communities, but I will expand on those comments later.

I called Ashby’s Yuba City office. David Isaac Ashby was indeed the same David Ashby who was the president of the YSBA, the receptionist confirmed, but he was in trial that week and was not taking calls. If I left my telephone number, he might get back to me some time later, but it probably not is until next week.

Hmmm. At this point, I remembered a quote:
THE MILLS OF GOD (THE GODS) GRIND SLOWLY - "At some point a sinner will be punished; many decisions or events that are important in one's life take time in coming. Some 1,600 years ago the Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus wrote: 'The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind small.' One of Longfellow's translations was a 17th century poem, 'Retribution,' by Friedrich Von Logau:
Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.
From "The Dictionary of Clichés" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).
There comes a time when you finally realize you are getting the run around – the old shuck-and-jive.. It is not necessarily the fault of the individuals handing it to you – they would like to help you, really, but just can’t. It’s the way the system works. Everything has been arranged – just so – to match certain parties’ preferences.

Proof of this can be seen by comparing the online information provided the Nevada County Bar Association and that by the Yuba-Sutter Bar Association.

I finally gave up on the unforthcoming YSBA and got the facts and figures I needed by other means.

I determined that neighboring Nevada County (with its Grass Valley-Nevada City twin-cities quite similar to Yuba and Sutter’s Yuba City-Marysville) had a total population of about 97,000 in 2008, published figures showed.

The lawyer-tracking website reports there are 287 attorneys in Nevada County. The Nevada County Bar Association itemizes (with name, address, phone and email), a membership of about 170.

Yuba County’s population was 73,000 and Sutter’s 92,000 for a grand total of 165,000 in 2008. Avvo reports a total of 205 lawyers in the bi-county area.

Compare the established 160 bar members in Nevada County, with the “guesstimated” 50-75 in Yuba-Sutter.

Rounded off, that means about 30 percent of the lawyers practicing in Yuba-Sutter are members of the local bar association, while about 60 percent of the lawyers practicing in Nevada County are active members of their county bar.

Perhaps David Isaac Ashby, Esquire would care to comment on these comparative figures. Someday.

Stay tuned.

Tom Nadeau

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A précis of Tom Nadeau

Some of the news contacts I’ve recently made are complete strangers. They don’t know anything about me, or Notable Trials.

It is not as it once was when I could simply jabber into the phone, “This is Tom Nadeau with the Bee (or for Reuters, or with the Daily Recorder, etc.)” and have a light bulb of recognition blink on over the head of the party at the other end of the line.

So it seems timely for me to provide a brief – and incomplete – thumbnail c.v. of who I am and some things I’ve done.

Otherwise, I might be taken for a fool.

In his long career as a journalist Tom Nadeau has covered county trial courts, state appeals courts, the state supreme court and federal district courts for daily newspapers in Northern California, including San Francisco, Sacramento and points north.

He has reported for the Daily Journal Corporation legal newspapers, including the Daily Recorder, Sacramento, the San Francisco Daily Journal and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Over the years, he has covered the Superior Court beat for newspapers of record in Yuba, Sutter, Nevada, Butte, Humboldt and Sacramento counties.

Significant federal trials Nadeau covered gavel-to-gavel have included the Ted Kaczinski “Unabomber” proceedings in US District Court, Sacramento, which he did for the Daily Recorder, Newsweek magazine and Reuters news service.

Controversial Superior Court trials he has covered include People v. Morgunov (Sutter), People v. Hoke Jones (Yuba) and People v. Sam Strange and People v. Pacific Gas & Electric” (Nevada). All these trials were done either for The Daily Recorder or the Sacramento Bee.

The State Bar of California awarded Nadeau its Gold Medallion for Excellence in Investigative Journalism for his reportage during the two Morgunov trials.

His book, "Showdown at the Bouzy Rouge: People v. PG&E", published by Comstock Bonanza Press, Grass Valley, Calif., is still available through Comstock Bonanza and Amazon.

Nadeau has covered many other less publicized civil and criminal trials that were, in fact, of legal and historical consequence.

Notable Trials provides close coverage of unusual trials that in their own unique ways reveal the finer points and worst faults in state and federal court operations and the men and women who judge, clerk and lawyer in them.

It also shines a fresh light on the administrators, prosecutors, plaintiffs, defenders, defendants and other parties of interest who put on the show.

Tom Nadeau

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Griesa ‘takes the 5th’ to avoid disclosing
his role in Santana, Vasquez indictment

With his own separate, but related criminal trial nearing, Joseph Griesa invoked his right to remain silent Friday in an evidentiary hearing on charges brought against two lawyers who accused of arranging a $100,000 bribe to make a teenage girl’s sexual harassment lawsuit go away.

Griesa initially objected to testifying at all on a defense “points and authorities” motion in People v. Jesse Santana and David Vasquez, Yuba County Superior Court, case #08-825.

Kenneth L. Rosenfeld, Griesa’s Sacramento-based attorney, told Judge John Darlington that any questions defense attorneys might have for his client had either been asked and answered in grand jury hearings, or would be refused that day under provisions of the Fifth Amendment.

Griesa was previously convicted of some charges related to his alleged unlawful sexual conduct with a 17-year-old girl who was working for him at Mitchell’s Towing Service. A second trial on unresolved charges in that case is expected to begin June 8.

Vasquez’s attorney, Michael Barrette, countered that defense questions would be narrowly limit. The 14-page document Barrette presented that day stated:
“The only area of inquiry by the defense is whether Joseph Griesa committed perjury at the Grand Jury proceedings by denying any ‘deals’ had been made through Mr. Griesa’s attorneys Timothy Evans and Charles Smith. It is expected that Mr. Griesa will invoke the Fifth Amendment ... and exercise his right to remain silent. Of course, the only grounds for doing so would be that his testimony was false at the Grand Jury on this point.”
The defense hoped that either the prosecution or the judge would grant Griesa immunity from prosecution for any perjury he may have committed in the November, 2008 grand jury inquiry that led to the indictments of Santana and Vasquez, so the truth could emerge in this complex case, Barrette said.

Michael Canzoneri, the supervising deputy state attorney general heading the prosecution team, immediately objected. He forcefully threatened to bring perjury charges against Griesa if he testified.

The state Attorney General’s Office took over the case to avoid possible allegations of conflicts of interest by the Yuba County District Attorney’s Office.

Rosenfeld said Griesa might testify provided he was granted “transactional immunity” from any prosecution on any charges that might arise from his testimony.

There are two types of immunity: transactional immunity and use immunity. Transactional immunity shields the witness from any prosecution based on any testimony he might give. Use immunity limits the protection to any charges that might derive from a single, specific statement the witness might give.

A seasoned lawyer, prosecutor and state court judge, Darlington said he could think of no instance in which any judge had granted such a blanket immunity.

The prosecution has previously denied that any special considerations were given to Griesa for his testimony to the grand jury, while previous testimony in the Santana, Vasquez matter “has already established two such grants of consideration” were given, the defense’s points and authorities pleading stated.

The felony charges of conspiracy and bribery the lawyers face spring from a grand jury proceeding the prosecution had divided into two sessions – one in which it was made clear to Griesa that nothing he said in the first session would be used against him in the second session.

This amounted to “a classic grant of immunity,” Barrette contended in the document filed Friday.
[T]he prosecution now seeks to insulate Joseph Griesa from giving the very testimony that will demonstrate that his assertion that there was not ‘any deal cooking for [his] testimony’, was patently false, by threatening to prosecute him for perjury for lying to the Grand Jury. This appears to be the height of chutzpah where the prosecution denies it has any deals with Joseph Griesa but will only allow him to stand behind the Fifth Amendment to cloak his own misconduct. That misconduct consists of using known perjury in the Grand Jury proceeding, knowing use of perjury in denying the existence of any deals with Joseph Griesa before this court [i.e., this current proceeding] and compounding that perjury by seeking to threaten to prosecute the very witness who will expose the misdeeds of the government prosecutor.
That more or less sums up the complex legal concepts and system manipulations that underlie this case – issues that could make People v. Santana, Vasquez a landmark case, whichever way it goes.

For one thing, depending on the outcome, it could change the way courts distinguish a civil settlement (a common resolution in many disputes) from bribery, a crime.

Numerous legal careers and reputations are imperiled by the ultimate outcome. How many and which ones depends entirely on how Darlington rules on the defense motion when court resumes in Department #7 at 1:30 p.m. June 3.

Darlington’s ruling could also determine whether this two-years-and-counting case ever does go to trial. Santana and Vasquez have not even been arraigned yet on the bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges alleged.

Tom Nadeau