John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
Frank C. Damrell Jr., a retired federal judge in Sacramento, has joined the Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy law firm. Damrell, 73, who retired in October after 14 years as a U.S. District judge, heads the Cotchett firm's new Sacramento office.
UC Davis did not discriminate against three women cut from its men’s wrestling team in 2001, yet it failed to be in compliance with Title IX at that time, a U.S. District Court judge ruled on Wednesday.
Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr.’s 147-page ruling found that wrestlers Arezou Mansourian, Lauren Mancuso and Christine Ng were entitled to damages for the harm that they suffered as female students who wished to take part in intercollegiate athletics, but no punitive damages.
Having now stretched on for more than eight years, the case will head to another trial in November, this one a jury trial to decide what compensation the women should receive.
Damrell dismissed the women’s claims against four individual administrators — then-Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, Senior Associate Athletics Director Pam Gill-Fisher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bob Franks and Athletics Director Greg Warzecka.
The administrators had been accused of violating the women’s constitutional rights to equal protection, but were found by the court to have qualified immunity.
Universities across the country have been watching the UCD case because of its test of Prong 2 compliance under Title IX, the 1972 federal law prohibiting gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal money.
Jon-Cory Schmidt sued the county and the Sheriff's Office alleging his due process and equal protections rights had been violated, after a raid on his medical marijuana grow in September 2009. The case, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento in October 2010, was dismissed Tuesday.
Schmidt alleged that he was in lawful possession of medical cannabis under medical recommendations issued by licensed California physicians at the time of the raid, that he had had a scrip for marijuana since 1998 and had been growing medical marijuana on that property since 2004. He said in the complaint that he was cultivating a collaborative garden in the 15000 block of Long Point Road that contained 80 immature marijuana plants on the day of the raid.
The suit alleged that after obtaining a search warrant, members of the Narcotics Task Force and a federal agent raided the property on Sept. 22, 2009, illegally cutting and seizing the marijuana plants. The deputies also allegedly took 10 pounds of marijuana, shake and cola, as well as a handgun and other items.
* * *
U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. dismissed Schmidt's complaint Tuesday, ruling that under federal law, it is “illegal for any private person to possess marijuana. Thus, under federal law, marijuana is contraband per se, which means that no person can have a legal interest in it.
“In this case, plaintiff cannot recover damages because of the confiscation or destruction of marijuana because he had no ... property interest in the marijuana,” Damrell wrote, pointing to the fact that California courts had twice ruled he was not in lawful possession of the marijuana.
U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. of Sacramento informed the court's staff Tuesday that he has decided to step down in October. He will have served nearly 14 years.
"I wish you to know that your dedication to the court and to our country has been an inspiration to me," Damrell said in an email to the staff late Tuesday afternoon. "Upon leaving the court, it is my hope to continue promoting civic education and the importance of an independent judiciary."
His departure will be a severe blow to the already overburdened judges of the district, who labor under the heaviest caseloads in the nation. Because he is a senior judge, his resignation will not create a vacancy for President Barack Obama to fill.
Damrell, who will turn 73 next month, received his judicial commission in 1997 and is President Bill Clinton's only appointee to the federal bench in the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California.
* * *
When an issue strikes a chord with him, Damrell can become quite emotional, as he did not long ago when he detected unfairness in the prosecution of a group of Hmong American leaders.
They were accused of plotting an insurrection against the communist government of Laos and, as the case dragged on, the judge became more and more restive. Finally, he gave a Department of Justice attorney a tongue-lashing in open court over the flaws he saw in the charges. Shortly thereafter, the government dropped the case.
On Friday, Judge Damrell issued a preliminary injunction barring California from freezing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to hospitals for in-patient care until there is a final ruling on the merits of the California Hospital Association's suit. Sacramento Bee, 3/5/11.
A Sacramento federal judge has ruled that four top officials at the University of California, Davis – including the former chancellor and current athletic director – were "deliberately indifferent" to women's "constitutional right to equal treatment in athletics."
U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. denied the four officials' motions for immunity from accusations leveled at them by three former women wrestlers in a civil rights lawsuit that has bedeviled the university for seven years.
Damrell cast aside the officials' claims that they are entitled to qualified immunity "because they did not violate a clearly established constitutional right."
In May 2008, a distraught female student at University of the Pacific in Stockton confided in two friends. After a night of partying, she told them, she had been raped in campus housing by three male basketball players.
To this day, the truth of what happened that night remains a source of dispute and is, according to one university official, a tale of "multiple truths." The woman, then a 19-year-old freshman and full scholarship player on the women's basketball team, declined to pursue criminal charges. But while the university punished all three men – expelling its star point guard and suspending the other two players – the matter was far from over.
The young woman from Colorado filed a civil damages lawsuit in Sacramento federal court against the school, accusing it of indifference and retaliation under gender equality law. And thus began a legal case as mystifying as the alleged crime itself.
For the past 20 months, the case of Jane Doe v. University of the Pacific has been litigated virtually in secret.
In September, more than two years after the alleged rapes, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ruled in favor of the university and tossed the suit out. The woman is appealing.
The public may never know the reason for the judge's action.
Since Jane Doe filed her lawsuit in March 2009, and the university responded in May of that year, Damrell has agreed to seal almost every substantive document filed with the court. Altogether, 33 key documents have been sealed from public view, primarily because that's the way UOP wanted it.
Well, about half the charges got thrown out yesterday before the evidentiary hearing. That's a good start. Of the five charges against the defendants, Judge Damrell dismissed counts 4 and 5, as well as three of the four objects of the conspiracy charged in count 1. See Memorandum and Order, 11/12/10. That leaves counts 2 and 3 and a weakened count 1. In short, the order struck the charges that the defendants violated the Neutrality Act (count 5) and that they agreed to transport explosives from the United States (count 4). It also cripples count 1, which charged a conspiracy to commit four separate crimes. In layman's terms, a conspiracy is just an agreement by two or more persons to commit a criminal offense. One can be convicted of a federal conspiracy offense even if the object crime never took place and sometimes even when the "crime" amounts to little more than just talk. In his ruling yesterday, the judge struck three of the four crimes the prosecutors say the defendants conspired to commit in count one, leaving only an alleged conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act. Here's Denny's description of the Court's 44-page order in today's Sacramento Bee, 11/13/10; see also AP Story, 11/13/10.
What does it mean? On one side, it is a big victory for the defense. Courts rarely dismiss criminal charges before trial. Speaking for myself, the Court's order is as good as the defense could reasonably have expected before next year's evidentiary hearing. The prosecution must still face a daunting, multi-week evidentiary hearing on the defense's other motions to suppress and to dismiss for outrageous government misconduct. After the testimony at those hearings, the Court may still decide to throw out all the wiretap evidence, which would prevent the prosecution from proceeding on the remaining charges. On the other hand, the charges left standing are still very serious. Counts 2 and 3 carry a maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment and count 3 carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. The defense won one important legal battle, but not the war. The bigger fight will be at the evidentiary hearing next year.
First, the government has to decide how it will proceed. It might choose to appeal the counts that were dismissed. That would suspend all proceedings in the district court and shift the legal battle to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the next year or more. In my opinion, the judge's decision is well-reasoned and is likely to be upheld on appeal. The prosecution might also try to correct the flaws the judge found in the dismissed counts by filing, yet again, another superseding indictment with new allegations and language. But I believe most or all of the dismissed charges cannot be fixed. The problem is not in the way the government charged the counts; rather, it is that no crimes were committed in those counts. If the government does file a fourth indictment in this case to try again to fix the deficiencies in the dismissed counts, it will inevitably lead to another round of motions to dismiss and delay further a case that is already more than three years old. Alternatively, the U.S. Attorney's Office could decide to accept the judge's decision and proceed to the evidentiary hearing next year, followed by a jury trial if any of its case is left standing. Or, best case scenario, the Court's action might spur prosecutors to recognize the inherent flaws in their case and now decide it is not worth proceeding on the remaining charges.
So that's where things stand for now. The Department of Justice must decide whether it is worth the time, manpower, and taxpayer money to continue to pursue a prosecution that almost no one outside of their office seems to feel is justified.
In this Memorandum and Order on Harrison Jack Motions to Dismiss, 11-12-10, Judge Damrell dismissed counts 4 (conspiracy to receive and transport explosives in interstate and foreign commerce) and 5 (violation of Neutrality Act) of the Second Superseding Indictment, and dismissed count 1, in part, to the extent it charges a conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. § 922(o), 26 U.S.C. § 5861, and 22 U.S.C. § 2778. More tonight or this weekend after I've had time to read and digest the order.