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 The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated.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.
This AP story focuses on the Department of Justice's policy of using indentured servants, aka volunteers, as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor cases and otherwise assist local U.S. Attorney Offices. The piece notes that some have criticized its lawfulness and the program may hinder diversity by appealing to only those who can afford to work a year for free. Though as the story points out, it worked out well for Sacramento AUSA Justin Lee, who was awarded a paid AUSA slot after his volunteer stint ended.
The Sacramento Bee has this video interview with EDCA U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner, who reflects on his time at the U.S. Attorney's Office.
As your resident defender/muckraker, I may have criticized his office once or twice (ok, maybe more than that). But there is much to commend him for during his term, such as his community outreach programs and attempts at preventing backlash against ethnic and religious minorities after terrorist attacks.
On his last day here, I wish Ben well on his future career wherever it may lead.
EDCA U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner announced his resignation today, effective at the end of the month. Sac Bee, 4/20/16. Chief Assistant Phil Talbert will be the interim U.S. Attorney until President Obama (or the next President) nominates a new one and the Senate confirms. Phil was my Section 4 classmate in the 1986-87 first year class at UCLA School of Law. No word on why Ben chose April 20 for his announcement.
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced last week that AUSA Kirk Sheriff will be the new head of its Fresno office, replacing Mark Cullers who recently departed after more than 20 years in the office for the Fresno County Superior Court bench. Sheriff had been the head of the Fresno white-collar crime unit.
Congratulations to EDCA AUSA Mark Cullers, the Fresno Branch Chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office, on his appointment to the Fresno County Superior Court bench yesterday. As opposing counsel on a number of cases with Mark, I found him to be honest and ethical. A good choice.
In United States v. Johnson, No. 13-10320, the Ninth Circuit Friday rejected the government's appeal of an order dismissing the indictment against Douglas Arthur Johnson, which charged him with fraud involving airline parts in No. 2:11-CR-0429-JAM. The court of appeals affirmed Judge Mendez's finding that the government entered into a non-prosecution agreement when the AUSA told the defendant, among other things, to "just tell the truth [at the grand jury proceeding] and everything will be ok" and both parties understood at the time that he would not be prosecuted.
What? Judges Reinhardt and Callahan on the same side in a criminal appeal! That might be a first.
A man serving a 15-year prison sentence for conspiring to burn down his North Natomas restaurant had his convictions thrown out earlier this month on a rare argument: His trial was not actually public.
Sundeep Dharni, now 42, walked free because spectators, including some members of his family, were briefly excluded from the courtroom during at least part of jury selection to make room for an unusually large pool of prospective jurors.
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n July 2014, a split three-judge circuit panel sent the case back to Sacramento for additions to be made to the record reflecting the scope of the courtroom closure, and for the lower court to decide “whether spectators had an opportunity to re-enter the courtroom during (jury selection), including whether seats in fact opened up and, if so, whether spectators would have been aware of the vacancies, and whether the district court and court officials would have allowed the spectators to enter” while jury selection was underway.
The parties agreed it would be next to impossible to come up with precise answers to the circuit’s questions about 7 1/2 -year-old events. Instead, in January Denvir and the prosecutor asked the circuit to let them find out whether the court in Sacramento would grant a motion by the government to dismiss Dharni’s convictions, conditioned upon Dharni’s acceptance of a plea agreement and a re-sentence to time served.
The circuit granted the request [here], which was signed for the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Hemesath.
“I’m gratified that the government would consider such a reasonable solution,” Denvir said in an interview. “Ms. Hemesath was a pleasure to work with. She listens to what you have to say and takes it seriously.”
Today, Chief Judge England granted the government's request to dismiss all charges against defendants Siavash Poursartip and Sara Shirazi in a case set for trial November 9. The two had been charged in this 2010 Indictment with felony bribery, theft, and fraud arising out of an alleged scheme to defraud Cal Trans. Here's the DOJ/FBI press release trumpeting the charges.
In their request to dismiss the case, the prosecutors report that the third defendant, Clint Gregory, a senior electrical engineer at Cal Trans, had been cooperating with the government starting a year before the indictment was filed. In multiple interviews with prosecutors, he "consistently stated" that Poursartip and Shiraz had bribed him for the purpose of ensuring business for their company Infotek with Caltrans. On October 21, during a trial prep session, Gregory was "questioned aggressively" concerning the bribes and conceded that his earlier statements were "not accurate," and the payments in question were not bribes. [Editor's note: In everyday talk, what prosecutors call "not accurate" here is commonly called "a lie."].
The government doesn't acknowledge that the defendants were likely innocent on the fraud charges as well. But they requested dismissal of all charges because "what was once a public corruption case is now limited to an alleged scheme concerning state contracting procedures and resulting in uncertain losses to the State," which did not "implicate a federal interest sufficient" to justify the expenses and resources to proceed to trial.
Of course, the defense has another view. In their Opposition to the government's attempt to exclude defense evidence from the jury trial, the defense attorneys noted that the defense team met with the U.S. Attorney's Office before the indictment was filed. At the meeting, they presented the facts and circumstances showing their clients had not defrauded or deceived CalTrans, which had in fact authorized and directed Infotek's conduct. Instead the government took the word of their informant, leading to years of litigation and expenses before all charges were dismissed on the eve of trial. Congratulations to defense attorneys Richard Pachter and Chris Wing for their 6-year fight to exonerate their clients.
[Editor's note 2: The prosecutors who asked for dismissal don't appear to be responsible here, as they just inherited this mess from the initial prosecutors who are long gone.].