Orange County Superior Court investigates tampering mystery
AUTHOR: Deirdre Newman / Daily Jounral / Orange County + San Diego
An investigation is underway at Orange County Superior Court to unravel the mystery of hundreds of court records that have apparently been tampered with. The majority of the altered case records involve DUIs and traffic violations.
Judge Thomas J. Borris announced Friday that an audit of court records had turned up errors for hundreds of defendants, all of whom have been summoned back to his courtroom over the next few weeks. Also summoned are defense lawyers who have been recorded as representing clients whom they never actually represented. Both groups are now on the defense to prove that they were not responsible for the errors.
There are approximately 600 cases affected, going back to 2006, according to news reports.
Defense attorney David E. Swanson, who said his name appeared in the court minutes on two different cases for a person he never represented, said it appears that the tampering was intentional, not accidental.
"The whole situation seems like changes were made to benefit defendants," Swanson said. "Whether some unscrupulous person convinced them that the changes were legal and properly done remains to be seen."
The defendants being summoned back to the courthouse are mostly Latino, low-income and are purportedly not being advised of their right to an attorney, among other things, said Rudolph E. Loewenstein, another attorney summoned to Borris' courtroom Friday.
"My opinion is that everybody needs to follow the rule of the court, including the court," Loewenstein said. "I understand the court has a legitimate need to get to the bottom of what happened but these people who are coming before the court need to be advised that they have a right to counsel before they incriminate themselves in their answers."
Borris intends to devote the majority of the next two Fridays to handling these cases, according to Gwen Vieau, the court's public information officer.
No one associated with the court - including Borris, the district attorney's office, and Orange County Superior Court staff - would comment for this story.
The FBI is also reportedly investigating the situation, but the agency cannot confirm or deny any investigation at this time, according to FBI Public Affairs Specialist Laura Eimiller.
Forgeries, fake plea deals, phony jail time: FBI re-examining about 600 DUI, traffic cases in Orange County, some may be retried
The FBI and county prosecutors are investigating fake plea deals and forgeries recorded in hundreds of DUI and misdemeanor traffic cases at Orange County Superior Court.
The probe allegedly centers on a court employee suspected of falsifying records to benefit defendants, recording dismissals where there were none, reducing charges and, in at least one case, making it appear a defendant served jail time when she had not, according to interviews and court proceedings.
Federal grand jury probes ticket-fixing scheme involving 1,000 Orange County Superior Court cases
A federal grand jury is summoning traffic defendants to a July hearing to investigate a record-fixing scheme involving about 1,000 cases in the Orange County court system.
FBI agents on Friday handed grand jury subpoenas to traffic defendants called to appear before Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris at the Westminster courthouse.
Borris questioned dozens of people accused of violations whose records had been altered to make it appear charges had been dropped or reduced and that fines had been lowered when they had not. The judge sent the cases back to square one.
Two motorists told the Register they paid thousands of dollars to an unnamed person outside the court system who claimed to have a connection who could make the violations and fines go away.
Watchdog: Is panel reviewing use of O.C. jailhouse informants really independent?
Legal experts are questioning the validity of a committee created by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to review his office’s controversial use of jailhouse informants.
At issue, some say, is the committee’s independence.
Two of the five members will be paid by the District Attorney’s Office and a third has already taken part in a wide-ranging audit that gave the office high marks.
“Typically, institutions like to do their own housecleaning, but there is a risk they will not clean so thoroughly,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School and author of the book “Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American justice.”
Mexican Mafia killer-turned-snitch could walk free this month
February 17, 2015 (ocregister.com) — Former Mexican Mafia boss Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, who admits he has killed more people than he can remember, could be released from prison by the end of the month because of his work as one of the state’s top jailhouse informants.
Loewenstein defends client on Dateline NBC "The Man Who Wasn't There"
SANTA ANA (nbcnews.com) — Dateline NBC profiled one of Mr. Loewenstein's recent murder cases. "The Man Who Wasn't There" aired (7/25/14) and followed the investigation and subsequent trial of Magdi Girghis, a man accused of hiring someone to kill his wife.
Alleged Misuse of Jailhouse Informants Has Orange County Defense Bar Scrambling
SANTA ANA — Recent revelations that the Orange County district attorney's office, the county sheriff's department and the Santa Ana Police Department might have used jailhouse informants improperly and violated suspects' rights is shaking up a number of other state and federal cases.
Defense lawyers say they believe at least a dozen and probably many more current and long-finished criminal cases need to be reviewed after concerns over how informants were used first surfaced in the ongoing prosecution of Seal Beach mass killer Scott Eugene Dekraai. *People v. Dekraai*, 12ZF0128 (Orange Super. Ct., filed Oct. 14, 2011).
Jail Informants Under Fire in Orange County
SANTA ANA, Calif. (nytimes.com) — Attorney Scott Sanders was defending two high-profile death penalty cases in California when he realized evidence in both cases was coming from the same jailhouse snitch. He wondered if it could be more than a coincidence.
After poring over thousands of pages of documents and listening to hundreds of hours of recordings, the assistant public defender in Orange County concluded that prosecutors had tried to cover up a jail informant program that violates inmates' constitutional rights.
Man who killed rehab roommate gets probation
SANTA ANA, Calif. — SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - An 83-year-old man was sentenced to lifetime probation on Friday for beating to death his 94-year-old rehabilitation center roommate and telling authorities he was upset because the man was singing loudly.
William McDougall was given a suspended sentence of 16 years in prison for the 2010 murder of Manh Van Nguyen when the two were recovering from hip injuries at Palm Terrace Healthcare Center in Laguna Woods, prosecutors said.
Man, 83, Sentenced To Probation For Life For Murdering 94-Year-Old Roommate
SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — An 83-year-old man was sentenced to probation for the rest of his life for murdering his 94-year-old roommate at a Laguna Woods short-term care facility.
William Leo McDougall pleaded guilty on Aug. 17 to second degree murder in the Oct. 1, 2010, death of Manh Van Nguyen.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals suspended McDougall’s prison term, even though he was technically sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
83-year-old sentenced for killing roommate, 94
SANTA ANA – An Orange County judge Friday sentenced to lifetime probation an 83-year-old man who pleaded guilty to killing a 94-year-old rehabilitation-center roommate.
Remarking that justice in this case is imperfect, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals suspended the sentence of 16 years in state prison for William Leo McDougall, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August in a negotiated settlement with prosecutors.
Victory, in criminal defense, does not always come in the form of a not guilty verdict. Sometimes, as in this case, the very best that can be done comes from a sentence that is less harsh than it otherwise could be. Such is the case of Jessica Shekell, a 21 year old who was driving with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood. She drove the wrong way on the 91 freeway and slammed head on into another car, killing two sisters in the front seat and seriously injuring their two nieces in the back seat. Not guilty was not and never would be an option for her.
The prosecutor argued strenuously for 13 years in state prison as an appropriate sentence and the victims' family tried to persuade the judge to put Jessica in prison for the maximum allowable time. However, Mr. Loewenstein and the defense team argued that probation was the appropriate sentence. They cited her young age, lack of prior criminal record and unique ability to be of service by speaking to the community as reasons that Jessica was an appropriate candidate for probation. The defense arranged for Ms. Shekell to speak to 130 high school seniors about the risks of drinking and driving. By videotaping this, the judge and probation department were able to see the enormous impact she was able to have on these students, who identified with the defendant and realized that she could be any one of them. After hearing all arguments, the judge sentenced Ms. Shekell to 6 years. This was an enormous victory in the eyes of her defense team.
Defense Attorney Saves Man From Life In Prison
Salvador Jimenez, owner of the Salon Guadalajara Dance Hall in Santa Ana was looking at life in prison for attempted murder and mayhem stemming from a shooting that occurred in June 2009. Rudy Loewenstein, his defense attorney, went to trial on the charges in December of 2010. After three weeks of trial, it took the jury one day of deliberations before returning a verdict of not guilty on the felony charges.
On June 27, 2009, Mr. Jimenez, in his capacity as a certified security guard, went into the parking lot of his salon in response to a group of teenagers who were drinking and inhaling nitrous oxide. He asked the group of 10-15 teenagers to leave at which time several in the crowd started throwing beer bottles at him. Mr. Jimenez tried to activate his pepper spray but it didn’t work. The crowd was pushing and shoving and surrounding him. He next tried to use his baton but it was knocked out of his hands.
Fearing that the crowd would take his gun, Mr. Jimenez took it out to protect it and himself. A struggle ensued with Rogelio Nolasco, who was grabbing for the gun. The gun went off and Nolasco was shot in the back of the head.
The police and prosecutors charged Mr. Jimenez with attempted murder and mayhem, which carried a possible sentence of life in prison. Mr. Loewenstein was able to convince jurors that Mr. Jimenez feared for his life and used justifiable self defense to protect himself. In a dramatic courtroom re enactment, Mr. Loewenstein and the defendant were able to demonstrate exactly how the fight took place and how the gun went off shooting Mr. Nolasco in the back of the head.
After 17 months in jail because he couldn’t come up with the million dollar bail amount, Mr. Jimenez wept with joy at the not guilty verdicts. Finally he was able to walk out a free man. “Being able to save someone’s life like this is about the most satisfying accomplishment I can imagine,” said Rudy Loewenstein.
You can read more about this story by going to the Orange County Register .
Not Guilty Verdict for Man Accused of Assault on Police Officers
February 2, 2010, Orange County Register investigative reporter Tony Saavedra, reported on one of Mr. Loewenstein’s cases. Marco Escobar Nava was a passenger in a car involved in a DUI. Mr. Nava was asleep in the front seat when the driver was arrested. Two Anaheim city police officers tried to drag Mr. Nava from the car. Mr. Nava, thinking he was the victim of a carjacking, tried to defend himself against this excessive use of force. The police not only broke his left arm in the fight to remove him from the car, but charged him with assault on the two police officers.
In defending Mr. Nava against these charges, Mr. Loewenstein was able to achieve the almost impossible feat of accessing the personnel files of the two police officers involved and persuade Judge Ronald Klar to release important information regarding the officers’ credibility. It turned out that in the past at least one of the officer’S made false statements to his superiors. In addition complaints had been lodged against them for writing false police reports in a case where two nurses were involved in Adomestic violence situation.
At trial, Mr. Loewenstein was victorious in persuading a jury to find Mr. Nava not guilty on all charges of assaulting the police officers. In a separate civil suit against the city the City of Anaheim Mr. Nava was awarded $310,000 for injuries sustained as a result of the excessive use of force by the police. Without the not guilty verdict, Mr. Nava would not have been able to win his civil suit against the City of Anaheim.