Thursday, May 24, 2012

VISTA: Students given a false sense of justice in our courtrooms

Photo: Judge Richard G. Cline, attorney Kenneth Feinburg and Judge Ronald Styn in 2005

See all posts re Judge Richard Cline.

VISTA: Students get a taste of justice
August 03, 2011
North County Times

Twenty-six middle school students got a taste of justice at the Vista Courthouse Tuesday through a program that introduces them to the legal system.

One student defended herself against charges of theft, and was ultimately led away in handcuffs for drug possession. Another student, her alleged accomplice, sat silent on the advice of his attorneys. The accuser was reprimanded by the judge for name-calling on the witness stand.

The gifted and talented students, whom their instructor, Gregg Primeaux, called "future leaders of the community," were role-playing a trial in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Richard Cline, a co-founder of the civics curriculum, "On My Honor."

"I learned a lot about how the court works," said Miranda Colvin, 12, the seventh-grader from Aviara Oaks Middle School who played the defendant. "It was really fun because I got to put on handcuffs."

The program began in 1999 with a fourth-grade field trip to the courts, and expanded into a series of regionwide events, including "Youth in Court Day" and, more recently, the week-long summer symposium for gifted students. The programs are sponsored jointly by the San Diego Superior Court, the North County Bar Association, Cal State San Marcos, and local schools.

Cline said he developed the curriculum to supplement dwindling civics education, and counterbalance what he considers the poor depiction of judicial proceedings on television.

"It teaches students factual information about the (legal) process by participating in an active trial," Cline said. "And hopefully it teaches them respect for the law."

During the summer program, gifted students in grades 5-9 prepare a case with attorneys and judges, investigate case studies using technology labs, present legal arguments, debate complex issues, select jury members, explore rights and responsibilities as citizens, and take a tour of the court facilities.

"We wanted to bring a higher critical thinking opportunity for them during the summer, within the courts," Primeaux said, adding that the program aims to both cultivate legal literacy and inspire future legal professionals.

During the mock trial, a student, Emily, faced theft charges for allegedly stealing $200 of charitable donations from a teacher's desk during lunch hour. Fellow students testified that they suspected her of taking the cash, noting that they saw her in the classroom and watched her buy a new iPod.

However, they acknowledged they never saw her steal the money, and school administrators admitted that while they found the new iPod in her backpack, she told them she earned the money through odd jobs.

Throughout the mock trial, Cline offered judicial guidance on examining the evidence, and at one time reproached a witness, Colleen, for calling Emily a "liar and a loser" on the stand.

A dozen student jurors then weighed the testimony and declared Emily not guilty. In a final twist, however, Cline announced that a court search of Emily's backpack turned up a white, powdery substance found to be methamphetamine, and a student actor playing bailiff escorted her out of court in handcuffs...

[Maura Larkins comment: This seemed to be a real exercise in critical thinking--until that "final twist". Shame on the adults for pulling that parlor trick. The students were given the impression that in a typical case, defendants are wrongly found innocent. Obviously, the jury in the above exercise was right to find the girl innocent. Judge Cline would have done these students a service if he acknowledged that the outcome in the story below is more common in the US justice system. The idea that defendants bring methamphetmine to court in backpacks is silly, bordering on dishonest manipulation of children's minds. Judge Cline seems to want kids to believe that courts make mistakes when they find defendants not guilty.

A more typical situation can be seen in the following case, which, interestingly enough, involved a fifteen-year-old girl. (Perhaps Judge Cline should have included in his lesson an admonition not to make false allegations?) The defense attorney in the following case described our justice system to the innocent young man accused by the fifteen-year-old: "When you go into that courtroom the jury is going to see a big black teenager and you're automatically going to be assumed guilty."]

May 24, 2012
Onetime top Calif. football prospect exonerated after serving 5 years on rape charge

A former high school football star whose dreams of a pro career were shattered by a rape conviction burst into tears Thursday as a judge threw out the charge that sent him to prison for more than five years.

Brian Banks, now 26, had pleaded no contest 10 years ago on the advice of his lawyer after a childhood friend falsely accused him of attacking her on their high school campus.

The district attorney offered Banks a deal -- plead guilty to rape and spend another 18 months in prison, or go to trial and face 41 years to life, CBS Los Angeles reports.

Banks said his defense attorney told him, "'When you go into that courtroom the jury is going to see a big black teenager and you're automatically going to be assumed guilty.' Those are her exact words."

In a strange turn of events, the woman, Wanetta Gibson, friended him on Facebook when he got out of prison.

In an initial meeting with him, she said she had lied; there had been no kidnap and no rape and she offered to help him clear his record, court records state.

But she refused to repeat the story to prosecutors because she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools.

During a second meeting that was secretly videotaped, she told Banks, "'I will go through with helping you but it's like at the same time all that money they gave us, I mean gave me, I don't want to have to pay it back,"' according to a defense investigator who was at the meeting.

It was uncertain Thursday whether Gibson will have to return the money.

Prosecutors also said they didn't immediately know if she might be prosecuted for making the false accusation when she was 15...

Banks said he had verbally agreed to attend USC on a four-year scholarship when he was arrested.

He still hopes to play professional football and has been working out regularly. His attorney Justin Brooks appealed to NFL teams to give him a chance.

Banks said outside court Thursday that he had lost all hope of proving his innocence until Gibson contacted him.

"It's been a struggle. But I'm unbroken and I'm still here today," the tall, muscular Banks said, tears flowing down his face.

He recalled being shocked and speechless on the day Gibson reached out to him after he had been released from prison, having served five years and two months...

In court, Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira told Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim that prosecutors agreed the case should be thrown out. Kim dismissed it immediately.

Banks had tried to win release while he was in prison, but Brooks, a law professor and head of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said he could not have been exonerated without the woman coming forward and recanting her story.

Brooks said it was the first case he had ever taken in which the defendant had already served his time and had been free for a number of years.

Banks remained on probation, however, and was still wearing his electronic monitoring bracelet at Thursday's hearing. His lawyer said the first thing the two planned to do was report to probation officials and have it removed.

"The charges are dismissed now," Brooks said. "It's as if it didn't happen. ... It was the shortest, greatest proceeding I've ever been part of."

Banks had been arrested after Gibson said he met her in a school hallway and urged her to come into an elevator with him. The two had been friends since middle school and were in the habit of making out in a school stairwell, according to court papers.

There were contradictions in Gibson's story, as she told some people the rape happened in the elevator and others that it happened in the stairwell.

A kidnapping enhancement was added to the case because of the allegation Banks had taken her to the stairwell. That enhancement also was thrown out Thursday.


Anonymous said...

Not So Role Model Part I
Judge Cline trying to help school children learn that there are two sides to every story is important. However, he should practice what he preaches when school children aren't around. On point is current Case #37-2011-00150239, in which he made decisions that took away the rights of one of the beneficiaries, a current pro-per, Jennifer Grant, in favor of a trustee who's also a real estate attorney and alledged pro-tem judge, Rusty Grant (not related to Jennifer). When the whole case is seen in context, little doubt exists that Rusty is favorably biased toward one of the other heirs, Bradd Schwichtenberg, despite her mandate to act neutrally (Probate Code 16003).

Three petitions and a large volume of exhibits form the bulk of the case. The first petition was filed by Rusty on May 17, 201l and appears cleverly contrived to force a life estate residence left Jennifer into abatement. All petitions seem to revolve around beneficiary Bradd Schwichtenberg's stated goal of getting this residence sold ( Bradd's Response to Rusty's Internal Affairs petition paragraph 4 page 4, Remove Trustee petition exhibit N).

The Remove Trustee Petition was filed by Jennifer who is seeking to remove Rusty from all three trusts though the reasons are different for A than for B and C,. However, exhibits 23-25, filed by Jennifer on April 16th, 2012 for an April 19th protective order motion hearing reveal a more personal motivation for getting the residence sold There is clearly a conflict of interest and likely violation of Business Professions Code 3-310 as Rusty Grant, her own attorney, Constance Larsen, and the realtor, who is designated to sell the residence, should Jennifer give it up, are long standing members and officers of a social organization in Escondido .

Jennifer filed two motions for the  April 19, 2012 motion hearing.  . In her 2nd Motion filed Feb. 2nd, accompanied by exhibits, Jennifer links the subpeonas to the third petition. Its main prayer is Bradd's request for a forensic accounting with the obvious goal of hoping to force the life estate into abatement should he prove successful since he is accusing his mother of misspending Trust B and C assets and wants A, containing the residence,, to repay them. Constance Larsen tries to claim in objections to motion that the purpose of the forensic accounting is to determine what is in the trust in order to distribute it. However, if one reads the three petitions and Jennifer's motion responses to Bradd and Constance, it is clear that all parties know what is currently in the trust and where. Rusty  had previously filed a response to Bradd's  petition, that she was willing to aid him in his objective, thereby further establishing her bias. Jennifer objected to both parties, alleging that Bradd's interpretation of the trust terms was incorrect and he was using an erronous chart on which to base his accusations of misspending. She  offes refuting exhibits to support her positon,
. Since the need for the forensic accounting is alleged by Bradd, it should be his responsibility and Rusty should only be involved if his allegations prove correct. If Bradd's motion declaration is read carefully he states the subpeoned documents will be sent to him. However Bradd's attorney, Richard MacGurn, is taking advantage of the situation so all seven trust beneficiaries will have to share in the expense instead of just his client. Meanwhile, Judge Cline appears to have no qualms about burdening 5 beneficiaries, who aren't even involved in the litigation, as well as Jennifer, forcing them to spend their inheritance on what promises to be a costly enterprise given the number of institutions subpeoned

Anonymous said...

Judge Cline's motion ruling calls Jennifer's contentions, outside the first Motion for a Protective Order, “irrelevant and unproven” though he fails to discuss any subsequent document or exhibit other than stating he read the Consent to Serve. Little wonder he considers it “irrelevant “as the title clearly defines it belongs with the Remove Trustee petition, not the motion.   Instead of giving Jennifer a chance to prove her “unproven” allegations during at time of  trial on the petitions, he grants Bradd the main prayer of his by ruling his requested forensic accounting go forward, depriving Jennifer of her right to have her objections to this petition heard at trial,

Ruling on one petition before trial at a motion hearing would seem unjust enough. However, in an examination of the other two petitions, it is found that both Rusty and Jennifer claim they are trustee of the B and C trusts despite Rusty only appearing on the scene six weeks prior to Jennifer and Bradd's mother's date of death in 2010.  B and C became irrevocable back in 1997 when her father died.. Since the forensic accounting is over issues related to whether the Jennifer and Bradd's mother  misspent B and C, who the legal trustee is bears great importance. If it were to be proved that Jennifer is trustee of B and C, and Rusty merely trustee of A, then accusations of misspending of B and C should be taken up with Jennifer, not Rusty. Therefore, Judge Cline's Protective Order motion ruling underhandedly declared Rusty Trustee of B and C, once again denying Jennifer her right to trial. Rusty is now also gifted with free rein to spend B and C money as well.

The court registry shows that Rusty has been quick to seize her victory as she is now using the title “successor trustee” when prior to the ruling she had merely been known as “petitioner”.

Anonymous said...

Not So Role Model Part III

Jennifer apparently made one final attempt to get her petition rights back. In her Case Management Statement for the May 18th courtroom appearance, Jennifer points out to Judge Cline that he has just ruled on the petitions at a Protective Order motion hearing and asks what what he will do about this. The answer obviously is that he plans to do nothing to restore her rights as he subsequently signed the order and never addressed the issue. He also ignored her request for bifurcation on the petitions which would have seemed appropriate given the numerous code sections Jennifer alleges that Rusty has violated. In context of the whole case's documents and exhibits (or at least the descriptions of the confidential ones), Jennifer appears to be justified, They include exhibits of
an e-mail from Rusty stating “Can you believe this woman ( apparently Jennifer)? I say let the beneficiaries duke it out in court. Of course I am sitting here with my glass of wine, so maybe my tolerance level is low” (Motion for a Protective Order Exhibit 17 and also Remove Trustee Petition Jennifer's Response to Objections Exhibit R ),
trust property damage (Remove Trustee Petition, Jennifers Response to Objections Exhibit S (2pgs),
Constance making claims Jennifer did not notify her of her alleged right to B and C trusteeship until after the Rusty's petition was filed in May 2011 though a countering exhibit shows Jennifer had e-mailed both of them with this fact back in April (Remove Trustee Petition Exhibits R and S),
Constance and Rusty trying to prevent Jennifer from obtaining statements which would help clear her mother of the misspending accusations (Motion for a Protective Order exhibits 6 and 7),
an image of the county tax accessor's website showing Rusty was negligent on paying property taxes on time (Remove Trustee Response of Jennifer to Rusty's Objections Exhibit R )
and MANY more.

In view of this case, Judge Cline operates his courtroom doublefaced, one side smiling at the school children and the other winking at justice, dispensing it to those within his professional sphere no matter the ethics of its members.
Signed Sickened and Disgusted in Lake San Marcos