Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s criticism of an Orange County Superior Court commissioner over the releases of seven sex offenders touched off a heated dispute between the county’s top prosecutor and defense attorneys.
Orange County Public Defender Sharon Petrosino and Fullerton attorney Jacqueline Goodman, a leader on national and state defense attorney organizations, said Spitzer’s criticism presented a chilling effect on judges.
Spitzer accused Commissioner Joe Dane of releasing the sex offenders, four of whom have been rounded up since their release, to help reduce the Orange County jail population during the COVID-19 pandemic as ordered by the Judicial Council of California.
The sex offenders ended up in front of Dane for allegedly violating parole by either taking off or tampering with GPS monitors.
Dane cannot respond because of a canon of ethics prohibiting judges or commissioners from commenting on cases.
“These are routine parole violations,” Petrosino said of the cases involving the sex offenders. “It’s typical of the homeless (defendants). They have nowhere to plug in their GPS, and it’s more difficult now because everything is closed.”
In the past, the defendants often would plug them in in the offices of their attorney. The minimum sentence is 180 days, which would mean 90 days in jail, but Spitzer was angered that some were being sentenced to credit for time served or given a few more days behind bars.
“He’s being disingenuous,” Petrosino told City News Service. “It is so wrong of him to pick on Commissioner Dane like that because he cannot defend himself.”
Dane handed down sentences that would have been typical before the pandemic, Petrosino said.
“This is a blatant attempt to fear monger,” Petrosino said.
Dane volunteered to conduct the arraignments and has been working every day from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., Petrosino said.
“He’s been working through this whole pandemic to get the system out of this mess,” she said.
Petrosino said Spitzer’s singling out of Dane has a chilling effect.
“If I’m a judge at home reading this I’m going to think I’m not going to put my neck on the line,” Petrosino said.
“He’s trying to intimidate the judge and the whole bench by calling out by name a judicial officer, who is doing nothing but exercising his discretion appropriately and following the order of the chief justice” of the state Supreme Court, Goodman said.
Goodman said if Spitzer didn’t like the rulings he could simply appeal them to a higher court.
Spitzer said he is considering appealing the rulings.
Spitzer said he decided to issue the news releases because he saw a pattern of rulings from Dane that he disagreed with. The turning point was the handling of the cases with the sex offenders.
“That’s when I was like, you know, this is beyond the pale,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said the defendants were purposefully attempting to abscond from detection by removing GPS monitors and he wanted to warn the public about them.
“I have every right under the law to put out a warning to the community about sex predators,” he said.
Spitzer said Dane had a chance to explain himself — when he was in court.
“He doesn’t need to respond” to media reports, Spitzer said. “He already did in open court. … The record speaks for itself.”
Parole authorities called Spitzer’s office after the defendants were released.
“They called my prosecutors and said, `What the hell is Commissioner Dane doing not giving the mandatory minimum of 180 days for sex offenders who are trying to abscond?’ ” Spitzer said.
Spitzer was unfazed by the criticism.
“Bring it on,” he said. “If they want to argue, I will argue all day long about sexual predators and the need for them to be accounted for — period. That’s not a tough one to argue.”
In the most recent case involving Dane, Russell Paul Parsons was let go April 14 on his own recognizance in a burglary case, but on April 19 he was accused of attacking an Irvine police officer attempting to arrest him for a burglary at a commercial business, Spitzer said.
Parsons, who is a third-striker, according to Spitzer, is in custody on $250,000 bail and is next due in court in July.
The sex offenders were released months ahead of schedule, despite alleged violations such as cutting off their GPS monitors and tampering with their tracking devices, according to Kimberly Edds, public information officer for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
California law requires sex offenders who commit such violations serve six months in jail, but many of the sex offenders who have been released during the pandemic served just days before being granted release in court, Edds said.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the sex offenders who have been released since April 7 are:
— Luis Joel Ramirez, 27, of Costa Mesa, who has a history of sexual battery, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting a peace officer, burglary and possessing a leaded cane, a deadly weapon, and who prosecutors say has violated his parole four times since 2019;
— James Franklin Bowling, 50, of Orange, who has a history of lewd conduct in a public place, repeated convictions for failing to register as a sex offender, repeated convictions for being a sex offender on school grounds, possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia, and has allegedly violated parole twice since February;
— Rudy William Grajeda Magdaleno, 39, of Anaheim, who has a history of child molestation, indecent exposure, assault, battery, criminal threats, and inflicting injury on an elder adult, and who prosecutors say has violated parole five times since 2017;
— Calvin Curtis Coleman, 52, of Santa Ana, who has a history of lewd conduct in a public place and has allegedly violated parole three times since 2019;
— Kyle Albert Winton, 40, of Mission Viejo, who has a history of child molestation, criminal threats to cause great bodily injury or death, resisting a peace officer, DUI and hit and run with property damage, and has allegedly violated parole once;
— Jose Adrian Oregel, 46, of Santa Ana, who has a history of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, oral copulation of a person under the age of 18, great bodily injury, and being a second striker, and who prosecutors claim has violated parole six times since June of 2019; and
— Mario Ernesto Sandoval, 45, of Stanton, who has a history of sexual battery, touching for sexual arousal, indecent exposure, assault on a peace officer and assault, and allegedly violated parole once this year.
All seven sex offenders were released between April 7 and April 22, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes announced Tuesday that he had reduced the Orange County jail system’s population by about 45% since March 7, so there’s plenty of room available in the jails to handle high-risk offenders such as these seven, Spitzer said.
Barnes said his agency had no role in the release of the seven sex offenders cited by Spitzer.
“These inmates were released by court order, and are not in any way connected to the measures I have taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Orange County Jail,” Barnes said.
“We have responsibly created the capacity needed in the jail to house sex offenders and other dangerous criminals. I oppose efforts that excuse criminal behavior and jeopardize the safety of our community.”
Barnes told Orange County supervisors that he has released 150 defendants early because they were at-risk if they contracted COVID-19, and another 450 were released because of the state’s order. So the hundreds of others who have been released early were let go because of plea bargains mostly, Petrosino said.
“We’re going to have 1,700 trials when we open up again,” Petrosino said, so all court officers are working to clear out as many cases they can in the meantime.
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