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Year in review: Court cases slowly move through system amid cuts

Posted: December 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Justice served for crimes committed in the Santa Clarita Valley is expected to be a lot slower, in fewer locations and with a lot less hired help in the new year, court officials report.

Courtroom cutbacks expected this spring will include the closure of courtrooms at 10 courthouse locations in Los Angeles County, including rooms in the San Fernando Superior Court where felony cases originating in the Santa Clarita Valley are heard, said Mary Eckhardt Hearn, Director of Public Information for Los Angeles Superior Court.

“It is crushing,” she said describing the upcoming cuts.

“In 2002, the Superior Court in Los Angeles had its first layoffs ever in its history,” she said. “Those layoffs pale in comparison to those seen in 2010, in 2012 and next year. Never in anybody’s wildest imagination would we think of such layoffs,” she said. “In 10 years, we will have lost a quarter of our resources.”

More layoffs

In July, The Signal reported that an estimated 341 court staffers will be affected by “across-the-board” budget cuts in four areas, according to officials at Los Angeles County Superior Court.

More cuts are coming, officials told The Signal.

“An additional round of layoffs are scheduled for June 2013,” Hearn said. “At that time the remainder of (civil) court reporters will be gone.”

Cutbacks handed down in 2010 eliminated three-fifths of the civil court reporters — those who transcribe civil court proceedings.

It meant people filing lawsuits had to pay for their own court reporters in order to acquire transcripts of the proceedings.

The last cutbacks eliminated civil reporters on three days of the working week, meaning they worked only two days of the week.

The next found of cutbacks will eliminate them completely, Hearn said.

“Civil courts are taking the biggest hit,” she said.

A look at pending criminal cases for which the residents of Santa Clarita Valley await justice, the list is long with many cases bumped from one month to the next without resolve.

When asked about courtroom cutbacks, one clerk at San Fernando Superior Court told The Signal last week: “I’m 16 years in and I’m still on the chopping block. I don’t know what it’s going to take to change things,” she said.

“Maybe when some killer goes free and kills someone else maybe, they’ll do something?”

Prominent cases

Several court cases stemming from crimes committed in the Santa Clarita Valley have been heard over several court dates, but have yet to go to trial:

Colt Doherty and Thomas Vensko — each charged with second-degree murder in the traffic collision death of Dakota Demott Jan. 10, 2012, were arrested in August and have appeared in court at least half a dozen times.

Eric Allen Earle — arrested Sept. 1, 2011, on a felony murder charge in the death of his live-in girlfriend Karla Brada. Prior to being charged with the felony, he appeared on misdemeanor charges on Sept. 6, 2011; Sept. 30, 2011; Nov. 10, 2011; Jan. 19, 2012; Apr. 12; June 6; July 20; Aug. 23; Oct. 24; Nov. 29.

He was later charged Jan. 25, 2012, with felony murder. He’s appeared in court on Apr. 12; June 6; July 20; Aug. 23; Oct. 24 and Nov. 29. He is scheduled to appear in court for his third year in January.

Eric Edwards, Diamonte McGhee & Branden Higgs — each charged in the shooting death of a good Samaritan in Canyon Country Oct. 31, 2011. Each has appeared four times since the shooting on Jan. 9, 2012; March 29; April 20; June 7; July 10; Sept. 14; Oct. 11 and Nov. 8. All three appeared again in court this month and are now scheduled to appear in 2013.

Phillip Ely, Terion Collins and Lavelle Mosley — identified by law enforcement as Crips gang members, they are still awaiting trial on felony charges related to a bank robbery in Santa Clarita in September. They have appeared four times already and are now scheduled to appear in court next month.

Nicholas Andrew Escarcega and Michelle Krueger — charged on suspicion of felony robbery and burglary in connection with a robbery at Home Depot in September and have appeared in court at least four times with more dates scheduled in 2013.

Dennis Keene — charged with murder and DUI in the death of his neighbor Lori Lindlief in August 2011. He has appeared in court Sept. 7; Oct. 7; Nov. 9; and Dec. 10 2011; and March 26; April 26 and in July. His murder trial began in the fall.

In October, a jury found him guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the death of his neighbor; causing injury while driving under the influence of alcohol; driving with a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal limit causing injury and gross vehicular manslaughter, in Lancaster Superior Court.

However, since the jury could not reach a verdict on the fourth charge of murder, Keene is expected to be tried a second time for murder, beginning in the new year.

Bryon Jeffrey Murray — charged with vehicular manslaughter in the July 2010 death of his girlfriend, Rosemary Flynn. He has appeared in court Sept. 19; Oct. 19; and Nov. 3 on 2011; and Jan. 18 Feb. 15; March 28; April 25 and June 6 this year.

In August, more than a year after his arrest, Murray pleaded guilty to one court of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Lennie Paul Tracey — accused of shooting his neighbor dead on Sept. 24, 2011. He has appeared Sept. 27; Oct. 26 in 2011 and Jan. 9; Feb. 22; March 27; Apr. 10; June 8; Sept. 18 and Oct. 17. Last month, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. He is due to be sentenced in January, a year-and-a-half after his crime.

Eric Ting Yee — charged with illegal possession of a weapon in connection with online threats allegedly made against children was arrested in September, has appeared a couple of times in court, with more dates scheduled for the new year.

Brent Darrin Zubek — charged Aug. 12, 2011, with multiple firearms offenses in connection with the alleged assault with a firearm on a police officer. He has appeared in San Fernando Superior Court Nov. 7; Dec. 28 of 2011 and Feb. 3; Apr. 16; July 9; July 17; Oct. 15; Nov. 19. He appeared in court earlier this month and is expected to appear again in the new year.

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

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