What remains of the 17-month-old, federal racketeering case against 78 members and associates of the Mongols Motorcycle Club has now been assigned to two judges in separate counties in Southern California.
Florence-Marie Cooper, who previously presided over the Mongols case died January 15th. She will be replaced by the Honorable Otis D. Wright and the Honorable David O. Carter. Both men are former Marines. The reassignments were made by the Chief Judge of the Central District of California, Audrey B. Collins.
The Mongols case has now lingered so long that the United States Attorney who brought the case, Thomas P. O’ Brien and the judge who would have tried the case have both quit the scene. The defendant for whom the case United States versus Cavazos and others is named, former club President Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, made a deal to plead guilty more than a year ago.
The case continues to hang like a rusty ax over the heads of at least fifteen, presumably innocent, defendants. Their trial was originally scheduled for December 16th, 2008; continued until July 21st, 2009; then postponed until November 24th 2009; postponed again until April 13th, 2010 and now may be postponed again. Most of the proceedings in the case so far have been in Los Angeles. When the trial finally begins, it will probably be held in Santa Ana which is about a 40 mile drive from most of Los Angeles.
Judge Carter is the more highly regarded jurist. He graduated with honors from the University of California at Los Angeles, did a tour in Vietnam and attended UCLA law school after his return.
He is a former prosecutor and in his spare time he teaches an undergraduate class on the “international narcotics trade” at the University of California at Irvine. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1998 and has presided over high profile trials against members of the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood. Last year he dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Barack Obama could not become President because he was “foreign born.”
Carter is fairly widely regarded to be punctilious and “hard nosed.”
The cases of 22 defendants, including all the defendants who have not yet entered a plea, have been assigned to Carter. Those defendants are: Hector Gonzales, Jr.; Anthony Mark Tinoco; Michael Bill Munz; Peter Soto (who has not yet been arraigned); Robert Vincent Rios; Manuel Armendarez; Mark Garcia; Horacio Ponce; Felix Figueroa; Jorge Viramontes; William Owens; John Jay Morien; Alessandro Lopez; Manuel Melgoza; Harry Reynolds; Ismael Padilla; Renato Gomez; Alfonso Solis; Ismael Padilla, Jr.; Thomas Alarcon; Jose Morales; and Lance Eustice.
Hearings for those defendants will probably be held in Room 9-160, Courtroom 9D of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building at 411 West Fourth Street in Santa Ana, California.
Judge Wright is less esteemed. He graduated from California State University at Los Angeles in 1976 and Southwestern Law School in 1980. He is a former L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy and a former prosecutor. He has spent most of his legal career as a private practice civil attorney. He has been a judge for about four years and he was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 2007.
Judge Wright has described himself as an “opinionated and judgmental son of a bitch,” which also seems to be the way criminal defense attorneys see him. One defense attorney has publically described Judge Wright as ruling “with an iron fist, and a tin-foil mind.”
Judge Wright will handle the sentencing for the defendants who have not been assigned to Judge Carter.
Those men will stand before Judge Wright to be sentenced in Courtroom 11 of the Spring Street Courthouse at 312 North Spring Street in Los Angeles.