A Washoe County, Nevada Judge declared her intention to void the United States Constitution during legal proceedings against two Vagos and a Hells Angel charged with conspiracy to commit second degree murder. The men are all charged as a result of the death of San Jose Hells Angel Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew.
Chief Judge Connie Steinheimer (photo above) announced her ban on the display of all motorcycle club insignia today during the arraignment of San Jose Hells Angel Cesar Villagrana. Villagrana pled innocent to conspiracy to commit second degree murder and carrying a concealed firearm. He remains free on $300,000 bail.
Pettigrew died after a fight between members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada on September 23.
Vago Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez pled not guilty to murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder on November 17. He is being held without bail at, probably, the Washoe County Detention Facility. Gonzalez’ name does not appear on the inmate locator for that jail. A third alleged conspirator, former Vago Stuart Gary Rudnick, is being held without bail at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles. He will probably be extradited to Nevada within two weeks.
Brief Law Lesson
In August 2002, in a case titled Sammartano v. First Judicial District Court, in and for the County of Carson City, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled that bans like the one Judge Steinheimer decreed today illegally prohibit freedom of expression. That appeals court reversed a ban in March and April 2001 on motorcycle club insignia worn by members of The Branded Few, His Royal Priesthood, and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs. The lead appellant in that case, Franklin Sammartano, was banned from the courthouse for wearing a denim jacket bearing both a Harley-Davidson logo and a small American flag on the front next to the words “Try to burn this asshole.”
Among other things, the Carson City Courthouse had argued that “clothing, attire or colors which have symbols, markings or words indicating an affiliation with street gangs, biker or similar organizations…can be extremely disruptive and intimidating, especially when members of different groups are in the building at the same time.” The Ninth Circuit found no proof that the Carson City Courthouse’s assertion was true.
Steinheimer announced her ban after members of the Hells Angels wore clothing that bore the name of their motorcycle club in her court.
The judge said, “Rival motorcycle clubs will be presented through the defendants. I don’t want anyone wearing anything that will identify them as one club or another. That is my concern…the co-defendants will be in close proximity to their friends and supporters, but I don’t want anyone wearing identifying markings to be an issue.” Judge Steinheimer offered no proof that her “concern” was founded in any reality other than the private one between her ears.
Villagrana’s council, well known, Las Vegas defense attorney Richard Schonfeld objected to the ban. Steinheimer ordered a motion hearing on the issue.
Steinheimer also gave Schonfeld and Villagrana 90 days to challenge the grand jury indictment of the three alleged conspirators. The trial of all three men is currently scheduled to begin January 17, 2012.
Schonfeld wants to sever his client’s trial from those of his alleged, Vago co-conspirators.