Nevada must have become a province of North Korea – because that is the most likely explanation for the actions of Comrade Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall in a pre-trial hearing in Reno Tuesday.
Hall is prosecuting two Vagos, Ernesto Gonzalez and Gary Stuart Rudnick, and one Hells Angel named Cesar Villagrana for a brawl between members of the two motorcycle clubs at the Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada near Reno last September. A Hells Angel named Jeffrey Pettigrew was shot and died when the brief brawl ended in gunfire. Two Vagos were shot.
The trial is scheduled to begin next October. It will be a theatrical proceeding because it results from a large, shocking and well publicized biker brawl in a public place. Hall is practically bathing in the case and, as a result, he has begun to stink of prosecutorial excess.
Justice Is Secret
Hall exploited the hearing to try to poison any chance the three men have for a fair trial.
He is also attempting to control press coverage of the case. It is a fundamental tenet that freedom in a democracy is protected by a free press. That press can only cover the case in Reno by independently and critically examining the documents associated with it and by talking to persons with direct knowledge of the case and its underlying events. Without those resources the press is reduced to doing public relations for bureaucrats and editing their press releases.
Tuesday, Hall introduced testimony that one of the Vagos shot that night consulted with a member of the “Mafia” in October to hand him “documents” related to search warrants. The “documents” were probably the very long affidavit for a search warrant issued during “Operation Simple Green” in October. The affidavit is not a secret document. And, whoever the Mafioso was, the Vago saved this confidante the $125 fee San Bernardino County charges for it.
Hall also stated that there was something very sinister about Villagrana possessing 26 Compact Disks worth of discovery from the court case that followed the 2002 brawl between Mongols and Hells Angels in Laughlin, Nevada in 2002.
“That fact alone creates legitimate concern for witness intimidation,” Hall claimed. “Cesar Villagrana was not a defendant in that case, yet he is in possession of witness and jurors’ names. This clearly indicates the Hells Angels distribute personal information.” God forbid that Villagrana might subscribe to the New York Times.
Journalists routinely use discovery and other documents when reporting on court cases. Information in these documents is sometimes potentially embarrassing to public officials. So officials routinely offer journalistic access only to reporters who self-censor their accounts of the information contained in those documents.
Hall still refuses to name the Vago who gave extensive grand jury testimony that led to the indictment that charged all three defendants with conspiracy to commit murder. Hall described the man as in fear for his life and enrolled in the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Security Program. The Aging Rebel has previously stated that the witness “was probably Jacob Cancelli.” Cancelli was a long time friend (but not a member) of the Vagos who was convicted of fraud in 2009.
(CORRECTION: The Aging Rebel has been told that Jacob Cancelli was a patch holding Vago and the acting President of the South Coast Riviera chapter at the time of Reno and the raids.)
Hall also asked Judge Connie Steinheimer to keep the names of prospective prosecution witnesses in the case secret until the trial. He advised those witnesses from the courtroom that they do not have to talk to the defense lawyers and he asked the judge to require those witnesses who foolishly agree to talk to the defense do so at his office for their “safety.”
Hall’s request contradicts a venerable principle of American legal ethics. Canon 39 of the American Bar Association’s original Canons of Professional Ethics written in 1908 states: “A lawyer may properly interview any witness or prospective witness for the opposing side in any civil or criminal action without the consent of opposing counsel or party.”
In the case law most frequently cited on this issue, Gregory v. US, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia wrote: “we know of nothing in the law which gives the prosecutor the right to interfere with the preparation of the defense by effectively denying defense counsel access to the witnesses except in his presence. Presumably the prosecutor, in interviewing the witnesses, was unencumbered by the presence of defense counsel, and there seems to be no reason why defense counsel should not have an equal opportunity to determine, through interviews with the witnesses, what they know about the case and what they will testify to.”
Hall attempted to prove that judicial fair play is dangerous by calling several police witnesses who all agreed that both the Hells Angels and the Vagos are criminal gangs notorious for witness intimidation.