Sparks Shenanigans

January 19, 2012

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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.

Secret Witnesses

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.”

Canon 39

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.


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10 Responses to “Sparks Shenanigans”

  1. Shyster Says:

    That’s an unfortunate Amen to that Glenn S.


  2. Glenn S. Says:

    Shyster, I think we can agree that, small town or big city, federal, state, or local court, the deck is always stacked against the defendant and the citizenry believes the opposite to be true.

  3. Shyster Says:

    Glenn S,

    My apologies. I, in turn, meant no disrespect. You are 100% correct about small town politics being prevalent in the criminal “justice” system in smaller towns. Here in Los Angeles, that “way” of doing business ceased to exist in the 1970’s. At least thats what those who were practicing then and still are now tell me.

    Either way, my best friend is a criminal defense lawyer in a “small town” where there are many casinos, hotels, major headline prize fights, UFC fights, etc … Even though this city is a major tourist attraction, the atmosphere and culture of the court system, civil and criminal, is small townish where it is of immense help if you know somebody. One story comes to mind where my friend was having dinner with a Judge that he was going to appear in front of the next morning. After several Jack and Cokes with beer chasers, the lawyer friend asks the Judge that if he buys the next Dragon Roll for the Judge could the Judge help resolve a small issue the next day.

    The next day came and went with no issues whatsoever. In some places at some times it definitely helps to know the right people. Take care.


  4. Glenn S. Says:

    No offense intended, Shyster, and my comments were not directed at you. And things might be a lot different in your part of the world. But in my part of the world, there’s the good ol’ boy system. The local areas aren’t big enough for the social lives and family ties of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys not to intersect. Most judges are former circuit solicitors (prosecutors). Some defense attorneys are. In my day, solicitors, assistant solicitors, and defense attorneys would meet at the bar at the Sheridan Hotel the evening before guilty plea day to decide which defendant would get how much time. The amount of time a defendant got was inversely proportional to the amount of money he paid. I know this because I used to have a buddy and associate that was a defense attorney of the fixer variety. He would not take cases that were likely to end in jury trials. He once told me that lawyers are like professional wrestlers. They put on a good show but their primary objective is not to hurt one another.

    In prison, I decided to help my fellow prisoners with their appeals, in retaliation for the system putting me there, as a mental excersise, to nurture a small base of power in the microeconomy, and because I liked most of my fellow convicts. Reading trial transcripts, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent intellectional laziness of defense counsel (most often public defenders). Usually, the obvious grounds for post conviction relief applications were “ineffective assistance of counsel”. I found it difficult to believe that anyone could make it through law school and allow such glaring errors at trial unless it was on purpose. Sometimes, the prosecution would build a case using convoluted and faulty logic, and their defense attorneys would not even present counterarguements. In one such case, in York County, SC, three good ol’ country boys got drunk and piled into a pick-up truck for a trip to the local beer joint. As they entered the parking lot, the driver hit and killed a man who was standing in the parking lot smoking a joint. All three men, driver and passengers, were charged with and convicted of murder (in SC, defined as an unlawful killing with malice). The solicitor called a witness that testified that there was bad feelings between one of the passengers and the deseased. The prosecutor argued that if one acquaintance had malice in his heart towards the deseased, the jury could infer malice on the part of the other passenger and the driver, making it murder (where the legal doctrine of “the hand of one is the hand of all” applied) and not manslaughter (an unplanned and non-malicious killing that cannot, by definition, have accesories or co-conspiritors) on the part of the driver only. Defense counsel did not object. The judge instructed the jury that they could imply malice. The defendants were convicted and sentenced to life. After eight years and rounds of post conviction relief petitions and appeals (the “legal team” led by the best jailhouse lawyer I’ve ever known, a man named James “Ed” Ellison, who probably got more innocent convicts freed than the entire SC Bar Association), the state Supreme Court reversed the convictions and ordered a retrial. The men were moved from Central Correctional Institution to the York County Jail. The court appointed public defenders and inexperienced attorneys to represent them. They were told by their lawyers that the solicitor would not call the case until they agreed to plead guilty to something–that they would rot in county for years if they tried to take the case to a jury. All three men pled guilty to manslaughter and got 15, 20, and 30 years. I’m still puzzled at how the judge managed to keep a straight face while accepting a plea that, in esscense, said that three people commited one act of manslaughter while two of them sat passively in the passenger seats of a pickup truck.

    Anyway, Shyster, its probably different in big cities, where social and family ties do not intersect and where small-town lawyers go if they really want to make a difference. But when a friend of mine, or his offspring, gets in trouble with the law and asks me for the benefit of my experience, I tell them first and foremost to oversee the lawyers, and not to accept plea bargains until jury selection and only then if a conviction is a foregone conclusion. I tell them that if they have co-defendants that are taking the case to trial, and they are pleading guilty, to insist on an Alford plea. I suggest that parents always bail their kids out of jail and take an active role in their defense(and not to buy into the bullshit that they’ll get “help” for their problems in jail, or that the lawyers have everything under control). A friend of mine, whose stepson was sitting in the car when someone else shot somebody, followed my advice and his murder charge was dropped at jury selection. The lawyer tried his best to get the kid to take a plea bargain. The lawyer had to have known that there was no evidence that the kid knew his friend was gonna shoot somebody, and the charge was only an attempt to compel testimony. The lawyer never even considered that the kid’s story, that he was looking the other way and didn’t see shit, might be true.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Shyster. And thanks for the compliment. I’m not “the second coming of biker bloggers”, just an ex-convict, ex-junkie who got clean, got bored, bought a motorcycle, and gravitated to the part of the biker community that seems a whole lot like me, all while trying to live at peace with the part of the world that is willing to live at peace with me. Anytime I think I might one day become a biker blogger, or advocate, I need only read Rebel’s writings to see how much I have to learn.

    Honored to be in y’all’s presence.


  5. Phuquehed Says:

    Well, crap. So even trying to ‘help’ isn’t really helping.
    It makes sense now that you gave me another perspective to see it from. Sucks that things have gotten this way and this bad in the one country that’s supposed to stand for true freedom.

  6. Shyster Says:

    Awwww shit Glenn S. Here I thought you were the second coming of biker bloggers. I aint never been a member of a country club. The only time I went to a country club was for a wedding. Anyway, Newsflash to all who think the defense is in bed with the D.A. and Judges. We aren’t! We don’t go to lunch with them. We don’t have pre-arranged Chambers deals worked out that we force on our clients. That is all fiction man. It’s like something that was taught a crimey school. For example, Cops don’t have to admit that they are an undercover John when working vice yet EVERY prostitute thinks that a cop has to admit it when asked. Fiction. Urban legends. The vast majority of defense lawyers do not get along with prosecutors. I’m in trial right now in Downtown L.A. On a case where the DA is a nice guy. Real personable dude. I got nothing against the dude but I would never break bread with him or trust him. He stays on his side of the room and I stay on mine.

    My two pennies. Good night.


  7. DesertH-D Says:

    Glenn, you have it exactly right… There are very knowledgable and experienced major club members involved in the defense. They do indeed nudge the counsel as needed. If we as interested outsiders wish to offer assistance, we must first ensure to not impede their efforts.

  8. C8652 Says:


    Very sobering opinion. After short reflection I agree with you and while I might be inclined to “charge once more” I accept that I am not equipped to see every angle that may lurk in the legal framework of case law. It’s like only preparing for the legal landmines that kill and ignoring the ones that simply damage.

    I especially liked your point that Judges are THE authority in their courts and often do function as a prosecutor from the bench. That is worth repeating and remembering.

    Thank you for your insight.


  9. Glenn S. Says:

    Phuquehead, just my opinion, but as much as I’d like to confront judges and prosecutors on these sorts of things, either in person or via e-mail, I am concerned that any efforts to do so that were not coordinated and in cooperation with the defendants’ motorcycle clubs or attorneys might be twisted to appear like attempts at intimidation, or might have the opposite effect as intended.

    Let’s say I fire off an e-mail to the judge and ask if he got his law degree from a print shop. Let’s say I include referances to the relavant and prevailing case law, which the judge surely already knows but chooses to ignore because, in reality, the judge often functions as a prosecutor from the bench. At best, I might be acting in conflict with legal strategy already decided by the defendants’ club brothers and lawyers. At worst, I could get subpeonaed and compelled to testify that I have nothing to do with the case, while my criminal record is used to impeach me and, not coincidentally, tar the defendant with association with me.

    I’m not very confident in defense attorneys’ abilities, or their willingness to put their membership in the country club on the line to fight for their clients. But I am extremely confident that the members of major motorcycle clubs have the benefit of the collective wisdom of their club brothers to look over the attorneys shoulders and gently nudge them in the right direction, if needs be.

    Again, just my opinion, but I believe the rest of us, and by that I mean those of us who are sympathetic to the defendants’ cause but who are not within their inner circles, can best help by, say, shooting off e-mails to the publishers of newspapers that merely report the official press releases. Point out to them that their reporters are obviously being disengenious by telling only one side of the story, and by neglecting to perform due dilligence by verifying that the cops are telling the truth. Perhaps e-mails sent to their major advertisers would help as well.

  10. Phuquehed Says:

    Is there a way to e-mail this prosecutor and the judge? I don’t write very well and often my point is all screwed up trying to get it out when typing, but a short, succinct e-mail to that asshat Hall and the judge stating that ‘Canon 39’ thing and sending it right on up the line *and* to the bar association just might make the fuckstains start to be honest.

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