On December 3rd, 2019, Nate and I appeared in Nez Perce County Court to move forward towards trial on our charges. See My Adventures in Weed Court 2.0 pt 1 & 2
The trip up north was decent. We decided to go through Oregon and Washington and avoid the snow in the Idaho Mountains. It was quite a beautiful adventure, but we were both obviously nervous for court. Mainly because we didn't know what to expect. Neither of us had ever been in this court.
We got to the court house a bit earlier than our 2:45pm PST scheduled time. We went up to the court clerk window we had gone to previously, and asked where we were supposed to go for the pretrial hearing. The clerk referred us to a little desk right next to the clerk's window.
There was a little sign that gave instructions to sign in, and wait down the hall - the prosecution would call us when ready.
THIS WAS MY 4TH RED FLAG
(see pt.2 for the other 3 red flags)
I pointed it out to Nate. We had discussed the Crime Control model of the Criminal Justice System several times since the last time we were in Lewiston, and the need to pursue Due Process in a small town court like this.
On the trip north, we had decided to request that our cases be joined together. It made sense - it was all from the same night, the same situation, and all of the evidence, witnesses, and questions of law were exactly the same. It would be beneficial, not just for us with travelling, but also the prosecution and the court if we have only one trial.
It seemed redundant and a waste of resources not to join them together. So we figured we would ask the prosecutor to stipulate to joining them, hoping they would see the logic of not wasting so much time and effort of prosecuting the same exact case, twice.
We decided that since we were seeing the prosecutor first, perhaps we could discuss that with them before going before the judge.
We signed in, and then found our names on the court docket pinned on a bulletin board.
We were originally assigned to Judge Michelle M Evans, but I had looked up the cases on iCourts before we left and learned that they had us seeing a different judge that day - Judge Karin Seuber.
We walked to the end of the hall, where we saw other people were waiting. As we walked, we saw two women in a little room off to the left. One looked like an attorney, with long blonde hair, and the other was obviously a defendant. She was talking quickly, focusing on the details of the drama behind whatever she was being charged with that had brought her there that day.
I eavesdropped as we walked by, catching that she had multiple charges and they were discussing consolidating them all into a single trial.
We got to the end of the hall, and found a couple empty seats in chairs that lined the little waiting area. We waited our turn, occasionally chatting with the friendly bailiffs, and checking out the interesting architecture of the old building. Nate (aka former Fire Chief Howell) noticed the fire plan in an old frame on the wall was extremely outdated and pointed it out to one of the bailiffs, who acknowledged it and talked about needing to update the entire court house for a lot of things.
After awhile, most of the people cleared the hallways by either leaving or going into one of the three small courtrooms. We had figured out which court room we would be in, and were waiting on the opposite side of the hall where the chairs were located. As it goes with courthouses, we could identify who was attorneys and who was defendants or friends and family of the defendant. All of the attorneys seemed to know each other and acknowledged each other as they passed in the hallway.
We had been waiting awhile, when the blonde lady from the room down the hall walked around the corner and said my name. I got up and said hello to her. She told me to come with her, and I motioned to Nate, telling her that we were together. She asked if he was Nathan Howell and he nodded. She told him to stay there. I again asked that he come with me, and her demeanor changed to immediately impatient, and her answer was abrupt and authoritative. "No. I have to see you separately."
RED FLAG #5
It shouldn't matter if we are together or separate. We were both okay with talking together and the only concern should be confidentiality. If we waive that, it shouldn't matter to this woman. But she also isn't a defense attorney, she is a prosecutor, so it didn't matter for confidentiality either.
I followed her back down the hallway, towards the clerks office, and she had me go into the little tiny room that we had passed on the way in. There was only enough room for a small table and a computer, with two chairs - one for her and one for me. As we sat down, I offered her a complimentary copy of my notice of appearance and said I had just filed it.
She kind of laughed, and said "you don't have to do that. If you don't have an attorney, you are pro se." I told her that we filed it for the court record and she just kind of waived it off. She sat down, pulled up something on her computer screen, and started reading off the charges against me.
Then she started reading off the most extreme penalties of the charges.
I could instantly tell where this was going. I have witnessed enough criminal and CPS cases to realize what was happening. She had brought me to a tiny room by myself, essentially told me I was in trouble, and was now telling me the worst case scenario if I went to trial and was found guilty.
She was about to offer me a plea bargain.
RED FLAG #6
This is an extremely common form of intimidation and manipulation - used to get defendants through the crime control assembly line as quickly as possible. It is precisely what is done in CPS cases, except in those cases it's called a case plan, not a plea bargain. But it is the same general premise.
Put the defendant in a tiny room, scare them with the charges, scare them with the penalties (in CPS cases - scare them by termination of parental rights and never seeing their kids again), offer them something they can live with, and push them through the system quickly to get the end result: --- $$$ ---
There is even a movie called American Violet that is all about the use of intimidation and plea bargains to push people through the system without actually going to court. It specifically outlines a case that the ACLU fought in Texas.
(Fantastic movie! Highly recommended.)
I interrupted her, and tried to tell her I knew all of this, and that there wasn't going to be any plea bargain, so I could save her some time from reading it all off like that. I just wanted to have a conversation about going to jury trial. She became extremely irritated when I interrupted her. She told me to let her finish, and as she started again, I asked her if she was required to read it to me.
She said yes she needed to finish, her tone and her energy obviously condescending and authoritative. As if she thought that I was just being argumentative with her.
RED FLAG #7
My hands began shaking.
But I wasn't nervous. It was the shaking I recently correlated to the confrontation of corruption in front of me. Not that this woman was corrupted, or that Trooper Hammon from the wrongful arrest is corrupted, or that any of the people at the Nez Perce County Jail are corrupted.
I'm definitely not saying that they are horrible, corrupted people. Odds are they are actually really good people, with normal families and lives, who are just doing their jobs and what they are told to do by a superior. The corruption is in their training. This lady had been trained to follow certain procedures and seemed agitated that I was interrupting that process.
She asked if I even wanted to hear the plea bargain, and I said don't waste your time. Unless she was dropping all of the charges, we were going to trial. This seemed to upset her even more.
She finally filled out some paperwork and told me to sign it. I read over it, and decided it was a template specifically created to let this particular court know if the case was resolved through a plea bargain or if it was going to trial.
It took a moment for my hand to quit shaking enough to sign my name, so I took a few breathes and brought up the possibility of filing a motion to join the cases together for efficiency. She immediately shut me down, without even letting me finish what I was saying, and told me "YOU CAN'T DO THAT."
RED FLAG #8
It's amazing how many times I have heard of prosecutors, deputy attorney generals, public defender's and even court clerks across the country, telling people what they can and cannot do in their own case. Many of these are people are supposedly not even allowed to give legal advice.
And I know, that a lot of people simply believe them and then don't even try.
I knew I definitely could, and would, file a motion to have the judge decide the matter, since the prosecution wouldn't agree. It was worth asking for and the worst the judge can do is say no. But it IS up to the judge...
The entire purpose of court is to mediate conflict in our society. That conflict is typically between two parties. In civil cases, say a divorce, the conflict is between spouse vs. spouse. In criminal cases, the conflict is between the state vs. defendant. So here, the conflict is between me and the prosecutor (representing the state). The conflict is that the state has charged me for an alleged violation of the law. This involves questions of the law, and determining how to mediate that conflict - either through something like dismissal of charges, or a plea bargain, or a jury trial.
A judge's entire role in our society is to mediate that conflict, and they follow a specific process to do so.
Any party can file a motion and request pretty much anything from the court. That is the entire purpose of a motion. It doesn't matter what you want. If you want the court to do something in your case, filing a motion is how you request it.
I once had an attorney explain to me that you could write a motion on a napkin with crayon and the court would still have to hear it. You may look silly, and they may look down upon you like you aren't professional, but the format and medium you use is unimportant. It is the argument and the request of that court that matters.
Motions are how you are able to officially talk to the judge about what you want to happen in the case. What you want the court to do, in order to receive a court ruling and order for it to be done.
When I started to cite some law I had read about joining the cases together, she interrupted me again and said, "well if you feel confident, go ahead and file it."
I definitely will, I thought. She seemed in a rush to get me out the door, so I finished signing the paperwork for going to trial. She told me to take it to the court room and give it to the clerk.
I got up and went back down the hallway to where Nate was now standing, waiting for us. I kind of whispered, "not guilty - going to trial." I gave his shoulder a squeeze as I passed, and then went into the court room.
It was a standard set up - a gallery leading to the tables for the prosecution and the defense, with the judge's bench up on a platform, overseeing everything. At one end was a door, leading into the clerks office we had passed at the front. Another door was to the side, that lead back into the hallway we had just walked down. The judge we were scheduled to see, Karin Seuber, was sitting behind the bench looking at her computer. I recognized her from the research I had done when I learned she was assigned to her docket that day.
|Nez Perce County Judge|
The second clerk got up and took some paperwork to a girl on the opposite side of a little wooden wall that separate the tables and bench from the gallery. She was the girl that had been in the tiny room with the prosecutor when we had arrived. They were discussing the same thing I had overheard - combining the cases together for a date on the schedule.
This clerk saw me come in, and motioned to bring her the paperwork. I tried to tell her that I needed to work out the dates before she scheduled the date, because we had to travel and it's difficult for me with my disability and low income, and I only get paid once a month. She didn't let me finish, told me to take a seat on one of the pews in the gallery, and took my paperwork back to the computer.
Judge Seuber looked kinda bored sitting on the bench. I had learned when I researched her that she is a former defense attorney who had just recently been appointed as the new Magistrate judge for Nez Perce County earlier that spring. She was causally watching the interactions between the clerk and the other girl while multi-tasking on her computer.
A few minutes later, Nate walked into the room. He took a seat next to me and I whispered, "Welcome to the Crime Control Assembly Line" and he just nodded.
We had literally gone from Point A (sign in), to Point B (wait in hall) to Point C (little room with prosecutor) to Point D (courtroom) as if it were actually an assembly line. It was obvious that this was how they efficiently processed all of the people coming in for pre-trial through a crime control model. If you were there - you MUST be guilty!
As we were waiting, I asked Nate what happened with the prosecutor. He told me she offered him like a $250 fine if he would plead guilty to possession of Marijuana, and she would drop the possession of paraphernalia. "Nothing else?" I asked. He shook his head.
That was actually a really good deal. No jail time, no community service. Just a fine.
It was apparent that Lewiston, Idaho (a border town to legal Clarkston, Washington) has essentially decriminalized Marijuana on their own. The criminal element of a misdemeanor charge, and possible penalty of jail, was still there... but just pleading guilty and paying a fine as if it were an infraction probably looks pretty frickin good compared to the year in jail and thousand dollar fine maximum penalty for each charge with which the prosecutor had just tried to intimidate us...
I asked him if he told her no. He said "Yeah, I don't want a drug charge. It'll mess everything up with driving for EMT. I want to go to trial."
"Yeah," I said. "They didn't find anything ON you or in your stuff. It was all in MY car."
The clerk called my name, and I walked up to meet her. She handed me paperwork, and I looked at the date listed for the next proceeding - February 22nd, 2020.
I told her that this was what I was trying to explain earlier. I can't make that date.
I am dependent upon my social security income for traveling, and I only receive it once a month. That money is always gone by the middle of the month because of rent and bills and what not, and the end of the month gets difficult stretching things like food and necessities - including gas money to go to my physical therapy appointments 20 miles away, much less to travel 250 miles to Lewiston and then back again.
I also explained that Nate needed to travel with me, so we needed to make the dates the same so that he could be here too. (His gas guzzler country truck is not affordable to drive long distances.) He handed her his paperwork as I requested something for after the 3rd of the month, when I get paid.
The clerk was instantly frustrated. She tried to tell us that she had to fill certain spots first before she could move on into the month of March.
RED FLAG #9
They have to fill up certain dates first? What a weird thing to say about court scheduling. She told me she couldn't change the date, and that if I wanted a date that was different that I would have to go talk to "Joey" - the Prosecutor.
|- Kali Jo Parker -|
Nez Perce County Deputy Prosecutor
I looked at Nate and he gave me a look like he knew what I was thinking. The prosecutor apparently runs things here? Definite Crime Control model.
So we went back out the door, to go talk to the Prosecutor, Kali Jo Parker (I learned her name later when I began researching her more.) The clerk had gone out a side door and beat us to the room with Kali Jo. They were talking about what was going on.
When they saw us standing out side the door, they shut the door without a word.
RED FLAG #11
Any time you are dealing with public servants like this in the court process, it can absolutely be done in public, especially scheduling. Behind closed doors with a prosecutor to determine scheduling conflict was weird. It is a matter usually taken up by the clerk, and sometimes the judge - not the prosecutor.
I have scheduled numerous court appearance, and helped others schedule their own, through various courts around the country - ex parte, criminal, civil, family, and even juvenile. If we had been lawyers, we would be scheduling dates to work around other dates in our schedule for other cases, and the court is typically very accommodating of scheduling needs for all sides.
No one typically cares what date it ends up as, as long as it works for every one, there is enough time to prepare, and there isn't too long of a delay between proceedings.
We heard them laughing behind the door, and then it opened. The clerk walked out, and back into the court room, without even looking at us. Kali Jo came out the door into the hallway. She was obviously not pleased to see us again. She told us that they could not reschedule the dates.
We tried to explain what was going on, and that we needed flexible scheduling because of our travel needs and limited resources. She started arguing that whatever date the clerk gave us is what we could have, and they wouldn't change it.
Again, I listed all the reasons we needed accommodations on scheduling, this time including that I am disabled and we will need to accommodate that as well in the scheduling. Traveling is quite difficult for me, especially long distances.
Kali Jo kept trying to interrupt me, and explain to me "how things are done here."
RED FLAG #11
When I obviously wouldn't back down, she refused to even speak to me or look me in the eye. I would say something, and she would direct her answer to Nate, trying to convince him that this is just how it was going to be. I was starting to get frustrated by the apparent disrespect and avoidance when I was obviously attempting to communicate with her.
When Nate told her that they couldn't set us up to fail like that - by making it a date that we knew we couldn't attend, because then we would get a failure to appear and a warrant issued - she kind of threw her hands up and exclaimed "fine!" before she stormed into the court room through the side door.
We went back around through the main doors of the court room, and took a seat again. Kali Jo was talking to the clerk and we could hear them say things like "we would need special permission" and "it is policy to fill up the open spots first".
RED FLAG #12
Then go get your special permission, I thought. Policy isn't law, and policies can be bent to accommodate something as simple as scheduling.
I looked at Judge Seuber sitting on the bench. Every time we would lock eyes, I would smile and then she would smile in return. She seemed very sweet, but was not involved in the situation at all. She was kind of watching it all happen but she didn't say one word the entire time we were there. She was the judge on record in open court, and not one person even requested her input on the date issue - which blew my mind. The prosecutor really did run that court room.
RED FLAG #13
I heard Kali Jo and the clerk talking about March 12th, so I spoke up that would work for us and mentioned we appreciate the flexibility so we can travel. They just ignored me.
Finally, Kali Jo left the room, and the clerk motioned for us to meet her at the front of the gallery. Obviously still frustrated, she handed us the paperwork. We were scheduled for March 10th and March 12th - which should work just fine.
I saw on the paperwork, we weren't assigned to Judge Seuber anymore. We were once again assigned to Judge Michelle M. Evans, the same judge from before they changed it on us without notice.
We thanked the clerk for the accommodations of scheduling, and apologized for any inconvenience. She seemed really frustrated that she had to figure it all out, and I felt a little bad. But only a little. After all, it is in her job description to schedule the docket; and that's precisely what she gets paid tax payer money to do as a public servant and clerk of the court.
On the way out of the court house, I stopped at the court clerk's window. When Kayla - the clerk from last time we were there -came up to the window, I asked her how I can find out who Judge Evan's clerk was and how to reach them. I would need this information for when I was scheduling for my Motion for Joinder to be heard. She gave me another post it note, this time with contact information for someone named Donna. I thanked her and we went on our way.
We hung out in the parking lot for a moment talking, before we got into the car to leave and go have dinner with our son again. The silver lining of the entire thing was getting to see him so soon after the last visit!!
As we were talking, I pointed out to Nate how close the courthouse is to the Washington border.
Just over the river, I wasn't considered a criminal for choosing marijuana as medicine. But here we were, at a small town Idaho courthouse... once again fighting for the right to choose a better quality of life on the wrong side of the imaginary line that separates the Drug War from science and logic.
And apparently fighting for Due Process, too.
This was obviously a version of the crime control model of the criminal justice system. We had just personally witnessed the assembly line - a plea bargain money making machine.
Nate and I were #28 & #29 on the sign in sheet for the day. Meaning that 27 other people had come and gone before us. We were also listed on the docket on page 11 of 15 pages, so they had plenty more coming in after us.
No wonder all of the people we encountered along the way were frustrated and acted like they didn't know what to do when we changed things up on them; and why they were always trying to rush through to the next case. We had messed up their way of doing things - their assembly line - reacting as if they were little factory workers and the line just got backed up.
After doing the math, it definitely makes sense.
For estimation purposes - we'll use Nate's plea bargain offer... if everyone who goes through the court is offered a $250 plea deal, and say they had 60 people a day come through the court, and let's say conservatively 2/3 of the people (40 people a day) accepted such a plea deal... (although ACLU estimates 90% of cases are settled through plea bargain) that would be an estimate of $10,000 a day the county is making with their crime control assembly line.
I wondered how hard it would be to achieve Due Process in this court.
I was definitely curious to find out if this other judge, Michelle M. Evans, would be willing to provide it for us. Out of everyone in a court house, judges definitely know the Supreme Law of the Land (US Constitution), the right to Due Process, and how important it is for preserving justice.
I've experienced many corrupt judges over the years, and will lose total respect for a judge that does not follow the Constitution. After all, the entire purpose of the Supreme Court is to determine whether or not lower courts and judges followed the Constitution in each case.
If a judge doesn't follow the Constitution, then there is a big problem, and appeals must follow to hold them accountable. I've witnessed terrible corruption in cases, where judges do some wicked and crazy things - like end a child's life while the parents are pursuing an appeal - and the only recourse is through the higher courts. Judges have qualified immunity and cannot be sued.
But even after experiencing such corruption first hand, I still always give every new judge I encounter the benefit of the doubt. Will this judge provide us with a fair and impartial court? There is only one way to fight out.
TO BE CONTINUED...