Benchslaps, California, Contempt, Legal Ethics, Murder, Trials

Scheduling Snafu Lands Defense Attorney in Contempt — And Possibly Jail

Tim Pori

Time conflicts are an unavoidable part of litigation. Scheduling and re-rescheduling trials and court hearings — it’s simply part of the litigation process. It’s a pain, but most of the time, an attorney shouldn’t get too much flak for a legitimate scheduling conflict.

But this week, one Bay Area criminal defense lawyer has gotten caught between a rock and two murder trials. A local judge was unhappy when he missed a hearing for one murder case because he was in court for another murder case of in another county. Now he’s facing contempt charges and jail time.

This is just another reason why we really should be investing more in teleportation technology….

KTVU has the story of Tim Pori’s sticky predicament:

An Alameda County judge found a veteran defense lawyer in contempt of court Monday for giving a higher priority to a murder case in Solano County over an Alameda County case involving a client charged with two counts of murder.

Judge Carrie Panetta sentenced Tim Pori, who has offices in San Francisco and Vallejo, to five days in jail and fined him $2,500.

Both cases Pori is handling are complicated. The Alameda County one is a double murder that was actually tried before and ended in a mistrial, and the Solano County case involves three co-defendants. (For the record, Solano County is not exactly a quick subway stop away from Alameda County. It’s a little bit of a hike.)

The Mercury News explains that the scheduling problems actually began last month, when the two trials were set quite close to each other. It seems Pori unsuccessfully attempted to clear them up:

The trouble for Pori actually began early in March, when an attorney in the three co-defendant homicide trial of Vidrio, Rudolfo “Drifter” Ortega Jr., and Adrian Torres, made the routine request of Solano County Superior Court Judge Harry S. Kinnicutt to delay the trial in order to prepare a defense.

Over Pori’s objections, Kinnicutt granted the continuance and scrapped a jury trial that had been set for March 26, setting a new trial date of April 30. A motion by Pori to sever his client, Vidrio, from the other two defendants was denied and Vidrio withdrew his time waiver. At the time of the March 5 hearing, Pori said the delay would cause a conflict with his trial schedule in Alameda County, and elsewhere.

The whole thing sounds like a big clusterf**k. There is probably more backstory here that we don’t know about, which may have led to Judge Panetta’s seemingly harsh reaction. For his part, Pori still says he did nothing wrong. He posted this on his blog, Legal Advice for Stupid Criminals, earlier this week:

Don’t get me wrong. I take scheduling seriously and try to move forward responsibly with all my cases. In this instance, I did not foresee that there would be a problem.

My Alameda client had waived his right to a speedy trial, and I expected that his case would proceed after the conclusion of another murder case – this one is in Solano County – that is scheduled to start April 30th. The Solano case involves three defendants, which would make rescheduling that case more difficult. More importantly, in Solano County the defense will be ready when the trial starts.

Alameda Judge Carrie Panetta said that the case in her courtroom was older than the one in Solano so she thought I should be ready to try the one in her court first. I meant no disrespect to Judge Panetta when I explained that the defense could not be ready on the timeline she laid out.

Unfortunately, evidence and witnesses and experts are not always ready in the same order as the DA’s filed the cases. I do not honor the Solano Courts more than the ones in Alameda, and I don’t take Alameda judges less seriously than the Solano County jurists. It is just that the defense is ready in one case and not ready in the other.

His attorney and friend, Daniel Russo, frames the situation as the Battle of the Bay showdown, instigated by the Alameda County judge:

Russo, a past president of the Solano County Bar Association who taught at John F. Kennedy School of Law for more than 20 years, said he thinks Panetta chose to “punish Mr. Pori for disrespecting Alameda County” for giving a higher priority to the Solano County case.

Pori is appealing, but he is supposed to report to jail tomorrow. It just goes to show that no good deed (done in the defense of several allegedly very bad deeds) goes unpunished.

Bay Area attorney facing jail time on contempt charges because of scheduling conflict [Mercury News]
Alameda Co. Judge finds attorney in contempt for delaying murder trial [KTVU News]

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