Judge dread: Angry contradictions from the court as mistrial declared in ‘Piegate’

After calling defendant’s actions ‘a simple misdemeanor,’ judge upbraids man accused of pieing Kevin Johnson

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert M. Twiss finally dished his own slice of the drama pie May 15, forcefully chiding defendant Sean Thompson in open court and seemingly flip-flopping on his own on-the-record remarks about the criminal nature of splattering someone with a dessert dish.

Twiss’ head-scratching soliloquy came after an irrevocably hung jury stalled over felony charges that Thompson assaulted former Mayor Kevin Johnson with a coconut cream pie last fall.

On Tuesday, one of Thompson’s attorneys told SN&R that if the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office retries the case, the defense will seek to bar Twiss from judging the second trial.

Twiss’ dressing-down of Thompson from the bench capped a weeklong trial in which prosecutor Anthony Ortiz attempted to convict the activist of felony assault on a public official for pie-ing Johnson in September 2016. Ortiz pressed his case without calling any police officers—or the victim—to the stand. That didn’t sit well with some jurors, who deadlocked in deliberations for two days.

After a mistrial was declared Monday, one of Thompson’s attorneys, Jeff Mendelman, filed a motion seeking to have the assault charge lowered to a misdemeanor at the judge’s discretion. During opening motions in the trial, Twiss himself had called the case “a simple misdemeanor battery—that’s what it is. He put a pie in someone’s face. It’s being charged as a felony because of who the victim is, and I get that.”

Mendelman alluded to the judge’s remarks while making his motion to have the charge lowered, but soon found it was a very different Twiss now sitting on the bench.

“This has always been a felony,” Twiss decreed. “It was never a misdemeanor.”

Twiss went on to suggest that Thompson is a troublemaker who had never worked a day in his life outside of his military service.

Asked to respond to Twiss’ seeming change in tone, Mendelman said the judge’s comments were beyond perplexing. “I had even mentioned in my motion that the court had said this was misdemeanor conduct,” Mendelman observed. “And then the judge went on a long diatribe about Mr. Thompson. … It was a little weird, the comments he made.”