Sitting on de fense

Public offender: As Bites has elaborated upon on numerous occasions, things have been super sucky at the Sacramento Bee lately, what with parent company McClatchy’s stock price taking a Greg Louganis and six-and-seven-figure executives offloading what little dead weight remains in an attempt to avoid the undertow. That dead weight apparently now includes the Bee’s entire news editing staff. How else to explain the following lead sentence in reporter Blair Anthony Robertson’s Saturday, July 14, puff piece on Sacramento County public defender Paulino Duran?

“If Paulino Duran performed his job poorly, he’d probably be more popular.”

Which begs the question, more popular with whom? The district attorneys for whom the Bee perpetually serves as official mouthpiece? The 73 percent who told a recent Zogby poll that in the event of a shooting, most Americans would expect an African-American to be involved? The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, i.e., the screws who turn the keys in California’s stuffed-to-the-gills prisons? Or could it be the majority of defendants who, unable to afford a private attorney, plead guilty to lesser charges rather than take their chances in open court with a public defender?

Which boneheaded so-called gatekeeper is responsible for letting tripe like this ooze through the slats? Executive editor Rick Rodriguez? Managing editor Joyce Terhaar? News Editor Linda Gonzales? City editor Deborah Anderluh? Scoopy? Inquiring minds want to know. You know the drill, anonymous Bee newsroom employees: Light up the Bites hotline and give readers the skinny.

Trials and tribulations: Speaking of anonymous employees, a former highly placed staffer with the Sacramento Superior Court tells Bites that as a rule local public defenders, with few exceptions, operate on the “don’t let it go beyond the preliminary hearing” principle. The MO is to avoid going to trial at all cost, including having potentially innocent defendants plead guilty to the aforementioned lesser charges.

Don’t let the adjective fool you. “Lesser” charges hurt, too. Just ask Rhonda Erwin, subject of the April 12 SN&R cover story, “A mother’s prayer.” The story detailed how Erwin’s son, facing 25-to-life for shooting a woman in the leg, was advised by his court-appointed attorney, Karol Repkow, to plead guilty to the lesser count of discharging a firearm during the course of a crime. Her son took the advice and was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

According to witnesses at the scene, when Mama Erwin approached Repkow in the hallway after the sentence was pronounced and complained that her son hadn’t received an adequate defense, the attorney yelled, “Get out of my fucking face! It’s all your fault, Rhonda.” Erwin was floored and hasn’t really been the same since.

Guilty as charged: The anonymous former court staffer says such unprofessional behavior is the rule, rather than the exception, in the hallowed halls of Sacramento’s judicial system. Apparently, some judges, district attorneys and public defenders relish lording it over those who lack the wherewithal to afford a proper defense.

Is that really the way it is? Bites has witnessed such events at the courthouse, but can’t testify to their frequency. Seems like it might make an interesting topic for this paper or even the financially strapped Sacramento Bee, assuming the usually reliable Denny Walsh is available to report out the story. But don’t hold your breath on the latter.

Meanwhile, Robertson’s puff piece has served at least one noble purpose: It has reenergized Erwin’s tireless quest for justice, temporarily sidelined after her son was sent to prison for most of the rest of his life. Now she’s back with a vengeance, seeking to gain him an appeal, and it seems she’s uncovered some fairly unflattering references regarding Repkow in The Prosecutors: A Year in the Life of a District Attorney’s Office, by former Sacramento Bee reporter Gary Delsohn.

Those interested in defending Repkow might consider ordering the book from Amazon first. It’s a juicy read, and it’s going for 33 cents nowadays, just slightly less than the value of a publicly financed defense.