Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Robie Says Defendant, Alleged to Have Gambled Using City Credit Card, Has Failed to Show Prejudice From Delay in Prosecution
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Loyalton City Hall is seen at right of the photo above. The Third District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed an order dismissing embezzlement charges against the city’s former clerk, Jennifer Lynn Hood.
A woman who was charged on April 23, 2010 with embezzling public funds while serving as clerk of the sparsely populated City of Loyalton in California’s Sierra County can, under the circumstances of the case, still be tried for the alleged offense, the Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday, declaring there is no due-process impediment.
Lawrence R. Allen, the then-district attorney of Sierra—a rural county tucked in the northeast corner of the state—moved to dismiss the charges one year and four months after bringing them, and the motion was granted. On Oct. 14, 2016, he refiled the complaint.
Yesterday’s opinion focuses on the period between the Aug. 23, 2011 dismissal of the first complaint and the reinstatement of it five years and two months later.
The complaint alleges embezzlement in 2009-10 by Jennifer Lynn Hood, while clerk of Loyalton—which bills itself as “the city of good living with more animals than people” and is described in an Oct. 9, 2016 article in the New York Times as “a fading town of just over 700 that had not made much news since the gold rush of 1849.” Hood, it is asserted, used her city credit card for personal purposes, such as gambling at Nevada casinos.
Loyalton (named for its “loyalty” to the Union during the Civil War) is less than an hour’s drive to Reno.
Federal Government Inaction
At a pretrial conference, Allen explained the five-year-plus hiatus in his prosecution by saying that the federal government was “going to take over” the case but “fiddled around with it and didn’t take it or didn’t do anything with it.”
On Aug. 30, 2018, Hood moved to dismiss, contending the delay in bringing the case to trial violated her due process rights under the state and federal constitutions.
Sierra Superior Court Judge Charles Ervin on Sept. 11, 2018 granted the motion. The current district attorney, Sandra Ann Groven, appealed.
The Third District reversed in an unpublished opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Ronald B. Robie.
Narrowing the issue, the jurist said:
“During oral argument, defendant conceded the time frame pertinent to the alleged prosecutorial delay was the five years and two months between the dismissal of the first action and the refiling of the second action, as calculated by the trial court. Because there were no charges pending against defendant during the alleged delay, defendant’s speedy trial rights were not implicated; it was, instead, defendant’s state and federal rights to due process that were implicated….We, accordingly, do not address the district attorney’s arguments relating to a speedy-trial-right analysis.”
He noted there is no applicable statute of limitation.
Robie went on to say:
“Defendant’s showing of actual prejudice rested on the declaration of her counsel, filed in support of the motion to dismiss. Her counsel merely declared that at least one individual who served on the city council during the time of the alleged offenses was deceased, ‘numerous City of Loyalton former employers, managers, and witnesses who had been knowledgeable about the City’s policies and practices relevant to this case’ were ‘unavailable,’ and defendants memory regarding ‘important details critical to the defense’ had faded, such as the names and whereabouts of potential witnesses. The declaration is insufficient to meet defendant’s burden of showing prejudice. The showing of actual prejudice that the law requires must be supported by particular facts and not, as in this case, by bare conclusionary statements.”
“Defense counsel’s declaration similarly does not support a finding of actual prejudice because it is vague as to the exculpatory nature of the potential testimony lost due to the delay in prosecution.
“Defendant does not explain why the deceased councilmember was a material witness, i.e., what her testimony would have imparted as to the existence or nonexistence of a disputed fact that another witness could not contribute or provide.”
Hood knew that the matter had not come to a rest and should have compiled information to have it at hand in the future, Robie said, discounting the defendant’s assertion of a faded memory.
The case is People v. Hood, C088355.
Second Largest City
Although Loyalton is sparsely populated, it is California’s second largest city, geographically, covering 50 square miles. (Los Angeles, the largest city, is 502.7 square miles, which includes 34 square miles of water.)
The Encyclopedia of California says of Loyalton:
“An ordinance unusual in an early Western town forbade the sale of liquor within the ‘city limits,’ with the result that Loyalton became California’s second largest city: its incorporators spread the town as wide as possible to discourage lumberjacks from walking beyond the city limits for a drink.”
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