I'd Rather Go to Jail than Prevent You from Getting a Fair Trial

As I write this I am preparing to go to jail for five days for contempt of court because I could not agree to start a trial next Monday in Alameda County. I don’t want to go to jail (who does?). But, I cannot comply with the judge’s order and still give my client the effective defense he is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.

My client is on trial for murder and facing possible life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The prosecution recently disclosed some potential evidence which our investigator needs to check out – that may take until mid June. Other experts for the defense are also not ready to testify on Monday.

We cannot mount an effective defense in Alameda County court next week, regardless of how angry or annoyed the judge is. My oath as a lawyer and the ethical standards of the American Bar Association, California Business and Professional Code, and plain morality won’t let me put my own comfort ahead of my duty to my client. I cannot lie and tell the judge we are ready for trial.

I cannot ignore my client’s right to effective counsel himself simply to keep my own ass out of County Jail.

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.

The lawyer representing me in the contempt cases (I follow my own advice and never represent myself) is Daniel Russo. Dan says that the contempt finding against me is unfair and he is going to appeal Judge Panetta’s actions to the California Court of Appeals.

I hope Dan is successful and that I don’t have to go to jail this weekend. But, even if the appeal fails, I have no choice. I rather go to jail than to give my client a second-rate defense. His future depends on an effective defense, and I will give him the best defense possible… when we are ready.

UPDATE, 4/19/12 —
My attorney, Dan Russo, has filed an appeal which resulted in a postponement of the sentence. The Alameda Courts have until May 30th to respond to the appeal.
Read the news story.


  1. Apparently even judges are not impervious to the lunar cycle. I can't think of another explanation for the decision, other than that maybe the new discovery that needs looked into is exculpatory, and the state knows it already and so wants the trial sooner rather than later. After all, the judge usually just acts as a second prosecutor. By the way, if you end up going, which I REALLY hope you don't have to, I know there is some massive blessing in disguise about the whole thing, and I look forward to hearing about whatever it ends up being. You're the best, Tim, and I'm very proud to know you.

  2. Perhaps this Judge should prepare for re-election with a public admonishment from the Commission on Judicial Performace on her heels. Because that is where this seems to be heading. Stand your ground Tim, and don't grant quarter to those who have granted you none.

  3. The irony of the situation is that, even if you are required to spend 5 days in jail, such a sanction will only exacerbate the alleged problem - that is, the cumbersome snail's pace at which our judicial system moves will be worsened even more so by committing you to jail where you'll fall further behind, and by extension, the justice system will go even slower than its already sloth-like pace. Alameda County Jurisprudence has nothing to gain, although it has much to lose, by enforcing such a ludicrous sanction. I submit that commonsense is in order: forget about whole thing and let an attorney do his job as he sees fit, without unnecessary interference by a judge riding the coattails of her father-in-law. Amed

  4. I think there is reason to think Judge Panetta is not fully competent.
    She apparenlty just blew off the rules in finding you in contempt without giving you proper warning, at least this is how it was reported in the Chron, with news of a unanimous appeals court reversal.
    I had a bad experience with Panetta where she also blew off the rules.
    I think it's reasaonable to suspect she's gotten too much to fast through her father in law and now is kind of arrogant.