October 4, 2012

Judge nixes Riverbank councilman's plea to keep his private lawyer

A judge today denied a request to have taxpayers pay for a privately hired attorney to defend Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White in his upcoming trial.

A judge on Thursday denied a request to have taxpayers pay for a private attorney to defend Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White in his upcoming trial.

White is accused of drunken driving, crashing his Corvette and leaving behind his injured son in the car on Feb. 20 in Oakdale.

The councilman has informed the court that he no longer can afford to retain Mary Lynn Belsher, a privately hired criminal defense attorney who represented him in his preliminary hearing.

Typically, the court appoints the county public defender's office to represent a defendant who no longer can afford a private attorney. That is what Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves decided to do during a brief hearing Thursday.

Belsher had argued previously in court that it would be best to appoint her as White's attorney because the trial could proceed quickly. She had said she knows the case well and a public defender would need a lot of time to get up to speed before there could be a trial.

Reeves told Belsher it's not likely that another attorney would need a long time to become familiar with the case and move forward to trial.

"It's an uncomplicated case with low-grade felonies," the judge said Thursday.

White appeared with Belsher and asked the judge to continue his arraignment until today, when a public defender can appear with him in court. The judge agreed and scheduled him to return this morning to enter a plea. White remains free on bail.

Belsher has represented White before in a criminal case in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance without a prescription in May 2011. Initially, he was charged with felony cocaine possession and two misdemeanor counts of marijuana possession in that case. The drugs were found during a probation search.

White's home and black Hummer were subject to search by authorities under terms of informal probation after he pleaded no contest in June 2007 to an alcohol-related "wet and reckless" driving count.

Old cases irrelevant

Belsher had argued that her familiarity with White's previous criminal cases would allow her client a better defense than appointing another attorney to take over his latest case.

Reeves disagreed, telling Belsher on Thursday that White's previous cases had no relation to his current case.

Investigators say he crashed his Corvette, leaving behind his injured 4-year-old son in the car.

In August, Reeves determined there was enough evidence for White to stand trial. He faces three felony charges: driving under the influence causing injury, DUI with a blood-alcohol content of 0.24 percent causing injury and child endangerment. A blood-alcohol content of 0.24 percent is three times the legal limit.

White also has been charged with three misdemeanor counts: hit-and-run causing injury, hit-and-run causing property damage and resisting an officer.

In the August preliminary hearing, witnesses testified they saw White's Corvette crash on F Street in Oakdale in February.

His son was in the Corvette and suffered a bloody nose. White left his son in the car when he tried to leave, police have said.

The one-term councilman is not running for re-election. White has declined to comment about his decision not to seek another term.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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