From the emails and voicemails:
Hugh Rose, a retired Stanislaus County judge, emailed to tell me about an early 1990s case in which a defendant acted as his own counsel and did so well that he received speaking gig invitations as a result. The case began when guards caught an inmate trying to escape from the Sierra Conservation Center prison near Jamestown. He claimed he feared for his life and, of course, planned to turn himself in to the Sonora police once he was free. The defendant was assigned an attorney. They “papered” (nixed) the county’s only judge, claiming the defendant could not get a fair trial. Rose went to Sonora to hear the case as the replacement judge. At one point, the inmate wanted to fire his attorney, and the motion was denied. So, Rose said, the defendant asked for a moment of consultation with his lawyer, and used the time effectively.
“He punched him,” Rose said.
That well-placed right cross irreparably damaged their attorney-client relationship. About a third of the way into the court process, the defendant filed a so-called Faretta motion stating he wanted to represent himself, which was his legal right. He also claimed he’d filed a lawsuit against Rose in federal court in an attempt to disqualify the visiting judge as well. Rose refused to step down and ordered the case to move forward.
When the trial began, the defendant subpoenaed inmates from several different prisons. They testified how a prison’s reputation follows an inmate from joint to joint. The prosecutor never asked any of them about their criminal histories, Rose said. So much for discrediting witnesses.
Rose, like most judges, had experience in reading juries as the case progressed. This one surprised him.
“I figured that was a pretty conservative area and that he’d be convicted,” Rose said.
Instead, the defendant convinced the jurors his escape attempt was justified because he, indeed, feared for his life in prison. The defendant eventually returned to prison, but not until he’d visited several schools to speak to students at the invitations of some of the jurors.
“They wanted him to talk to the children,” Rose said. In all, the inmate parlayed the case into more than a spent year in the county jail instead before returning to state prison to complete his previous sentence.
“A 100 percent victory,” Rose said.
In the mid-1990s, plans for a shopping center north of Modesto Junior College’s West Campus cropped up, and it would have encroached on the area. Then, the Modesto A’s pitched to build a new ballpark out there as well. Pamila Fisher, then chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District, wanted the shopping center. She quickly pooh-poohed the ballpark suggestion, telling me at the time there was no ballpark in the West Campus’ general plan. Of course, there wasn’t. The ballpark was a new idea, and the last thing you’d want to suggest to a college is a new idea, right?
But as momentum for the shopping center waned, the college district suddenly showed interest in the ballpark idea. Too late, though. Fred Anderson already had set into motion the rebuilding of John Thurman Field in its existing spot near the Modesto Municipal Golf Course. The Modesto Nuts still play there. Between the renovation of Thurman Field, a still shaky mid-1990s economy and city officials who decided the area couldn’t handle the additional traffic the shopping center would bring, the idea died.