Courtwatch San Diego

by on March 9, 2020 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, San Diego

By Terrie Best

Courthouses are places of pain, frustration, hopelessness and fear.  San Diego’s new downtown courthouse is a towering reminder of the taxpayer money going into perpetuating a criminal justice system that is broken, favors prosecutors and works against the poor and disenfranchised.

We’ve been hearing about prosecutor misconduct in the news and through a valiant effort by documentarians to tell the stories of the wrongfully accused,  Walter McMillian, Kalief Browder, The Central Park Five as well as the Orange County DA use of inmate informants. Hundreds of cheats which ruined the lives of many have been exposed through the media. And like cockroaches, for every one uncovered there are likely many more.

Since prosecutorial, police and courtroom treachery happens here in San Diego, as evidenced by the work of local activists in the Time Done and Participatory Defense models, I will bear witness and write about it.  This particular practice is called courtwatch. It is done by citizens who believe when we watch the system, the powerful behave better.

I first saw Maurice through a window off to the side of the courtroom. He is in a glassed-in box, tucked away so nobody from the galley gets a look at their incarcerated loved one enduring the immense power aimed at them. There’s a sign on the wall in the galley. Among other things, it forbids interacting with the incarcerated. Only the system can do that. We, the people may not.

Maurice has a mental health diagnosis and the worry is that his symptoms will be barriers to communication with the only advocate he has, his public defender.

Public Defender Amanda Waddle click-clacks down the long hall  toward the courtroom.

Nobody has done this yet since we’ve been sitting in the hall but she stops to ask if any family is here for Maurice. My friend Marcus raises his hand. In her initial address to the judge, she would also announce our presence to the court.

Amanda Waddle is a tall, confident woman with a young man behind her carrying her stuff. She thrusts her hand out in introduction and tells us she will go in and speak with Maurice. I am encouraged by her direct, friendly manner but worried about Maurice’s ability to withstand the pressures of the system.

I am under the impression the outcome for Maurice is going to be very bad but when Amanda Waddle returns she tells us the prosecution has offered treatment and probation if he will plead guilty to resisting arrest. I breathe it in. I am now succumbing to the system. I have now felt relief that a man sleeping on the sidewalk who is awakened and resists being placed on a gurney is not going to get a strike and go to prison.

I rarely see this but Maurice, for all his obstacles, took control of his plea away from the judge. When she read out the full charge, Maurice had changes in mind for the language because he had listened carefully to the reading. In a hiccup in the system, Maurice refused to plea.  Not until the judge removed the offending term “violent and threatening.’ Judge Polly Shamoon read the charge again without the portion Maurice was not guilty of. Yet, Maurice could still not say the word “Guilty.” He wanted to know if this “duty” the officer was engaged in, which he resisted, was a lawful duty to begin with.

Maurice was getting to the heart of the matter and the judge was allowing it until she stopped short at litigating the definition of “lawful duty.”

During the back and forth, Amanda Waddle spoke with Maurice, came and sat with us in the galley to explain and then she was recalled to try again. It was getting tense but Maurice held on. Despite all that he was enduring he also refused to waive time until sentencing.

Maurice took a plea even though he is innocent. He was asleep on the sidewalk and cops tried to take him away in a gurney. He resisted being taken by pulling away from the police. This happened in September and he has been in custody ever since. He is still in custody and will be sentenced at the end of March. He will then be transferred to a residential treatment facility.  He will not waive time until March 30th – a more convenient time for the system – he reserved his due process. He did not tolerate the systems tricks and he did not allow the court to assume that police taking him away was lawful.

Maurice has significant challenges. He is a King for standing his ground when the system tried to grind him down. He has 30 more days to endure in a place where asserting innocence will make you a target.

Which is why I am writing this. I’ve written lots of courtroom narratives and always write for the benefit of the defendants. They are the real frontrunners in the fight for equal justice and often they do heroic things. I will be here to watch and document for as long as I can.

NOTE: After writing this a new organization announced its Executive Director. Genevieve Jones-Wright will lead Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance – MoGo whose mission it will be to engage in litigation and various forms of advocacy that will make government more just and fully accountable to all people, particularly those who have been marginalized from society. Follow MOGO on Facebook.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks March 12, 2020 at 12:54 am

When citizens cannot ‘trust’ the justice system, cannot ‘trust’ the enforcers of that system to an extent that huge segments of a society have every right to fear them…when the system is packed so full of predators (because that’s what they are) and when one falls there are ten more waiting to take its place…what alternative does anyone have? Vote them out? Yeah, right, how’s that worked out so far?

It can’t be fixed. Predatory Capitalism infects every part of our lives like a wound that smells like rotten cheese… Gangrene is a nasty way to die and this empire, like all previous empires, is exhibiting its end, but those at the top of the pyramid are usually the last to see it coming as are those whose lives are heavily dependent on that structure. Only one answer eventually comes.



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