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Sheriff’s Attorneys Battle Judges’ Effort to Renew Contempt Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys representing Sheriff Brad Gates argued in court papers filed this week that new evidence in Gates’ long-running contempt-of-court proceedings is unsubstantiated and should be thrown out.

The county counsel’s office, which represents Gates, argued against a series of requests made by Municipal Court judges who want the sheriff held in contempt for releasing prisoners at county jail facilities to relieve crowding.

A Superior Court judge last month threw out 17 contempt convictions, a fine and a possible jail sentence that had been imposed against Gates by a Municipal Court judge.

But Municipal Court judges in Santa Ana now hope to have the case reheard. They maintain that Gates’ practice of releasing some prisoners when the jails become crowded violates state law and undermines the county’s enforcement of justice.

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In briefs filed in Superior Court on Monday, county attorneys rejected the suggestion that they lied during a September court hearing and accused the judges of trying to use a backdoor method of reviving the charges against the sheriff, even though they have already been overturned.

“This court should reject any attempt to achieve by indirection that which may not be done directly,” Deputy County Counsel Thomas C. Agin said in his court filing, “namely, the reopening of the lower-court proceedings in this action on allegations of contempt against the sheriff.”

The contempt charges are being pressed by Municipal Court judges who believe that Gates violated state law by releasing 17 prisoners whose offenses should have required them to stay in jail. Richard W. Stanford Jr., the presiding judge of Municipal Court in Santa Ana, found Gates guilty of contempt and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

Gates was also fined $17,000, but both the fine and sentence were delayed to allow the county to present suggestions for ending the releases.

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Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore overturned those convictions, saying Gates would have risked overcrowding the jails had he and his deputies not authorized the releases.

In asking for the new hearing, the attorney for the Municipal Court judges accused county attorneys of misrepresenting facts of the case when they appeared before Moore in September.

In particular, attorney Philip D. Kohn said, county attorneys told Moore that the sheriff did not have a computer system at his disposal to determine whether the jails were full when prisoners were released.

According to Kohn and the Municipal Court judges, Gates “had an automated computer system in operation, which nearly instantaneously generated information concerning available beds in all county facilities.”

That would be significant, because five of the prisoners who were released early were freed even though it later turned out that the jails were not full. In at least those cases, the Municipal Court judges argue, Gates should be found guilty of contempt because the sheriff did not need to let the prisoners go to relieve crowding.

The county, however, disputes that evidence and responded in its new filing that none of the new evidence being submitted by the Municipal Court judges suggests that such a computer system exists. In fact, the inmate population is counted manually, and the ever-shifting size and mix of the jail population makes it an extremely difficult process, the county lawyers argue.

Kohn is expected to file his response to the county’s position today. Moore is scheduled to hear the new arguments Nov. 4 and will probably rule that day on whether any of the contempt convictions against Gates should be restored.


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