A San Diego superior court judge Tuesday morning denied a motion filed by the majority of defense attorneys in a South Bay corruption case led by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Two weeks ago the case was ordered moved to the South County by Judge Timothy Walsh and with it any pertaining records to department 16 with Judge Stephanie Sontag.
For the first time, Walsh revealed his reasons behind keeping the case in the South Bay.
“The reason the case was transferred to South County by me is that … it’s most appropriate,” Walsh said, adding that the gravity of the criminal case is in the South County.
However, Deputy District Attorney Gary Schons said he believes the court violated its own rules by failing initially to give a reason for the transfer.
Schons said the DA would be somewhat at a disadvantage if the case moved permanently to South County, due to the high level of public interest in this case.”
“We believe these crimes occurred all over the county,” Schons said. “…The substantial misconduct occurring in the city of San Diego.”
Schons also said the South Bay courthouse recently downsized it’s jury room, making it less accommodating in relation to the extent of the case.
There are currently 17 defendants represented by their respective attorneys.
“This court (downtown) has the best access to the public and media,” Schons said, adding it will also be more convenient to the attorneys, defendants and witnesses.
Schons told Walsh it’s a matter of assuring a fair trial and that the case is not appropriate for the South County.
“We believe that a fair jury could be assembled anywhere in the county … but the sentiment exists in the South County,” Schons said. “This courthouse is a more neutral field.”
Marcos Carlos, criminal defense attorney for Pearl Quinones, agreed with the points made by Schons.
“The attitude of the South Bay is really vicious,” Carlos said. “They (critics) attack in the media, they attack on the Internet.”
More indictments were returned from a county grand jury on Dec. 21, 2012, including 10 new people.
However, some defense attorneys, including Allen Bloom, representing sitting Sweetwater school board member Arlie Ricasa and Vikas Bajaj, representing former Southwestern College governing board member Jorge Dominguez, were opposed to keeping it downtown.
“The case should be tried in the courtroom not in the public press,” Bloom said.
Blooms said there is too much “political ambition” and “personal interest” in the case.
“The gravity of the case I believe did occur in the South Bay,” Bloom said.
Vikas Bajaj, representing Dominguez, echoed Bloom’s sentiments.
“I am very familiar (with the case) because I received a true bill of these charges,” Walsh said. “I went through the charges and queried the grand jury. I went through all 232 charges.”
Walsh said that the charges stem from defendants acting in the capacity of public officials while representing their respective communities.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of the charges are alleged to have violated the law while acting as South Bay officials,” Walsh said. “It’s not rooted in where it took place but what’s done in his or her capacity as an elected official. The question is not where can this case be but where this case should initially be.”
On Jan. 30, the defendants had a hearing to be arraigned in the South Bay courthouse with Judge Stephanie Sontag, however, it was postponed following whether or not the case would proceed there or downtown.
In addition last week, defense attorneys got on board with a 977 motion to seal the grand jury transcripts from the pubic and media. There are 27 volumes of grand jury transcripts, according to Carlos.
That same day a 995 motion was also filed to request the judge dismiss one or more charges of the case believing their clients were held to answer for charges following the grand jury indictment.
Three defendants, all contractors, have pleaded guilty since initial indictments brought by the DA’s office in January 2012. Two of them include BCA Architect Paul Bunton, whose attorney Dana Grimes entered a guilty plea on his behalf to entertaining Southwestern officials March 26 last year and construction executive Henry Amigable who worked for Southwestern and Sweetwater and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge a week prior of offering something of value to a school board member.
In addition, Seville Construction Services president Jeffrey Flores plead guilty on April 26 last year.
The defendants’ next court appearance is for the arraignment on indictments on Friday, Feb. 15, in department 16 with Judge Stephanie Sontag at 9:30 a.m.