In November 2003, Santa Barbara defense attorney Gary Dunlap filed a $10 million lawsuit against Tom Sneddon, accusing him of racketeering, witness tampering, conspiracy and malicious prosecution. Earlier that year, Sneddon had charged Dunlap with perjury, witness intimidation, filing false documents and preparing false documents in a case that Dunlap had handled. Dunlap was acquitted on all charges but claims his reputation has been irreparably harmed as a result of the proceedings. In an interview with Online Legal Review’s Ron Sweet, Dunlap claimed that Sneddon stacked the charges against him in order to get a conviction on at least one count; apparently, this is a common occurrence in Sneddon’s office. Dunlap also discussed Sneddon’s frequent abuse of power and claimed that there are other lawyers who have seen this. A judge recently upheld most of Dunlap’s lawsuit and the case will soon go to trial unless a civil settlement is reached.
In related news, Dunlap’s lawyer Joe Freeman recently sent a complaint asking that federal, state and county officials investigate Tom Sneddon and members of the Santa Barbara Police Department for misconduct. “In my opinion, the matters to be investigated are the possible criminal violations of several felony and misdemeanour statutes, including conspiracy, illegal taping, deceiving a court and a prosecutor illegally assisting the defense of a case,” Freeman said in his complaint. “I respectfully request that the U.S. Attorney, the California Attorney General, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury and the State Bar open investigations and seek whatever sanctions are found to be warranted against Sneddon and his staff.” In response to the allegations, the SBPD’s attorney Jake Stoddard said that Sneddon and his employees are immune from legal action because they are prosecutors.
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In 2001, a man named Efren Cruz filed a federal lawsuit against Santa Barbara prosecutors accusing them of negligence and conspiracy to keep him in prison. The lawsuit also accused District Attorney Tom Sneddon of malicious prosecution. Cruz was incarcerated for four years after being convicted of murder in 1997. The lawsuit claimed that prosecutors had evidence favourable to Cruz but failed to hand it over to the defense before the trial. After Cruz was convicted, the real murderer was caught on tape confessing to the crime. Regardless, Santa Barbara prosecutors stood by their conviction until the case was taken to a higher court where Cruz was exonerated.
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Thambiah Sundaram’s contentious relationship with Santa Barbara authorities began when he opened a non-profit dental clinic in the county and began to attain political status as a result. After unsuccessfully trying to have the clinic shut down, authorities arrested Sundaram for grand theft, impersonating a doctor and malicious mischief. His wife was also arrested and an employee at the clinic was later charged with committing a drive-by shooting. All three were found not guilty. Sundaram sued Sneddon and his employees for conspiracy, false imprisonment and several civil rights violations. He was awarded almost $300,000 in damages.
Sundaram also attended a private fundraising dinner in 1994 where Tom Sneddon and other government officials allegedly discussed their plans to get rid of certain individuals in Santa Barbara who owned substantial amounts of land. Michael Jackson’s property was allegedly brought up during this meeting; Sundaram claimed that authorities wanted to acquire Neverland for vineyards.
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Slick Gardner is a horse rancher who owns 2,000 acres of land in Santa Barbara. In 2003, Gardner was investigated for animal abuse after his neighbours reported that some of his horses looked unhealthy. Around the same time the allegations hit, Gardner ran for 3rd District Supervisor against John Buttny, Steve Pappas and Brooks Firestone. Firestone – who owns a successful winery in Santa Barbara and who also has political ties to Tom Sneddon and former Sheriff Jim Thomas – won the election by a landslide. As a result of the bad publicity from the animal abuse allegations, Gardner got the least amount of votes.
While investigating Gardner for animal abuse, Santa Barbara authorities also stumbled upon evidence of grand theft. Gardner was charged with 12 felony counts and hired defense attorney Steve Balash to represent him in the case. Balash later backed out of the case saying it was too complicated.
According to Gardner, Sneddon has had a grudge against him for 30 years and is only prosecuting him out of spite. “It just seems like it’s almost a vendetta deal. These guys are going so far out of their way to do things to me that normally wouldn’t be done,” Gardner said.
“The same thing that’s happening to Michael Jackson happened to me. One day Sneddon is going to wake up with a boot up his ass with a white glove in it, and it will be about time.”
Judge Rodney Melville, the same judge who will be presiding over Michael Jackson’s trial, is also involved in Gardner’s case.
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Adams Bros. Farming, Inc.
In 1997, the Adams brothers purchased 268-acres of land in Orcutt and began agricultural grading on the site. 95-acres of their land was deemed an “environmentally sensitive wetland” by Santa Barbara authorities, which prevented the farmers from using it.
The brothers filed a lawsuit against the County in 2000, alleging that officials had falsely designated a portion of their land as wetland in an attempt to jeopardize the company’s financial earnings. At the request of Santa Barbara County officials, Judge Rodney Melville dismissed the brothers’ action. The brothers took their case to an appeals court where Melville’s decision was overturned.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the County had violated the company’s constitutional right to use its land and that the County and a county consultant had conspired to interfere with the company’s income.
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Emilio Sutti is a dairyman and farmer who recently filed a $10 million lawsuit against Santa Barbara County, claiming to have been the target of a government conspiracy to interfere with his company’s profits. Sutti alleged that Santa Barbara authorities have been targeting his family’s land for years. The battle began when Emilio’s brother and business partner Ed was sued by Santa Barbara County Planning and Development for alleged environmental and grading ordinance violations.
After winning a partial victory in the lawsuit, Ed Sutti was arrested and indicted for arson, witness intimidation, making terrorist threats, making false statements to an insurer, giving false deposition and four counts of state income tax evasion.
Emilio’s Sutti’s civil lawsuit was handled by Judge Rodney Melville.
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Nuevo Energy Company
According to an article from The Lompoc Record: “Nuevo Energy Company has a launched a three-pronged legal attack on Santa Barbara County, claiming it violated state environmental law in using wrong baseline data in an environmental impact report, wasn’t the correct lead agency to prepare the report and wrongly applied mitigation measures in denying the Tranquillon Ridge project.” Judge Rodney Melville presided over the case.
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Santa Maria City Attorney Art Montandon recently filed a claim against the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, alleging that they falsely accused him of bribing a defense attorney in a case that Sneddon was prosecuting. Montandon had evidence favourable to the defense and prosecutors tried to stop him from interfering by threatening to bring bribery charges against him. A judge later ruled that Sneddon’s office had no right to stop Montandon’s involvement in the case.
In a letter, Montandon denied any wrongdoing and lashed out at Sneddon and his employees, saying: “Unlike (Assistant District Attorney Christie) Stanley and current and former members of her office, I have never had my license to practice law suspended by the State Bar, have never been convicted of a crime, and have never been terminated from any attorney job.”
At the end of his letter, Montandon said he would reveal in court: “the full and complete story of not only the District Attorney’s unprofessional conduct, but the inappropriate conduct and motives of others working behind the scenes to cause community conflict.”
Recently, Montandon requested that the State Bar investigate Sneddon and his office for obstruction of justice.
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William Wagener ran for 5th District County Supervisor in 2002 and was arrested shortly before the election. Because he was a convicted felon, Wisconsin authorities claimed that he had no right to run for political office. As a result, Wagener was arrested by Santa Barbara authorities.
In response, Wagener’s attorney John Holland said that his client’s prior conviction should have had no effect on his right to be a political candidate. He also said that because the terms of Wagener’s probation had been given to the SBPD in 1998, authorities were already aware of his record when they allowed him to run for office.
The charges against Wagener were dropped and he was released from jail. Still, his attorney accused Sneddon’s office of making sure Wagener was: “defamed and ridiculed in the local media in order to destroy his campaign for public office.” Wagener filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County and former Police Chief John Sterling, accusing them of violating his civil rights.
The lawsuit alleges that Police Chief John Sterling “had actual, advance knowledge of the plan by other defendants to falsely arrest, inaccurate and violate (Wagener’s) California and Federal civil rights.” Wagener claimed that authorities conspired against him because they wanted his opponent Joe Centeno to win the election.
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According to Gary Dunlap, when a local judge refused to change her ruling in Sneddon’s favour, Sneddon brought bogus charges against her, ruined her career and publicly humiliated her by exposing that she was a lesbian. When it became apparent to Sneddon that this judge would be a witness in the Gary Dunlap case, he threatened to bring more charges against her. The judge in question is Diana Hall.
On September 29, 2003, Hall was acquitted on charges of battery but eight months later found herself accused of violating campaign laws. On January 16th, 2004, she showed up at Michael Jackson’s arraignment because she wanted to see how Judge Rodney S. Melville handled motions. Hall told reporters: “I’m not being treated well. This has ruined my reputation, and I’m just not going to take it any longer.”
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Members of the SBPD
In 2002, Santa Barbara County law enforcement groups filed a lawsuit against Tom Sneddon for threatening the police officers’ right to privacy. The lawsuit stems from a policy which allows the District Attorney’s office to give information about police misconduct to defense attorneys at its own discretion. According to Sgt. Mike McGrew, “It’s confusing. He’s an aggressive DA. There are actually no files right now on any officers in Santa Barbara. We really don’t know why he did this.” Future blackmail material perhaps?
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David Allen Richardson, Carina Richardson and George Beeghly
In a civil lawsuit that was settled out of court, David Allen Richardson, Carina Richardson George Beeghly sued Sheriff Jim Thomas and several Santa Barbara police officers for unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest/false imprisonment, excessive force, retaliation for exercise of speech and petition rights, conspiracy to violate civil rights, violation of First Amendment right of association, malicious prosecution, negligence, battery and conspiracy and other charges.
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The Case Sneddon Ignored
Is Tom Sneddon a concerned government official seeking justice for an allegedly abused child or is he merely a prosecutor with a grudge trying to get a conviction? Sneddon’s handling of a past child molestation case would indicate the latter.
In 2002, David Bruce Danielson, a forensic investigator for the Santa Barbara Police Department, was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. After returning home intoxicated, Danielson climbed into his bed where the girl, who was a guest at his home, was sleeping. Danielson admitted to “accidentally” molesting her, claiming he had mistaken her for his wife. Sneddon closed the case stating that there was no evidence to corroborate the girl’s claims.
The girl involved in the case wrote her feelings down in a letter that was published in the Santa Maria Times. “I am astounded at the stupidity the DA showed by allowing this man to be released of all charges. David Danielson may be free, but I am still emotionally trapped. There is not one day that I don’t wish I wouldn’t have come clean.”
About Sneddon’s handling of the Michael Jackson case, the girl’s father said, “Maybe it’s because it is high profile… but still, in her mind it’s the same situation. She’s still angry.”
While it seems that child abuse might not be Tom Sneddon’s first priority, the question still remains whether or not he would really pursue seemingly false allegations in order to carry out his own personal agenda. After learning the facts about the Michael Jackson case and reading through the numerous accusations that have been made against Tom Sneddon, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that…
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In September 2003, a drama teacher named Druyan Byrne was arrested after police were told that Byrne had photographs of a partially nude 15-year-old girl on his camera. Although the photographs were taken for an art project and were not sexual in nature, authorities insisted on going forward with their case against Byrne.
The girl in the photographs, who was brought in for questioning on five separate occasions, repeatedly denied that anything sexual had transpired between her and Byrne. In response, police told the girl that she was a liar and that it was “obvious to everyone around here that there is some kind of relationship going on.”
Santa Barbara Police Detective Stuart Gardner then lied to the girl, falsely stating that police had proof of Byrne’s past sexual relationships with minors. Although no such evidence actually existed, Gardner convinced the girl that Byrne was a sexual predator and that it was up to her to prevent him from harming anybody else. “I’m just telling you the pattern with these guys. And he fits it to a tee,” Gardner told the girl. “Do you see how this could happen to other girls? Do you see how important you are that this isn’t going to happen to any other girls?”
After being interrogated for hours, the girl finally told Gardner that she and Byrne had kissed on the lips, a statement that she later recanted. “I felt the only way I was going to get out of that room was to tell [Gardner] what he wanted and tell him something happened,” she testified.
The case against Druyan Byrne is still pending. Thanks to MJEOL for the info.
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Conrad Jess Zapien
In 1985, Conrad Jess Zapien was arrested for allegedly murdering his brother-in-law’s mistress. While jury selection was underway, Deputy District Attorney Gary Van Camp and investigator Harry Heidt inadvertently came across a tape that belonged to Zapien’s defense counsel. The tape was in a sealed envelope that bore the name of Zapien’s attorney Bill Davis.
Upon finding the package, Van Camp allegedly urged Heidt to open the envelope and listen to the tape. Van Camp later denied ever having made such a statement and both he and Heidt denied ever having listened to the tape, an act that would have violated Zapien’s attorney-client privileges. Rather than return the package to Zapien’s attorney, Heidt discarded of the package by throwing it in a dumpster.
Zapien’s attorney argued that by getting rid of the package, Heidt had “deprived the defense of the only physical evidence it could use to impeach Heidt and Van Camp regarding whether they unsealed the envelope and listened to the tape.” For example, if the envelope was unsealed, he argued, such evidence would have contradicted both Van Camp’s and Heidt’s assertion that they did not open the package. Furthermore, tests could have been conducted on the tape to determine whether or not it had been listened to.
Zapien later filed a motion asking that Tom Sneddon and the entire Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office be recused from the case. Zapien argued that although Sneddon had taken Van Camp off of the case, he failed to properly investigate the violation of Zapien’s attorney-client privileges. He further argued that Sneddon brought an auto theft charge against him even though there was no credible evidence to support the charge. Zapien’s motion was denied.
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In 1985, a man named Anthenasios Boulas retained a lawyer after being arrested for selling cocaine. Shortly after hiring the lawyer, referred to in court documents as “Attorney S,” Boulas also hired a Private Investigator named William Harkness. On Boulas’ behalf, Harkness got in contact with sheriff’s deputy Scott Tunnicliffe to inquire about a possible plea bargain. In exchange for leniency, Boulas would provide authorities with the names of several drug dealers in the area. “Attorney S” was not aware of this potential deal.
After meeting with Boulas and Harkness, Tunnicliffe broached the subject of a plea bargain to Robert Calvert, the Deputy District Attorney at the time. Calvert said that he would only agree to the deal if Boulas fired his attorney and hired a lawyer that met with his approval. After being convinced by Tunnicliffe that “Attorney S” was a drug addict who could not be trusted, Boulas fired him and attempted to find another attorney. Taking the advice of Sheriff’s deputies, he hired “Attorney C,” who later backed out of the case.
Without a lawyer representing him and under the pretense that he would be receiving a plea bargain, Boulas met with authorities and gave them information about several drug dealers in the area. After giving them this information, Boulas was told by authorities that the plea bargain would no longer be possible.
Several months later, Boulas filed a motion to have the charges dismissed. The court ruled that although “conduct by the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department interfered with his rights to counsel and to a fair trial,” they would not drop the charges against him.
Boulas then took his case to a higher court where the case was ultimately dismissed. According to documents, the court found the conduct of Sneddon’s office: “outrageous in the extreme, and shocking to the conscience; we are, thereby, compelled to order the dismissal of the present case.”
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James William Herring
In 1993, the Santa Barbara District’s Attorney’s office was admonished for making racially insensitive comments during the trial of James William Herring, a biracial man who had been accused of rape. During closing arguments, prosecutors described Herring as “primal man in his most basic level… his idea of being loved is sex. He wouldn’t know what love was. He’s like a dog in heat.”
Herring’s conviction was overturned because of the highly prejudicial, unfounded comments that prosecutors made about him throughout the trial. Prosecutors described him as a “parasite” and made the inference that because Herring was unemployed, he was more likely to have raped the complaining witness. Furthermore, prosecutors made inflammatory comments about defense attorneys in general, saying: “my people are victims. His people are rapists, murderers, robbers, child molesters. He has to tell them what to say. He has to help them plan a defense. He does not want you to hear the truth.” Such a statement created the false impression that anyone who is accused of a crime is guilty.
The Court of Appeals ruled that “the prosecutor’s… statements about a biracial defendant are, at the very least, in bad taste” and that his unfounded remarks about Herring’s defense counsel lead to an unfair conviction. As a result, Herring’s conviction was overturned.
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Richard Joal Wagner
In the early 1970s, Richard Joal Wagner was convicted in a Santa Barbara court of selling marijuana. He appealed the jury’s conviction, claiming prosecutorial misconduct during his own cross-examination because prosecutors implied that he had been caught dealing narcotics in the past. Some of the questions asked include:
“Q. Isn’t it true, Mr. Wagner, that in Alaska you are not only in the business of putting up fences, but you are also in the business … of furnishing cocaine a drug, for sale, illegally, isn’t that correct?
“Q. … Isn’t it true that you have in fact sold heroin?
“Q. … To your knowledge, at your place of business, is there any illegal sale of narcotic activity going on?
“Q. … Isn’t it true that on December 30, 1971, that you have received … a shipment of ‘pure pharmacy’ cocaine?
“Q. … Now, isn’t it true that on December 30, 1971, you had in your possession approximately three kilograms of pure pharmacy cocaine . .?
“Q. … Isn’t it true that those three kilograms of cocaine were in a shoebox?”
Although prosecutors failed to present any evidence of Wagner’s alleged past offenses, they created the impression in the minds of the jurors that Wagner had been involved in the sale of narcotics before, thus leading to an unfair conviction. Sneddon was not the District Attorney at the time but he was one of the led prosecutors on the case. The appeals court ruled that the conduct of the District Attorney’s office was prejudicial to the defendant and thus overturned Wagner’s conviction.
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