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admin | Category: Business Phone Numbers | 28.07.2015
The Orange County Superior Court has consistently fallen under budget with in-state travel and over budget with out-of-state travel, court records show.
Orange County Superior Court officials haven't exercised appropriate oversight of their travel and meal expenses, according to a tough new audit by state judicial officials.
Court administrators allowed employees to claim reimbursements for personal items, failed to collect receipts for credit cards and ignored standard procedures intended to protect taxpayer dollars from misuse.
In one case, the report says, officials paid to lodge two employees at a hotel within 10 miles of court headquarters and within 25 miles of the employees' homes. Beyond the audit, budget records show the Orange County court has repeatedly exceeded its budget for out-of-state travel.
Court CEO Alan Carlson downplayed the audit's criticism and questioned the Register's request for more information about the court's travel. The audit comes at a time of increasing financial pressure on Orange County's trial courts. Carlson said the court could also lose an additional $40 million under the governor's budget next year.
The audit, published last month by the state Judicial Council, reviewed a sample of travel and meal expenses. Auditors found the court had exceeded statewide limits on business-related meals and its own limits on employee appreciation events. While auditors concluded the court needed more oversight, the review didn't examine the breadth of its impact. In an effort to answer that question, the Register requested copies of the court's travel records. As for exceeding the budget, court officials said a list of trips is not required when the budget is prepared. Court officials also noted that the total spent on in-state and out-of-state travel hasn't exceeded their budget. Carlson acknowledged that the court had some issues with following state reimbursement rules but said they've been fixed. Court officials initially denied our request for copies of their travel records, citing a shortage of staff to gather them. After we asked the court to reconsider its decision, Wertheimer estimated it would take a minimum of four to eight weeks, and court staff would need to work overtime. We attempted to avoid the records process by merely asking the court about its travel expenses. Sergio Elizarraraz ("Bad Boy"), who court records show unknowingly confessed to his role in a murder to a jailhouse informant, in Santa Ana on a recent afternoon.
Early one March morning in 2007, Santa Ana detectives brought a message of murder to the home of Jaime and Lourdes Gallegos. Yet, county District Attorney Tony Rackaukas’ office and Santa Ana police have for five years known the gang trio responsible for Daniel’s murder, according to county jail informant notes of a secret confession in 2010 by one suspect.
The notes were unsealed for a marathon court hearing last year as the county Public Defenders Office sparred with the DA over records of a long-hidden county jail informant system. Dekraai’s public defenders argue in court records that the case has not been vigorously prosecuted because the DA, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and Santa Ana police feared such a trial could have exposed the secret network of county jail informants, which for years allegedly violated the constitutional rights of numerous defendants.
He lists a home address in Anaheim, but spends days in the Delhi neighborhood of his girlfriend, where he was located last month pushing his young daughter in a stroller.
The story of these murders starts in a 505-page motion filed last February by Dekraai’s lead public defender, Scott Sanders, and continues through the thousands of pages of recently unsealed supporting documents for the motion that shocked the Orange County justice system. From those records, death certificates, interviews and other public documents, details of the murders emerge. That murder victim was Miguel “Michael” Ernesto Fernandez, 19, a former high school freshman football star in Santa Ana.

The acquittal of Bad Boy’s two alleged accomplices -- Juan “Combo” Lopez and Joe “Minor’’ Rodriguez -- occurred after the prosecution called Santa Ana detectives to testify. Sanders alleged a prosecution plan to win a conviction for all those involved in Michael’s murder without disclosing informant evidence previously withheld in earlier conviction cases.
Under that scenario, Sanders stated Bad Boy, Combo and Minor would be convicted and imprisoned for Michael’s murder. More astoundingly, Sanders claims the prosecution gambit also would allow the DA to avoid pursuing murder charges against Bad Boy in yet another gang killing in 2009, thereby insuring informant notes wouldn’t be divulged in that case.
Such actions, Sanders alleges, were part of a larger pattern of misconduct that spans across numerous other cases. In a recent interview after being provided Sanders' motion, Rosie Aquilar, Michael’s aunt who attended the Lopez and Rodriguez trial, said: “We could see the case slipping away during the trial. In an interview, Sanders attributed the discovery of the problematic informant system to “6,000 lucky breaks and a courageous judge” -- speaking of Goethals’ decision to hold the evidentiary hearing, during which the DA repeatedly disclosed even more relevant records. Testifying under immunity at the Dekraai hearing, Moriel acknowledged committing as many as a half-dozen murders himself during his numerous years as a member of the Delhi gang in Santa Ana. While convicted about five years ago for offenses that could have imprisoned him for life, Moriel’s sentencing has been postponed at prosecutors’ request so he could continue to serve his informant role. All the while, court testimony and audio recordings showed law enforcement offered him a secret deal of leniency -- even proposing to help him enter the U.S. Beginning in early 2010, court records show Moriel worked the county jail population like a politician, chatting up so many inmates he secured seven murder confessions in a few months. Court and jail records show either Moriel or targeted inmates would be moved around by sheriff’s deputies, who sought compromising comments for use in prosecutions. Under long-established court precedents, prosecutors have an explicit duty to turn over to the defense material evidence, like such notes. Furthermore, if an informant purposely questioned an inmate, defense attorneys say, the information could be inadmissible in court as a violation of defendant rights. Even though the DA had Bad Boy’s confession to Moriel, court records show the prosecution opted not to go forward with a murder trial for Michael’s killing.
Daniel’s father was equally stunned -- when court records detailing Bad Boy’s alleged role in his son’s murder recently were described to him. After the acquittal in Michael’s case, Sanders asserts that Petersen couldn’t afford trying Bad Boy because of the potential disclosures about Moriel’s informant duties.
In his long motion, Sanders wrote that if Bad Boy’s confession was true, he should be incarcerated for life. Santa Ana police spokesman Anthony Bertagna said no one in the command structure would be interviewed about these events that arose from the Dekraai hearing. In mishandling informant evidence that could help a defendant, prosecutors created a rat's nest of legal intrigue enveloping Michael and Daniel’s cases, along with others. Petersen had successfully convicted a Santa Ana gang leader, Leonel “Downer” Santiago Vega, putting him in prison for life for murder. But court records show Petersen withheld critical evidence from Vega’s Santa Ana defense attorney, Rob Harley.
In February, Vega, 35 -- a former Mexican Mafia “shot caller,” who ordered killings -- got a deal from the DA, whereby after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter he could walk out of prison in four years.
Bad Boy’s defense attorney was Harley -- who just had represented the convicted Vega, and could discover Petersen illegally had withheld from him voluminous informant notes. Fearing this, Petersen’s team instituted an elaborate plan to again hide informant notes from Harley in the coming trial for Michael’s murder, according to Sanders' motion. At the preliminary hearing in 2011 and then trial in 2012, Sanders described how Petersen faced a daunting task of leading his police witnesses through the web of evidence -- without tipping the team’s hand there were more informant notes not disclosed to the defense. This was made more difficult by the fact the Superior Court judge for the trial of Combo and Minor was William R.

Sanders’ motion details Petersen’s prosecutorial ballet leading Santa Ana detectives Rondou and McLeod through the evidence, ever cognizant of the risk that withheld informant notes could be exposed. The detectives’ courtroom act was undertaken to “falsely suggest” that Moriel only talked about Michael’s murder, Sanders wrote. About 20 pages of Moriel notes were provided to the defendants Combo and Minor, said Sanders, when there actually were more than 200 pages that should have been disclosed. But in his Dekraai motion, Sanders wrote that Petersen, Santa Ana police and the sheriff’s department “all were in possession” of a bigger cache of Moriel notes. In an interview, McLeod denied making any false statements in court or engaging in any impropriety, but he declined further comment. Rondou, who could not be reached for comment, retired in February from the Santa Ana police, Bertagna said. Back on the street in late 2012, court records show Bad Boy began parole violations before the end of that year, continuing through last year. In February 2014, court records show Bad Boy was arrested on a parole violation for leaving a drug rehabilitation program in December 2013. Last July, court records show Bad Boy was again detained for a parole violation at a Delhi house for possession of an opium pipe and resisting arrest. The court initially denied a request by the Orange County Register for public records detailing these expenses but after the Register challenged that denial the court said it would produce them in four weeks. In July, state officials who oversee the judicial system voted to cut the county's primary revenue source by $11 million, or roughly 8 percent.
With the court already tapping $19 million from reserves, furloughs or layoffs would become more likely. Though officials eliminated the budget for out-of-state travel, they sent employees in mid-July to a management conference in San Antonio. The documents, general counsel Jeff Wertheimer said, are located in court offices throughout the county. The hearing emerged from the trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, the man responsible for Orange County’s largest-ever mass murder.
Although, a Santa Ana police detective recently said the case’s investigation remains open. Goethals ruled the DA’s office engaged in “misconduct” in the Dekraai case, blocking the use of informant statements and surreptitiously recorded interviews. Voice of OC identified through court records and interviews another murder where similar DA and police irregularities appear to have prevented successful prosecutions. The prosecution in Michael’s case went awry, Sanders claims, due in large part to misconduct on the part of the prosecutor as well as police testifying in the case. If an inmate was charged with a crime and thereby represented by an attorney, such informant questioning also could violate a defendant’s right to counsel. Specifically, the perjury allegations center on testimony by Santa Ana police detectives Matthew L.
At the Dekraai hearing last year, Wagner acknowledged that Sanders raised valid questions about prosecutors failing to disclose evidence to defense attorneys; but he attributed it to a lack of knowledge of the law and not malicious intent. First, all three defendants were charged at different times during 2010 for Michael’s murder, an attempt to limit information sharing among their three attorneys, according to Sanders.
Use of amphetamines, associating with prohibited gang members, and access to a gun are listed as offenses in parole records. The court didn't track the number of employees at a third event, making it impossible to check whether it complied with policy.

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