Fresno Defense Attorneys: DA’s Clogging Courts

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Two Fresno defense attorneys complain that the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is clogging the court system by filing cases it can’t win.

Franz Criego, one of the attorneys raising the charge, pointed to the dismissal he won Friday for a client who faced a misdemeanor parole violation charge. For Criego, it was the 17th misdemeanor dismissal he won in the past month, he said.

Ask him why the courts are clogged and more serious cases are getting stalled, and this is Criego’s prime example.

“The (prosecutors) act now like they have no discretion,” Criego said, “because they want trial stats.”

Fellow Fresno defense attorney Charles Magill has a similar gripe. He called a news conference last week to talk about his client, Frank Van Schaik, who was acquitted on a misdemeanor charge of violating a restraining order against his ex-wife.

“If Frank’s case was unusual, we wouldn’t have a whole lot to talk about,” Magill said.

Both lawyers said the District Attorney’s Office is filing cases that shouldn’t be filed and refusing to entertain any offers of a negotiated plea deal to avoid trial.

The end result, they say, is that bogus cases are moving to trial, and clients are winning — either through dismissal of charges by a judge, acquittal by a judge or jury, or a hung jury where the panel is unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The Fresno County DA’s Office responded to the criticism by citing statistics.

Last year, the office received 24,802 misdemeanor cases for review, in addition to 15,660 felony cases and 1,285 other cases. The total is 41,747 cases.

Of those, only 77 misdemeanor cases went to trial. During the same time, 167 felony cases went to trial.

“The job of the District Attorney’s Office, first and foremost, is to protect victims and the public and prosecute criminals,” spokesman Sonia De La Rosa said in a statement.

But both Magill and Criego — a former public defender who has a contract to defend misdemeanor cases — stand by their sentiments.

The two attorneys say the DA’s Office is not only clogging the courts, it is wasting taxpayer money and souring those who are called for jury service for bad cases.

And, Magill added, the office is hurting people — such as Van Schaik, who was called back from Alabama and forced to come to court daily to see if his case would go to trial. It only did at the absolute deadline, Magill said — and then he was acquitted.

Van Schaik said he was drained financially and emotionally.

“To put it bluntly, it basically destroyed my life,” he said.

Fresno County Superior Court spokeswoman Sherry Spears said the court couldn’t comment on the criticism raised by Magill and Criego, “except to say that it is the sole discretion of the DA to determine what gets filed, and what offers, if any, (the DA’s Office) may make or accept in any given case. And our responsibility as a court is to process all the cases that come to us as effectively and efficiently as we can with the resources that we have.”

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