A judge rejected a plea deal Thursday for a Fresno businessman who expected to get off with a misdemeanor for threatening another judge and a prosecutor in his wife’s drunken-driving case.
The bizarre case of Michael Hamburger started when he sent a text message to a close friend — Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Kalemkarian — in March: “Tell Mr. Reynolds and Smith I’m going to have them killed,” the text said.
Hamburger later said he had had a few drinks and was venting when he sent the text. Kalemkarian, however, viewed the text as a death threat to prosecutor Kendall Reynolds and Judge Bruce Smith and notified law enforcement.
Hamburger, 48, was arrested and charged with making criminal threats and threatening a judge and court official.
On May 9, Hamburger pleaded no contest in Fresno County Superior Court to four felony charges. In a plea agreement, the charges were supposed to be reduced to misdemeanors and Hamburger would get probation.
But Gerald Sevier, a retired Tulare County judge assigned to the case, said Thursday he could not honor the plea deal after reading a probation report about Hamburger.
The confidential report is typically given to a judge at the time of sentencing. Neither prosecutor Robert Romanacce nor Hamburger’s lawyer, Miles Harris, would comment on what the report said.
But Harris appeared upset, telling reporters afterward that Sevier had initially agreed to abide by the plea deal. He and Hamburger then left the courthouse without commenting.
Hamburger’s troubles started on March 28, when he voiced his frustration while on the witness stand in his wife’s drunken-driving case. He became indignant about objections and Smith prohibiting him from answering questions.
Smith held him in contempt of court and fined him $100.
After being ordered from the courtroom, Hamburger went out for a few drinks. Meantime, the judge had ruled a mistrial in Kristene Hamburger’s drunken-driving case.
At the bar, Hamburger sent text messages to Kalemkarian, including the one that offended him. The following morning, Hamburger walked out the door of his Fort Washington-area home and was arrested. He posted $250,000 bail to get out of jail.
In an interview in April, Hamburger, who is a contractor, said he didn’t recall sending the text. “If I did send that text it was out of frustration, and that’s why you have friends,” he said. “To vent.”
He also said then: “At no time was I trying to or attempting to threaten or scare anyone. My frustrations at the time were high given my wife’s pending case and the strain that has been put on our relationship.”
Hamburger said he wrote an apology letter to both Reynolds and Smith. He also said he was “very saddened” of Kalemkarian’s decision to notify law enforcement about the text. If the roles were reversed and Kalemkarian sent off the text, Hamburger said as a friend he would have gone and picked up Kalemkarian, taken him home and sought out whether he meant to send such a message.
“I thought of him as a very, very dear friend. This was not a judge-friend relationship, it was a friend-friend relationship,” Hamburger said.
Kalemkarian has declined to talk about the case, but might have to give his account as a witness in Hamburger’s pending trial.
Thursday, Sevier ordered Hamburger to return to court on Oct. 8 for his preliminary hearing on the threat charges. The judge also ordered Hamburger’s wife, Kristene, to return to court on Sept. 5 for her trial.
She was arrested by police while leaving a smog station in October 2011. A clerk at the smog station called police, believing that Hamburger was intoxicated because she was slurring her speech. Police surrounded her car when she left the smog station on Sierra Avenue near Blackstone Avenue.
In a previous interview, Harris said Kristene Hamburger was very sick that morning and she was taking prescription medication because of back problems.
The Fresno Bee (Pablo Lopez)