Archive for the ‘Brandon McInerney’ Category

Things have begun to pick up dramatically this week as we move closer to commemorating the first anniversary of Larry King’s death, this Thursday, February 12. In the meantime, Brandon McInerney, who just turned fifteen, sits uncomfortably in a Ventura jail awaiting his fate for murdering his fifteen-year-old classmate. We will soon review the local media’s coverage of the event as well as the writ that was filed by the defense in an effort to reverse Judge Riley’s denial last month of the defense motion for discovery in an effort to prove that the prosecutors abused Brandon’s due process rights.

Below, please find the editorial I wrote and the Ventura County Star published this past Sunday regarding Brandon’s plight. The whole reason for the editorial was an effort to help enlighten our community as to the laws, that we the voters of California helped to pass, that allow the prosecutors to file juvenile cases in adult court. Please, let us know what you think…


Trying 14-year-old as an adult does not serve justice

By Michael Mehas
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fourteen-year-old murder suspect Brandon McInerney deserves a juvenile-court fitness hearing to help determine his fate. He needs to be given an opportunity by an unbiased judge to determine whether or not he is amenable to rehabilitation before he is destroyed by what will amount to a life sentence in an adult criminal prison — and here’s why.

There are nearly 3,000 children in the U.S. who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses as juveniles now serving life sentences in adult prisons, with no possibility for parole. Nearly 300 of these children are serving life sentences in California prisons, some of them having been convicted in Ventura County.

The life without parole sentence condemns a child to die in prison. Next to the death penalty, it is the harshest sentence that may be imposed on an adult. Inflicting such a punishment on a child opposes not only the modern understanding that children have tremendous potential for growth and maturity as they move toward adulthood, but also the widely held belief in rehabilitation and redemption for youths. It has been noted that this growth potential counters the desire to sentence youthful offenders to long terms of incarceration in order to ensure public safety.

Experts have long asserted that children cannot be expected to achieve the same level of psychological and neurological development as adults. Even as teenagers, they lack the same capacity as an adult to use reasoned judgment, to prevent harmful action generated as a result of intense emotion and fear, and to understand the long-term consequences of rash decisions and actions. Many of the children sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole compare it to a death sentence carried out by the government over an excruciating and extended period of time.

Children endure hopelessness, emotional hardship and neglect while serving time in the adult prison system. They may also be subjugated to threats of physical violence and murder.

Brandon McInerney

Last February, within 48 hours of 14-year-old Brandon McInerney walking into English class at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard and shooting 15-year-old Larry King to death, Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox made the decision to charge Brandon as an adult. At the time, Fox had the legal discretion to charge Brandon as a juvenile, allowing him a fitness hearing to determine if he would be amenable to rehabilitation. Instead, the senior deputy district attorney chose to charge Brandon with one count of murder and two enhancements, use of a gun and hate crime.

If Brandon is found guilty in this slam-dunk case (30 classmates witnessed what he did), he will be required to serve the next 51 years of his life in an adult men’s prison. That’s because count 1 carries with it a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life with no possibility of parole. The gun enhancement carries a mandatory minimum of 25 years with no possibility of parole. And the hate crime enhancement carries a one- to three-year consecutive term. That adds up to 51 mandatory minimum years Brandon will serve. He will not be eligible for parole until he’s 65. For all intents and purposes, this amounts to life without parole.

Novel defense motion

In a desperate effort to counter this reality, last month, Brandon’s attorneys filed a motion in an effort to discover any notes, communications, internal memos, guidelines or other items that might constitute material evidence for his defense that the District Attorney’s Office “abused their discretion by filing an accusatory pleading in criminal court, and that in so doing the prosecution denies him of his liberty without due process of law.”

The defense alleges that Fox filed the case in adult court based strictly on the severity of the offense. They cite the fact that the prosecutor set forth in her pleadings only the facts of the case as the basis to support her filing decision, and nothing more, and this, in turn, is a violation of their client’s due process rights.

The defense further charges that California’s Welfare and Institutions Code section 707 clearly states that 14 years of age plus the offense as charged creates a situation where the district attorney can “permissively” file the case in adult court. It is not mandatory.

The defense argues the district attorney should have taken more into consideration than just the nature of the offense when he decided to direct file the case in adult criminal court.

By not considering such factors as Brandon having no prior criminal history, his barely being 14 years old (by 19 days) when the offense was committed, his terribly volatile domestic life, and the extreme circumstances surrounding the case at school and with school officials, the district attorney violated Brandon’s due process rights, and the case should have been dismissed.

This would have allowed the district attorney to then request a fitness hearing in juvenile court, and these above enumerated factors, and others, would be considered by the judge as he decided whether Brandon was amenable to treatment.

Prosecution’s reaction

In response, the district attorney appears not to have taken the defense’s motion seriously. The defense contends that in her opposition to Brandon’s formal motion for discovery, Fox spent nearly six pages addressing the legal standard by which a defendant may seek and obtain discovery, but failed to address the legal theory upon which Brandon sought discovery.

Then, in court, while waiting for the judge to take the bench to hear the argument for the motion, Fox could be heard joking and laughing loudly in the back of the courtroom with one of her investigators and another deputy district attorney. This upset Brandon’s mother so much that she had to be escorted out of the courtroom in tears. When the judge took the bench, Fox then stepped up to the podium and told the court the defense motion was “bush league,” and must be denied. The court did deny Brandon’s motion, and now the defense promises to seek appellate relief.

The problem

The problem with the case stems from the fact that Fox and the District Attorney’s Office seem to hold all the cards, and they possess a total unwillingness to reveal them to anyone. Dec. 30, Fox was quoted in The Star as saying: “Guess what? They aren’t entitled to know what is mulling around in the DA’s mind. They have zero, no legal basis for getting this material.”

Technically speaking, Fox might be right. She could make this decision as she chooses, with no checks and balances over her decision-making process.

Even judges have the appellate court to oversee their questionable calls, but not the prosecutor. Is this justice? Maybe. Maybe not. To better comprehend the Ventura County district attorney’s position, however, one needs to understand some of the background behind juvenile-court waivers.

Juvenile waiver laws

Based on the public belief that juvenile crime was rapidly rising, combined with the notion that the consequences minors faced in the juvenile-justice system were too lenient, “get tough” laws were enacted across our nation. One of these new policies included the revisions to what are called juvenile “waiver” laws, where a “waiver” of juvenile court jurisdiction was used under certain circumstances to transfer a child’s case from juvenile court to the adult criminal court system. In the state of California, guidelines for the waiver process can be found in California’s Welfare and Institutions Code section 707.

In an effort to battle youthful offenders committing serious crimes, in March of 2000, California voters passed Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act. This made it easier for juveniles to be transferred into the adult criminal court system by lowering the age limits at which the adult criminal court can take jurisdiction, adding other transfer mechanisms, and enumerating more crimes requiring mandatory transfer. Even more importantly, Proposition 21 shifted the focus of juvenile justice to one of punishment, instead of rehabilitation.

The resulting statutory changes made by Proposition 21 have raised serious questions as to the political agendas behind this kind of legislation. Besides focusing on punishment instead of rehabilitation, Proposition 21 shifts discretionary power from judges to prosecutors and from the courts to legislators who have political agendas and the power to manipulate voters.

Waiver process

From its inception, the juvenile-court system has been based on the premise that the court would act in the best interest of the child. The juvenile court emphasized treatment, supervision and control, with the long-range goals of resolving the wayward child’s family, social and personal problems, and preparing the youth for a law-abiding, healthy and productive adulthood.

Additionally, the juvenile courts provided immunities and special rights for children such as detaining them only among other juveniles and shielding them from the media.

Up until the mid-1960s, the juvenile court held jurisdiction over all offenders under the age of 18, with the exception of cases waived to adult criminal court after a full investigation was made to decide whether or not a youth offender was fit for the juvenile-court process. In 1966, the juvenile-court system underwent its first major change. Guidelines were created for due process in the juvenile-court requiring fitness hearings, right to counsel and a statement of reasons by the court for any waiver decision.

In California, until voters passed Proposition 21, the juvenile court had relied solely on the judicial mechanism via fitness hearing for waiving children to adult criminal court. Proposition 21 then authorized two new means for transfer: legislative and prosecutorial waiver.

Due process

Due process is required in the judicial waiver of juvenile-court jurisdiction. When a child is arrested and has committed one of the listed violent offenses in section 707(b) of the Welfare and Institutions Code after reaching the age of 14 or 16, depending on the offense as provided by Proposition 21, the District Attorney’s Office has 48 hours to decide whether or not to request a fitness hearing. After the fitness hearing is requested, the juvenile defendant usually waives his right to a speedy trial. This allows the defense and prosecution time to prepare their arguments for the fitness hearing, and for the probation department to draft its own fitness report on the juvenile.

All three entities involved utilize section 707, which addresses the following criteria to decide fitness for rehabilitation: 1. The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor. 2. Whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. 3. The minor’s previous delinquent history. 4. Success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor. 5. The circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition to have been committed by the minor.

The fitness hearing process is quite thorough for all involved. After considering all the statements, witnesses, expert witnesses, as well as the five-point criteria listed above, the judge makes a decision as to whether the minor is amenable to rehabilitation through the juvenile-court system. Other factors are weighed in such as public safety and the best interest of the child. If the child is deemed fit, he or she remains under the jurisdiction of the juvenile system. If the judge decides that a minor is unfit, the child is then tried in the adult criminal court.

Prosecutorial waiver

Proposition 21 gives prosecutors discretion to file certain cases directly into adult criminal court. This process has limitations on age and offense criteria, as do other transfer methods.

The Proposition 21 provision that allows prosecutors to direct file juvenile cases in adult court is highly controversial. Many legal experts consider the law to be a violation of the separation of powers, transferring a judicial discretionary power to the prosecutor or executive power in the court system. One California Appellate Court agreed, ruling that “giving prosecutors discretion to charge someone younger than 18 as an adult has the unfair effect of also determining how the youth will be sentenced.”

Public safety

It is the district attorney’s job to ensure the protection of public safety. Yet, the defense attorneys in the Brandon case question the wisdom, for public-safety purposes, of sending a kid to an adult prison for punitive purposes, where he would be subjected to violence, abuse and manipulation from violent, dangerous offenders.

Brandon’s attorney, Scott Wippert, addressed his concerns this way: “In prison you have to adapt And they don’t offer them services and they do not treat them as children, as they would in the juvenile system. And, again, he (Brandon) has the ability to learn and to change. His emotions are different than those of adults. And just the capacity to understand the gravity of your actions and the response, the consequence, isn’t there. If he does in fact go to prison, and if he ever does get out, which is unlikely, but if he does would he be safer to the public at that point than if he actually went through a juvenile system where they in fact try to rehabilitate him? Absolutely not. The best thing for this trial for public safety is to give him services and to help him learn from this horrible mistake in this decision he made.”

Conclusion

It would be in the best interest of public safety, and all the parties concerned, for the Ventura County district attorney to refile this case in juvenile court so that Brandon can have a fitness hearing. At such a hearing, Brandon would be deemed unfit, and the burden would be on his attorneys to prove that he is amenable to rehabilitation through the juvenile-court system. If Brandon were deemed fit for treatment, it would provide the county of Ventura with 11 years to rehabilitate a kid whose attorneys say should be rehabilitated.

Fox prosecutes adults charged with very serious crimes. She has already given up on this child after just 14 years of his life. But there’s still time to turn Brandon around, and there have been no signs exhibited thus far that point to him as being untreatable.

Civilized countries all across the world acknowledge that children possess an enormous capacity to change as they mature from adolescence to middle age. It is time for the Ventura County district attorney to acknowledge this.

— Michael Mehas of Ventura is an attorney, associate producer of the film “Alpha Dog,” and author of the award-winning novel “Stolen Boy,” both based on Jesse James Hollywood, the youngest man ever on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He also writes about troubled youths at http://www.StolenBoy.com and can be reached at http://www.MichaelMehas.com.

It was a surreal day today at the Ventura County Courthouse as I made my way into Department 14 for what was scheduled to be Brandon McInerney’s preliminary hearing. But it didn’t go off, as I figured it might not, because Brandon’s attorneys were experiencing delays in getting their appeal filed, and they needed more time to pursue their discovery issue as it pertains to the Ventura County District Attorney and how they direct file discretionary juvenile cases in adult criminal court.

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Brandon’s attorneys Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson.

Robyn Bramson and Scott Wippert made the necessary appearances on their teenage client’s behalf, and Maeve Fox dressed for success on the side of the People. But there were no smiles or half jokes emanating from either side of the courtroom on this case on this day. Faces were stern, and the mood in and around the courtroom was somber and brittle. One prelim was already in action when Stolen Boy arrived, one migrant farm worker being accused of slashing another across the face for dirtying up his folding knife at a local labor camp. Then, at about 9:15 a.m. Brandon was brought into the cage and the attorneys continued the case until March 17, with a 30-day time waiver beyond that date. And that was it. After court, Stolen Boy hustled out into the hallway to catch up with Brandon’s two attorneys to test their feelings on the prelim, their client, the appeal, and the law as it pertains to juveniles being tried in adult court.

 


Q: What is the basis for the appeal you continued the prelim for?

ROBYN BRAMSON: …Judge Riley’s summary denial of the discovery motion.

Q: On what grounds was it denied?

BRAMSON: The grounds weren’t really clear because her record wasn’t all that clear. But, basically the issue on the writ is whether there is such a defense as abuse of prosecutorial discretion for a district attorney’s filing of a discretionary direct file case in adult court without sufficient consideration of factors other than age and alleged offense.

Q: What is the status of the writ?

BRAMSON: The writ is almost done. The court reporter took a little bit longer to get us the transcript than we had anticipated, so it delayed the process. But it’s almost done, and we anticipate filing it this week, or next week at the latest.

Q: Could you elaborate on the basis of your filing?

BRAMSON: The writ is asking the appellate court to reverse Judge (Rebecca) Riley’s denial of the discovery motion. And the issue on the writ basically turns on whether or not there is a defense for abuse of prosecutorial discretion… Properly evaluating a case prior to discretionarily direct filing it in criminal court.

Q: Why is it so important to take this step with the writ?

SCOTT WIPPERT: I think we disagree strongly with Judge Riley’s decision. So that is the appropriate process…to take it to another court…somebody who will consider it more. And we’ll actually brief it, and put more information and give that appellate court more information so they can look as to whether or not Judge Riley made the right or wrong decision.

Q: So what happened in court today?

WIPPERT: Today we just merely continued the preliminary hearing until March 17th so that we can continue to handle these legal issues before we deal with any of the factual issues, that being the prelim.

Q: Do you think the prelim will go on that date in spite of this writ?

BRAMSON: I couldn’t tell you at this point. We have to continue to file the appropriate legal papers and then see how long the appellate court is going to take to respond.

Q: Why is there a question as to whether you have the defense as to abuse of discretion?

BRAMSON: It’s never been raised before, as far as we know.

Q: You mean as far as your research here in California?

BRAMSON: Right. Exactly… And I think that was something Judge Riley was presented with – the absence of a previous court saying that this is a defense. She wasn’t willing to extend prior cases to this area and say that such a defense exists. So, at this point we need to get either the appellate court or the California Supreme Court to recognize this is an issue, and hopefully acknowledge that this is a valid defense.

Q: What else should they consider in your opinion?

BRAMSON: The more I research this issue the more I feel like it’s not appropriate for defense attorneys or for the Court to dictate to the district attorney what factors they should or should not be considering, because Proposition 21 changed that. It took away those previously specified criteria of what was required for a fitness determination. Our position is that a fitness determination is still required and (Welfare and Institutions Code section) 707(d)2 imposes upon the district attorney a duty to assess fitness, but what factors they need to look at – that is up to their discretion. But to not consider anything other than offense in our view constitutes an abuse of their discretion.

WIPPERT: And for us to even explore whether or not they did abuse their discretion, and, again, based on their own filings and comments to the media we believe they did abuse their discretion. But for us to…investigate whether or not that in fact is true, as it appears, we need to get the discovery. And that’s the whole purpose of filing the writ. It’s having another judge, or actually several take a look at Judge Riley’s decision and hopefully agree with us that we have a right to know what factors they did in fact use in deciding whether or not to prosecute him as an adult. And if they have nothing to hide, then certainly we should get those. But the focus of the writ is whether or not the judge erred in denying our motion. And that’s the only focus of the writ.

Q: Can you tell us more re the basis of the motion you’re appealing?

WIPPERT: It was a discovery motion where we were asking for specific internal guidelines that they might have that they use in determining whether or not they specifically, not only in this case, but what their policies are as to when they file cases that are permissive direct files – what they use to determine whether or not they should in fact charge this person as an adult or juvenile. And what we’re seeking are their internal guidelines that they use in all cases as well as statistics of how many cases they did in fact direct file (in adult court) when they had the opportunity to. And more specifically in this particular case we asked what they did in determining…to in fact prosecute Brandon as an adult.

Q: And what did the judge do?

WIPPERT: The judge denied our request. And it’s somewhat unclear from her ruling as to what legal basis she used to deny it. But it appears from her last statement that there’s no authority so therefore she wasn’t about to start making any.

Q: What legal remedy do you seek as a result of the writ you intend to file?

BRAMSON: Ultimately, what we would like to see is either the Second District Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court, by way of petition for review in the supreme court, issue a ruling that says there is such a defense for a prosecutor’s abuse of discretion in a direct filing case. And then our next step would be a pretrial motion to dismiss for abuse of discretion. And then a dismissal, which would result in a refilling of the case in juvenile court, which is where we feel it should be.

Q: And then what would happen?

WIPPERT: The writ is focusing on the discovery. Just because we win, and we expect to win the writ…we need to get the discovery motion denial overturned – and granted – and see what in fact is turned over pursuant to that discovery motion. But, again, it is our position just from what we know already and seen already that in fact the case should be ultimately dismissed as abuse of discretion. But this is a tool for us to get to that position legally. Where we can convince a judge to in fact dismiss it because they abused their discretion and right now it seems that they’re (Ventura County District Attorney) hiding behind that discretion.

Q: And if it were dismissed you would expect the district attorney to refile in juvenile court and request a fitness hearing at that point to see if Brandon were amenable to rehab through juvenile court?

BRAMSON: That’s exactly right. Our position is that that’s the way this case should have proceeded a year ago.

Q: That Brandon should have been entitled to a fitness hearing to determine if he is amenable to treatment?

BRAMSON: Right…

WIPPERT: Or certainly the district attorney should have gone through some analysis. Because, again, if you look at our briefing, and I think we’ve been consistent all along, is that it is our position that just because they have the option – they may file in adult court on a case like Brandon’s – that they should not in every case. And that although Prop 21 gave them the discretion to file in certain cases, certainly it did not take out those factors in determining whether or not to file. So, again, we’re not in a position to tell them what discretionary factors they should’ve used, but I think 707 and the fitness hearing criteria is certainly a place to start. Because, again it is a determination on whether or not the child should be prosecuted as an adult. Whether or not he can be rehabilitated. It’s just an issue of whether or not that decision and that determination should be made by a judge or a district attorney before they file the charges…

BRAMSON: …This all resulted in shifting the duty of this determination from the judge to the district attorney in these cases. So, they have a legal duty to make a reasoned determination in these cases. And the California Supreme Court, in a case called Mandaley, which was several years ago, talked about the changes made to Welfare and Institutions Code 707(d) via Proposition 21. And what it says is this proposition gives the district attorney the authority to adopt their own criteria for determining which of these cases are properly filed in adult court. We’re just asking for what, in the wake of the Mandaley case, this office is doing to comply with that mandate. What criteria have you adopted? What standards do you use? What is the decision making process that you are going through re each of these kids in determining which kid could still benefit from the juvenile justice system, and which kids cannot? In this case it appears that there was no analysis. And this is not based on bits of information that we’re grasping on. But this is coming from the admission of the district attorney… When we were in court last time, Ms. Fox acknowledged that they have no criteria, which is troubling. Because, again, California Supreme Court is telling them that they’re supposed to adopt such criteria and here we are like nine years later and apparently it just comes down to a willy-nilly decision. And that’s frightening. And that’s why this issue is so important. Because not only is this decision making process going on in this county, it’s going on in counties all over the state… Imagine the impact this is having on so many children’s lives. If this decision is just coming down to the whim of the district attorney on any particular day at any particular moment, as opposed to…analysis that really takes into consideration what is appropriate for this particular kid.

After listening to lawyers argue Brandon McInerney’s discovery motion last week in Department 46, Stolen Boy caught up with three of Brandon’s attorneys outside the Ventura County Courthouse. Lead attorney Scott Wippert, his colleague from the United Defense Group, Josh Solberg, and co-counsel and sole practitioner Robyn Bramson, took some precious time from their busy schedules to explain what they’re trying to do to save their fourteen-year-old client’s life, and why. I think you’ll find their answers fascinating, with some interesting surprises.

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Brandon McInerney’s attorneys contemplate their next move.
Q: How did you get involved in this case?

BRAMSON: We read about it in the paper, in the Daily News over lunch one day. There was a little article about the ruling on the demurrer which was a motion brought by his former attorneys. And, anyway, it was denied…and we had some concerns about the quality of representation that Brandon was getting. We’re concerned that he was probably going to end up spending the rest of his life in prison, and we wanted to help him.

SOLBERG: And not just about the quality of the representation that he was getting, but about the direction that his representatives were taking with his defense.

Q: What was that direction?

WIPPERT: Well, the first we learned of the case…again, we read an article where Willy Quest was quoted as saying he wanted to push this case to trial as soon as possible because of Brandon’s youthful appearance. And that he doesn’t think that he wants somebody other than the district attorney to make a decision on whether or not this child is going to spend the rest of his life in prison… The judge does not have any options in sentencing, so it is not an issue of getting in front of a jury, and a jury having pity on Brandon because he’s a kid. And if it goes to a jury, the issue is guilt or innocence, and not punishment. And the comments he was making implied that the jury would have the power to determine whether or not, and how long, Brandon would be in prison, which, in fact is not the case…

Q: Actually, what I understood from speaking with Mr. Quest was that he hoping to be able to claim a manslaughter defense and get a jury instruction to the jury on a manslaughter defense. A manslaughter verdict would enable some sentencing discretion.

WIPPERT: …Obviously if this case goes to trial there will be an issue of provocation and whether or not first degree will get down to second degree or possibly voluntary manslaughter. But that’s an issue we do not have to accelerate now.

BRAMSON: Our position was that they’re missing a lot of other really important…legal issues that need to be litigated before you even get to that issue… A trial is going to happen if it needs to happen…

Q: What legal issues are you speaking of?

SOLBERG: There’s an important step that is unique to juveniles… In some cases the DA, according to the law, is told (in regards to) these juveniles, you have to file the case in adult court, which means the person is potentially looking at prison time in adult prison. Other cases, the law tells the district attorney you have the discretion to file this in adult court or to file it in juvenile court. This is one of those cases. The district attorney in this case filed it in adult court, meaning that Brandon is facing time in adult prison, potentially, if a jury ever decided that he had done what’s been alleged against him. What we’re saying today is the DA didn’t take seriously their obligation to weigh various factors in deciding whether to file in adult court or to file in juvenile court. It appears to us from what the representatives of the people have said to news outlets and other context, that as soon as they saw the facts of the alleged offense they decided the only thing we can do is file in adult court. Which means they didn’t take into account other factors that they should have taken into account.

Q: How do you see the difference of adult court versus juvi for Brandon?

WIPPERT: It’s a night and day difference. Not only the consequence(s), obviously. The maximum time he’d be looking at in juvenile prison would be until he’s twenty-five. And, obviously, he’s looking at the rest of his life in prison, in adult court. In addition, being housed in an adult prison is much different than being a child, going through with other youths in a youth prison… There’s rehabilitation. They give you schooling. They give you counseling. They give you therapy. They give you the things that you need to rehabilitate yourself. And we have to really remember that this is a child, and that these were children. And we are looking at these issues and this case as grownups, as adults. And when this event happened these were fourteen and fifteen-year-old kids. And their body mechanics and their way of thinking and their emotions, and everything else, are a lot different than what we have today. And it’s hard for adults to really recognize that. And I think it’s unfair for adults – they’re not his peers – there will be adults that will be on a jury that will decide his fate. They don’t let fourteen and fifteen year olds be on the jury. So it is up to us to explain to these adult jurors the issues that these children were dealing with, and it’s a scary premise. And in juvenile court you have a judge. And usually that judge primarily handles juvenile cases, so tends to have more empathy, has more understanding of the issues that children deal with.

Q: How is it that a child can be tried as an adult to begin with?

BRAMSON: That’s because of Prop 21, which was the proposition that the voters of the state of California voted into law back in 1999. It went into affect in March 2000… Which basically allows for them (Ventura County District Attorney) to do what they’re doing in this case. It says under certain circumstances the district attorney can file…a case involving a minor, fourteen years or older, in criminal court. And they can do so in the case of murder, and that’s what Brandon’s charged with. So that law actually lowered the age from sixteen years of age to fourteen years of age, in certain circumstances. So that’s where Brandon is affected by this, because he was just a couple weeks into his fourteenth year.

Q: And so what moves can you make to get him away from that destiny?

WIPPERT: …There is still a system in place (in juvenile court) that if a judge determines that he cannot be rehabilitated, cannot go back into society and not be a threat, the judge will make a determination. And then it will be shipped to adult court. But that judge will use many factors. Not only the age and the crime, but the severity of the crime, the environment of the occurrence the crime. Whether or not the person has a record. And there’s many other factors that that judge who deals primarily with juvenile cases will be able to take into account before that decision is made to file in adult court. And it’s really important for people to remember that the district attorney always refers to themselves as the People. The People. I’m one of those persons. And I’m one of those persons that voted for or against it, as we all are. The point is when that law was passed it was under the guise of gang enforcement. And these were the worst of the worse. And these are kids that obviously are not amenable to rehabilitation, then, why waste the court’s time? This is not a gang case… And I don’t think the voters contemplated this type of case being in this situation when we first voted for it. And, as the People, again, I think it’s a scary premise for us to allow that much power into the district attorney’s hands, and not a least have a judge have the ability to go say, What did you do? What did you consider in making this determination, which is what we’re asking.

SOLBERG: That’s what we were asking for today.

WIPPERT: If it was a factual determination. If it was a decision that was made based on certain factors, then what are those? Why hide that from us? There’s no reason to do that. The people who voted on this should have the comfort in knowing that we trust this district attorney to exercise it’s power and its authority. And why can’t we question whether or not you actually did?

BRAMSON: And, it’s not just us as his defense attorneys, in my opinion. This inquiry, this wanting to know, why did you make this decision in this case, it’s not just coming from us as his defense attorney’s but us as voters of the state of California. I think everybody is entitled to know what you’re doing with the power that we gave to you. They only have the ability to do this because we gave them this ability. And it’s like what’s going on right now with the federal government with all these bailouts. It’s, okay, if we give you this money, if we give you this power, what are you doing with it. You know, the government needs to be accountable for what it’s doing. This is our government, you know. And Brandon’s government.

SOLBERG: As far as the district attorney is concerned, there’s no oversight over how we make our decision. That’s what they said.

WIPPERT: And that’s scary… We will writ this. We will go the appellate court and say that this judge was wrong. What the DA is saying is that there is no further step beyond the district attorney. We said so, so therefore we win. We do what we want, and nobody is ever going to say that we did it improperly, because we will never give you the tools to determine whether or not we exercised discretion. Even judges have other judges review their findings. And the district attorney essentially said today that we are immune from any oversight whatsoever in this regard. And we disagree.

End of part one of two….

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Scott Wippert, Robyn Bramson, and Josh Solberg arrive in court. 

Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox is bent on punishing fourteen-year-old murder suspect Brandon McInerney - to death. She’s already bypassed any legal scenario where Larry King’s alleged teenage killer might get a fitness hearing to determine whether or not he is amenable to rehabilitation through juvenile court, by deciding to directly file the case in adult court. With thirty witnesses saying that Brandon shot Larry, and at least 51 mandatory years facing Brandon, he’s as good as dead.

Or is he?

HELP COULD BE ON ITS WAY

Not if his lawyers can help it. As reported here first, Brandon’s father fired his previous attorney and has brought on a team of young and aggressive lawyers who drive up from LA, while paying their costs out of their own pockets, just to try to save a kid’s life. And then when they get here, they get to listen to the DA, Maeve Fox, oppose the motion by telling the court, and all the world, that their motion is “Bush League.”

Scott Wippert, Robyn Bramson, Josh Solberg, and Summer McKiever head a defense that has filed a motion to discover documents in possession of the district attorney to show how Ventura County prosecutors decide when juvenile offenders will be tried in adult court. If granted, this motion would inform them, and the world, as to what factors the Ventura DA uses in charging juveniles as adults, and, in particular, what they considered when filing Brandon’s case in adult court earlier this year. But, of course, Maeve Fox has other ideas.

BUSH LEAGUE

“Guess what?” the senior Deputy District Attorney says about Brandon’s attorneys request. “They aren’t entitled to know what is mulling around in the DA’s mind.”

Say what? Who exactly does Ms. Fox think she is? She’s not the district attorney, that’s for sure. That job belongs to Gregory Totten. Secondly, Mr. Totten was elected by the People of the county of Ventura. We voted him into office, and he represents us: the People. And yes, I do vehemently disagree with Ms. Fox and her severe punish-to-the-max-with-no-compassion mentality. I believe that we the People of the county of Ventura do have a right to know what our duly elected district attorney is doing to our children who are accused of serious crimes.

A NOVEL APPROACH

Wippert, Bramson, Solberg, and McKiever are attempting to do something that no one else may ever have attempted. It’s a novel legal approach to breathe life into the darkness of not only a very ugly case that may ultimately take the life of two of our teenage citizens, but also of what goes on in the Ventura County District Attorney’s office. And it may be the only chance Brandon McInerney has to survive.

Because of the way Fox has chosen to charge the case, Brandon is as good as a dead boy walking. But with four attorneys who possess a determination the size of the Pacific, and with a little help from a courageous appellate court, Brandon just may, ultimately, win the right to a fitness hearing to determine if he might actually be amenable to rehabilitation, be tried in juvenile court, and earn the right to turn his life around.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH THE ATTORNEYS

After court, Wippert, Bramson, and Solberg took a few moments to explain what they’re trying to do, and why it could be so important to all the voters in the state of California.

Please enjoy part one of two with three of Brandon McInerney’s fascinating new attorneys:

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 The crowd gathers for discovery motion.
Q: You filed a motion to basically dismiss the case in its entirety based on the abuse of the discretion of the prosecutor in direct filing this case into adult court?
SCOTT WIPPERT: Yes, exactly.
Q: And that was denied by the judge?

WIPPERT: Yes, that was denied, and I don’t even think it was considered by this judge, quite frankly. I think that this is an issue that they don’t understand. And I think that was clear from the district attorney’s comments, as well as the judge. At first the judge talks about whether or not this mysterious threshold was met. And Ms. Bramson I believe clearly asked her, “Is there a threshold that we could make?” And then the judge backtracked and said, “No, there’s no authority for this…” And, you know, that’s how law gets changed. If there’s no authority for something, then it goes up to the appellate court. And that’s how authority happens. That’s how law happens… There are issues everyday that go up to the appellate court… The best-case scenario is having a trial judge, a judge ruling on the motion, who has the courage to actually follow the law, and the spirit of the law. And a lot of times that doesn’t happen. And we have to take it to the appellate court, where we have people who consider it more. And, hopefully, again follow the spirit of the law. And, with reason, look at our arguments, and not just respond like this judge did.

Q: How do you make the legal distinction between the mandatory provision versus the permissive provision in the charging laws for prosecutors?

WIPPERT: Well, there are certain cases that are mandatory direct filing…

Q: Like what?

WIPPERT: If there was a murder case where there was a lying in wait allegation, or something to that degree. There are certain categories that would make it so that the DA would have to file it that way. And this is not. It’s permissive. And even in their motion they say it would be an abuse of discretion to not file it that way. And again, in our mind and our argument by even saying that they did not exercise any discretion. And they abused their discretion by not doing that. So, the case should have been dismissed today, just based on their own arguments within their brief.

Q: What specific factors can you point to as to why they didn’t exercise any discretion?

WIPPERT: Ms. Bramson?

Q: Ms. Bramson… Can you site an specific factors that make you believe the prosecution didn’t use any discretion in direct filing this case into adult court?

Attorney Robyn Bramson then took over to answer.

BRAMSON: They “say” that they filed it based on the severity of the offense. They say – Maeve had said – that she filed it the way she thought the law required her to… And then they set forth only the facts of the case as a basis to support their filing decision. But that’s not enough. I mean it’s clear as day in (Welfare and Institutions code section) 707 that fourteen years of age plus the offense creates a situation where they can permissively file it in adult court. And our position is that more needs to be taken into consideration in order to make that final determination. It’s very clear, because they’re expressly saying so: they didn’t consider anything else. They considered the crime itself – and that’s it.

Q: What are the things you wanted them to look at? The background of this case?

BRAMSON: …It doesn’t matter to me. But it matters to the voters of the state of California who gave them this power, via Prop 21… Obviously, we assumed that they were going to be adopting some guidelines, some criteria, to help them make these decisions. Otherwise, we would have made it all mandatory, right? We would have said, Oh, well these crimes are very serious, and once you reach a certain age – all these cases get filed (in adult court). But, we didn’t do that. We separated it out for ‘em. Here, these cases are so serious that you must file these in adult court. These cases are on the fence. And so you’ve got to take that extra step, district attorney, and consider something else – or many something elses – in helping you make the decision. And they didn’t do it. And they’re admitting that they didn’t do it.

Q: Is there anything in the language in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707 that specifically requires them to consider these “something elses” like Brandon’s dysfunctional home life or the Larry King situation with the school, and school officials?

Ms. Bramson then asked if Mr. Wippert wanted to answer that question?

WIPPERT: …707(d)…what they’re using to file this in adult court, as opposed to the rest of 707 which allows them to have a fitness hearing in juvenile (court). Whereas, usually they would file it in juvenile court and have a judge determine, and use certain factors, like his lack of a record, the sophistication of the crime…his home life. All of these other environmental things. Everything that is about that child that judge will use to determine whether or not he is fit for the juvenile court. Can he be rehabilitated? As opposed to the adult court where they just punish. …That system was created so that a judge would make that determination. Not (where) a politically appointed district attorney, behind closed doors, can go and make a decision, and nobody can ever check how they went about making that decision. It’s a scary world we live in when we give the district attorney the power to make these decisions. And then nobody can ever understand or ask what you did, what you considered in…exercising that power. That’s scary.

End of part one of two…

Things are starting to heat up in a very interesting manner in the Brandon McInerney case. Brandon’s new attorneys, Scott Wippert of the United Defense Group, and Robin Bramson, have just filed a defense motion for discovery, which in great part attacks the Ventura County District Attorney’s “Failure to Exercise its Filing Discretion.” If the motion were granted, then the defense attorneys hope to gain access to DA communications and records that might show a lack of filing discretion when dealing with juveniles alleged to have committed serious offenses.

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 Brandon McInerney’s attorneys Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson hustling to court.

The concern here of course is that the DA’s office in Ventura County just basically files all cases with a violent nature involving juveniles in adult court rather than in juvenile court, where the cases presumably belong. Look at the motion, and the arguments created by the defense, and see if you agree with the defense’s contentions.

Later this week we will also have an interview with Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox on her brief thoughts on the status of the case, and with Brandon’s new attorney, Scott Wippert, on his request to have Brandon psychologically evaluated and his concerns regarding his discovery motion.

The discovery motion, filed today, can be found here.

At the conclusion of a bizarre Tuesday filled with hearings and recesses, Stolen Boy caught up with Brandon’s McInerney’s former attorney, Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney William “Willy” Quest, to find out his thoughts after being replaced as Brandon’s attorney.

Brandon McInerney’s family members comfort one another after court.
Q: What are your feelings on what happened today?

A: Well, we just hope that they have the best interests for Brandon, and we’ll leave it at that.

Q: Do you have any concerns at this point about Brandon’s new attorney?

I continue to have concerns.

Q: About what?

I just want to leave it at that.

Q: What was your specific opposition to the gag order request by the new defense counsel?

Well, I have ethical obligations as a member of the bar and as an officer of the court. I also have first amendment rights. So I think it was overbroad and vague. But they’re the attorneys now, and that’s the end. Okay?

Thanks Mr. Quest.

Brandon McInerney’s new attorneys hard at work.

And Willy walked off into the Ventura sunset.

And then, low and behold, the prosecutor on the case, Maeve Fox, stepped into the corridor outside of the courtroom, and we, being the vultures of the media that we are, swarmed her. And here’s what Maeve had to say:

Q: What was the In Camera hearing about?

A: It’s kind of the same thing as a reverse Marsden, where a criminal defendant has the right to have the counsel of their choosing. And a lot of times if there’s disagreement between a client and a counsel, they’ll have something called a Marsden hearing based on the case bearing that name. And I think this was a similar situation, it was just kind of in reverse. So the court wanted to make a finding, and have it on the record and sealed about whether the defendant knowingly and voluntarily decided to fire the public defender and hire new counsel. So I’m assuming that’s exactly what happened.

Q: I take it that’s what happened, but I don’t know?

A: I don’t either, because we’re not allowed to be in there.

Q: What does appointing a new defense counsel do to change the case overall?

A: Nothing as far as I can see. You know, it’s none of our business who the defendant has as their counsel. It’s purely his decision. So, it’ll slow things down a little bit, I’m sure. But, I can’t even state that really, because, who knows?

Q: What can you tell me about the new defense attorneys?

A: I don’t know anything about them.

Q: Do the new attorneys at all change the district attorney’s attitude towards prosecuting the case?

A: No.

Q: Have they contacted you about anything up to this point?

A: I’ve had some informal discussions with him, but nothing substantive.

Q: What is it on for later this month?

A: We’re coming back on the 21st just to set some dates. Maybe a prelim date. And we have a couple motions that are outstanding. But you know, counsel’s going to need some time to get up to speed on this stuff, so I’m not going to push him along when he doesn’t have any idea of what the discovery is all about.

Thank you Ms. Fox.

Brandon’s new attorneys came out of court a few minutes later and refused to comment to the press. Maybe it had something to do with the fact the media was all over Mr. Wippert about how they were going to pay for experts in his client’s trial. Maybe Mr. Wippert wants to get his feet firmly in the case, get up to speed on where they’re at, so he can speak intelligently about the case once he has. Hopefully, next week Mr. Wippert will supply answers to these and other very important questions.

Again the waiting game took precedence in the Brandon McInerney case this morning in Department 14 at the Ventura Courthouse. We all appeared sharply at 11:00 a.m. and that’s when it set in. The courtroom was filled to capacity and custodies were sent packing to the state prison system. Others pled guilty and took their chances with Ventura County’s sentencing game. While others yet were given another shot at Prop 36 drug rehabilitation.

All the time, no Brandon McInerney in court. Maybe it’s because the Sheriff’s Department didn’t want to mix him up in the cage packed with all the adults, men and women, who were being sent away. But Brandon’s father, Bill McInerney was there, looking slightly more at ease than he had been. And Brandon’s mother was also there, as always, appearing stronger than she had been. Brandon’s present attorney, William Quest was also present, although “Willy” appeared in a somber mood, an indication to this scribe that his days might be numbered as Brandon’s attorney.

Brandon McInerney’s mother leaves court after her son’s hearing.

It appears Mr. Quest’s biggest concern is still whether the new attorneys from the United Defense Group, including Scott S. Wippert and Summer McKeivier, and sole practitioner Robyn Bramson, are really in the case for the long run. Although they have yet to be appointed, the concern would be that if they are, will they have sufficient funds to handle the multitude of experts this kind of case promises to require? Or are they in it for the publicity, which is what Mr. Quest is concerned about? And if so, will they just work the case for a while, and then hand it back to the public defender to clean up the mess? This would greatly affect Mr. Quest’s strategy to try this case in front of a jury while Brandon possesses his youthful appearance. This is still a kid after all, and any jury that tries him must be aware of that fact.

At about a quarter to twelve, the case was called and, after meeting briefly with all attorneys involved, the judge kicked it over to 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. It is expected that the new attorneys will in fact be appointed to Brandon’s defense at that time, and hopefully, Stolen Boy will have a chance to get some answers to these and more very important questions.

So we got back to court at three o’clock only to discover that the guardian ad litem had already been appointed for the case by Judge McGee. There are so many questions that this raises. Who’s really pulling the strings regarding Brandon’s representation? What’s going to happen to Brandon’s defense as a result? What really are Brandon McInerney’s best interests in this case?

After the third appearance in court for the day, Ventura County Senior Deputy Public Defender William “Willy” Quest spoke of his thoughts re the newly appointed guardian ad litem, Willard Wiksell.

 Bill McInerney’s attorney Brian Vogel does not answer questions for the media in between court sessions.
Q: Can you tell us what took place in court at 1:30 this afternoon?

A: Willard Wiksell, who’s a local attorney who’s done very serious cases, was appointed guardian ad litem and advisory counsel to look into whether or not the law firm that has been retained was done in a knowing, voluntary, non-coercive, free manner, outside of any undue influence. Because of the nature of this case, and because of the age of Brandon…Mr. Wiksell will be granted investigation to just look into possibly the track record of this firm. Whether they have the resources to conduct this case to trial, and, whether it was done in a knowing and voluntary manner. Obviously, from the motion that we filed – a law firm for hire that takes on a case of this magnitude for one dollar – red flags are raised, we think. And that is why we asked for the guardian ad litem. And I think the court agreed with our decision.

Q: Was that the only concern you had, that they took on this case for a dollar?

A: There are others that I don’t want to comment about right now. But, we’re concerned – we’re looking out for the best interests of Brandon. That’s who I represent and that’s all I care about. We also think that possibly people are not familiar with this case come in and maybe promise things that are not realistic. And they give people false hope. And that’s a concern. If they don’t have the resources to do things other than what their promises turn out to be, and that is a concern that we have. And I’m not saying that that was done in this case, I don’t know. But, with an abundance of caution, I think this is an appropriate ruling.

Q: What’s your best-case scenario?

A: We would like to continue as attorney of record – and we represent him. We don’t think anybody could do nearly as good of a job as what we can do, and have the resources for what we can do. And we think that’s in the best interests of Brandon, because we think this case is such a profound case that only somebody with an unlimited amount of money or the public defender’s office or a non-profit that has third party backers could provide proper representation. And we think that Brandon deserves that type of representation. And so that is what we hope. And if it doesn’t happen, we still wish the best of luck to Brandon.

It was shocking to anyone who’s been following this case to see William Willy Quest removed so unceremoniously. When we returned to court in the late morning I again caught up with Brandon’s attorney to try to see why this was happening, and what the results might mean to his youthful and scared client.

Q: What happened in court this afternoon?

A: There’s a firm that has been retained by the McInerney family that is attempting to sub in. And we filed a motion requesting that a guardian ad litem be appointed to see if this is in the best interests for Brandon given the nature of this case, and the expenditures that are going to be required. And that I believe is going to be appointed this afternoon – a local criminal defense attorney who is experienced and knows the nature of what this type of case requires. And then we’ll go from there.

Q: If Brandon’s considered an adult why is a guardian necessary?

A: That’s a good question… He’s considered an adult only for the purposes of the criminal case. He doesn’t lose his juvenile status on anything else. It’s just the nature of the law that says if you’re fourteen we’re going to treat you as an adult, basically, to allow the DA to try this case in adult court. But it doesn’t say that if the DA does that, all of a sudden you lose your juvenile status on anything else. So, whether Brandon knowingly and voluntarily is requesting that this firm be substituted in does require, we think, a guardian ad litem.

Q: What would you say to those people who believe as long as he’s got a legal team everything’s all right?

A: Well, there’s quality of legal teams. So that’s at stake. And this case is going to require a vast amount of expenditures…for this type of case. Because this case is going to require experts, we believe heavy on experts. And experts are not cheap. They require money. And I don’t know the nature of this firm. I don’t want to insinuate anything, but I feel deeply about this case… And I don’t want to see a kid spend the rest of his life in prison. And we’re prepared to expend those resources to see… We think a jury, hopefully, will see our position. If not, then the district attorney’s office. We’re not in it for publicity. We’re in it solely for Brandon, and I can’t say that for anybody else.

Q: Would you stand by Brandon if he asked you to come back into the case?

A: I would.

Q: What is Brandon’s opinion re all this?

A: I don’t want to characterize conversations I’ve had with Brandon.

Q: What kind of resources has your office already expended on this case?

A: I’ve expended over a thousand hours on this case, drafting seven motions, with a whole host of experts, a whole host of investigation, and my investigation team has done over 400 hours. So, just cost, if you had a private firm I don’t want to even come up with the numbers of what that is. But it has been an enormous amount of expenditure. And only someone who is very wealthy or the public defender can basically do those types of expenditures.

Q: So this will save taxpayers money?

A: If that’s what you’re interested in then this is a good decision. If you’re interested in what we think is the best interests of Brandon then we’ll see.

Q: What is Mr. Wiksell supposed to do?

A: To determine whether or not this decision by Brandon’s family – that Brandon agrees to it in a knowing and voluntary manner. To do that Mr. Wiksell’s going to have to determine what this case is going to require, does he realize what this substitution is going to mean? A whole host of things that comes with substituting an attorney at this stage. Although we haven’t had the preliminary hearing there has been a vast amount of work already done on this case, relationships with witnesses. All that is going to be terminated with new counsel coming in. Especially new counsel from out of town – from LA – not familiar with Ventura, not familiar E.O. Green, not familiar with the witnesses. Now that doesn’t mean he can’t do a good job. You have a lot of out of town talent – we just want to make sure that if they’re going to take on this case, they’re going to put in the resources and not do it just for a publicity stunt

Q: Traditionally speaking, isn’t it true out of town attorneys have a tougher time dealing with criminal cases as opposed to hometown attorneys?

A: As a general matter that is typically true…because you’re familiar with both the courts and the judges and also the jurors.

Q: Who has custody of Brandon at this time?

A: My understanding is it’s Bill McInerney.

Q: So what’s going to happen this afternoon?

A: He (the judge) has appointed Mr. Wiksell. And he is going to come in at, I believe, one-fifteen to be the guardian ad litem. Mr. Wiksell is an experienced criminal defense attorney. He has knowledge of what type of case this is. He’s done death penalty cases. He has knowledge of what expenditures and what resources are required in a type of case like this.

Q: So he’s going to talk with Brandon and then make his recommendation to the judge later today?

A: I doubt it will be later today. But he’s going to make a recommendation one way or the other, at some time.

Q: But you’ve already won this motion from the judge’s ruling?

A: I think the court’s going to appoint a guardian ad litem, yes.

Q: Mr. Quest, is there a chance Mr. Wiksell will advise Brandon to keep you on the case?

A: I believe there’s a chance…

Q: What information will Mr. Wiksell have access to?

A: I anticipate that Mr. Wiksell will want outside information and we’ll be happy to provide that.

Q: So that could cause another delay?

A: It’s going to take some time…to do this job adequately. This is too serious a case with too much at stake.

Q: In a thousand hours of work how many documents have you accrued?

A: Well, the discovery from just the district attorney is close to 2,700 pages. And that’s just the discovery the DA has provided. Now there’s also over 17 CDs, DVDs, all those have interviews. We’ve listened to all of those. This is not a case you can just zip in and zip out… This is an extremely witness-intensive case. It happened at a school. There’s a lot of people there. This is a case where the backgrounds of both these individuals is very important. Because Brandon just turned fourteen. Larry King, unfortunately, was just fifteen. This is a very sad tragedy, but, as I’ve said before, I don’t believe Brandon is some crazy killer… Unfortunately, this has happened in other schools. For example, the Virginia Tech incident. There was a history here, a background that has to be gotten into. And if you’re going to represent Brandon you have to understand that in a very detailed manner.

Q: You indicated here before that you wanted to try this case before Brandon’s next birthday, early next year. You wanted to preserve Brandon’s youth for the jury. How does this affect that strategy?

A: That was my desire…

Q: What do you anticipate will happen with Mr. Wiksell?

A: We’ll still be the attorney of record. He won’t appoint this new team until there’s been a decision by Mr. Wiksell… I don’t think the judge will make a decision until he hears back from Mr. Wiksell.

Q: You were fighting some legal motions on the case, what were they about?

A: They were discovery motions. I was trying to get some information on the hate crime allegation the district attorney’s bringing in – an expert who’s a Simi Valley police officer. I wasn’t sure on what theory the district attorney was going on and I wanted information so I could prepare a defense because I was going to try to attack that significantly at the preliminary hearing, because we don’t believe at all that this was a hate crime. Or that Brandon at all had the requisite mental ability when he turned fourteen years old to have any ideology that we believe a hate crime requires. They have to prove that it was substantial motivation – that is that he had some type of bias against Larry King. That the reason he shot Larry King was because of this hatred, this bias that he had. And we think that that wasn’t the case… But there are things in mitigation that mitigates the culpability of Brandon and we don’t think at all that he had any kind of (bias) that was a substantial factor in this tragedy.

Q: One of the reasons the judge gave for denying cameras in the court was that there’s a possibility the case might go back to the juvenile court. Has that been discussed with the DA?

A: There’s ongoing talk. They’ve made a decision that it’s not but they’ve also said they can reconsider… They can always reconsider.

Went to court today expecting to see a preliminary hearing and came away with shocking news: Fourteen-year-old Brandon McInerney’s father has fired his son’s lawyer, Willy Quest. I caught up with a very disappointed Mr. Quest after court and here’s his reaction to learning the news.

A frustrated Willy Quest speaks with the media after court.
Q: What was your motion regarding the proposed change in attorneys?

A: To have a guardian ad litem appointed to see if this is in the best interests of Brandon. We have concerns, obviously, given the nature of this case whether this is in the best interest of Brandon.

Q: And who requested this change, the family?

A: It is our understanding this firm was retained by the father.

Q: And that’s Scott Wippert who will be the new attorney coming into the case?

A: Right.

Q: And who is the United Defense Group?

A: As far as I know, they offered to defend him for one dollar… I don’t know their retainer agreement. I haven’t seen it. But that’s my concern. I think they represented Alvarez, the guy who did the Metrolink for two months – for publicity – and they dumped it. So I think that’s what’s going to happen (in this case). I don’t know this firm. I’ve never seen them. They never operated here in Ventura, as far as I know.

Q: And you were informed yesterday.

A: I had an idea over the weekend. And then I was notified yesterday. I talked to the father on Sunday. A message was left by Scott Wippert. But I haven’t talked to him.

Q: And are you aware as to whether he’s in court or not?

A: I think he is.

Q: Is there a conflict within the family as to who to hire?

A: I don’t want to get in on that. I know the father has custody.

Q: Now you said the public defender’s office is filing this Guardian ad litem motion. What are the concerns about this firm subbing in on the eve of the prelim?

A: This is a case of high magnitude that’s going to require a lot of resources, specifically whether this firm does it for free is – you know, unless they have juvenile justice at heart, this is a for-profit firm. This is a business. But whether or not they do it for free, experts are not going to testify for free. And this case is going to require the best experts, we believe. And if Brandon is going get the defense that I think he deserves – our concern is they don’t have the resources to adequately represent Brandon.

Q: Mr. Quest, are there specific resources that you’re speaking of?

A: For monetary resources. To pay for the experts.

Q: Are there specific experts that you’re speaking of?

A: Yeah, I don’t want to get into that because I filed a declaration under seal stating what my goals were. What my thoughts on the case are. My impressions. What I think is going to be needed, but that’s under seal and I don’t want to get into that.

Q: This was scheduled for prelim today?

A: Scheduled for prelim… And that’s going to be continued. That was going to be continued no matter what. There’s some discovery issues. A lot of other issues that were going to be on the table today. It was going to be continued – my request to have it continued. And the DA reluctantly agreed to it. So the matter was going to be continued no matter what, and then this thing came up, which throws everything in the air.

Q: Are you disappointed or frustrated with this decision?

A: Probably both those words are accurate.

Q: Can you explain that?

A: On a personal level I’ve put a lot in on this case. And I feel deeply about this case. And I don’t think you can duplicate what I’ve done. On a professional level, I’m very competitive. And what this does is there’s, unfortunately, there’s a perception that on a big case you need a private attorney. That the public defender does not provide the best representation. If you’ve done this business and you know the attorneys you know that is wrong. But you have to overcome that impression. And, unfortunately, that impression wasn’t overcome by certain members of the family.

Q: Can you try to persuade the father not to go in this direction?

A: No.

Q: Do you think your client will be used for some publicity cause now?

A: I don’t want to say anything on the record about that?

Q: What can you say factually about this new firm, the United Defense Group?

A: I don’t know the firm.

Q: Mr. Quest, this is the nature of the business in working for the public defender’s office, isn’t it?

A: I don’t have any beef with the private bar. When they take cases I’m very happy ninety-nine percent of the time. Because I have a heavy caseload. But this case requires a lot of work. This case is unique to me. I’ve invested a lot in this case, and I feel deeply about this case. I like Brandon a lot. I don’t want to see him go away for the rest of his life. So I take it personally. And I don’t think another person is going to be able to represent him in the manner that I can.

Q: In the interim have you done any work on the writ that you had talked about before?

A: We were in the process of filing that. So all that’s going to be stopped. And again we have one of the best appellate attorneys in our office. These are the resources that the public defender has that private firms just do not have.

Q: And you won’t be working with this private attorney?

A: No. We’re out.

Q: Do you have to turn over your work product? Or just what’s public record?

A: We’ll turn over everything we have. I’m not here to not allow a new firm to represent Brandon to the best ability that they can.

Q: The judge has to approve that, correct?

A: The judge will have to approve it.

Q: Will you oppose it?

A: Like I said we filed a motion for Guardian ad litem. That’s all. So the best interests of Brandon is there.

Q: Mr. Quest, you indicated there are still outstanding discovery issues?

A: That’s correct.

Q: Can you enlighten us as to what those outstanding discovery issues entail?

A: It had to do with certain allegations from the district attorney. I wanted information – they were going to bring in an expert regarding the hate crime allegation, and I wanted to know the background of this expert as a police officer. What he was going to testify to. What documents he was relying on. So I made a request for those documents that was opposed by the district attorney’s office. So that was an issue. They were asking for records that I had obtained, so that was another issue also.

Q: How many hours have you put into this case?

A: I’d say over a thousand. And that’s not including what my investigators have done. And experts already retained. To do this case properly, this case costs in excess of six figures, easily. And anybody worth their salt would be charging that.

Q: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Quest.