A visiting Lassen County Superior Court judge expressed his frustration over the slow progress being made in a case that came before him Tuesday, Nov. 28, and he said he’s determined to sentence the defendant as soon as possible.
Visiting judge Garrett Olney said it was “outrageous” and “highly irregular” that nearly a year would pass from the time a defendant entered a plea until sentencing.
In fact, Olney said he has never seen such a thing in his 30 years on the bench, and he was going to put the case “on calendar as soon as possible for sentencing. Period.”
Lassen County District Attorney Stacey Montgomery, the prosecutor in this case, filed a felony DUI complaint against George Driscoll Aug. 28, 2015, and Driscoll pleaded not guilty Oct. 7, 2015. He changed his plea to guilty and signed a plea form Dec. 21, 2016.
According to the court’s website, Driscoll failed to appear at a July 13, 2016 hearing and at another hearing on April 4, 2017. In addition, the court continued the case on Nov. 4, 2015, Dec. 9, 2015, Feb. 3, 2016, March 2, 2016, March 23, 2016, May 4, 2016, May 18, 2016, Aug. 3, 2016, Aug. 24, 2016, Oct. 12, 2016, Nov. 2, 2016, Feb. 28, 2017, April 11, 2017, June 27, 2017, Aug. 29, 2017, Sept. 26, 2017, Oct. 31, 2017 and Nov. 28, 2017.
When Olney called the Driscoll case, public defender Autumn Paine said she was appearing for local attorney Stephen King who had agreed to appear for defense attorney Kirk Manoukian.
But Paine could not answer Olney’s question when the judge wanted to know why neither Manoukian nor his client were present in court. Paine said she was appearing for King, who was ill — a request that King had made just minutes before court began.
Montgomery told the judge Manoukian was injured in an automobile accident on his way to the last scheduled court date, and he was not present when this court date was set. Olney thanked the district attorney for defending Manoukian.
Montgomery also told the judge the case was “complicated” and contained “a lot of moving parts,” but “the people are ready to proceed.”
Olney said he wanted to discuss the issue directly with Manoukian, and at the judge’s direction, Paine contacted the defense attorney by telephone, and arranged a telephone conference in open court.
Saying he was speaking from his car in a courthouse parking lot, Manoukian told the judge he did not attend the Lassen County Superior Court proceeding because he had a conflict as he was appearing in another court in another city. He said he had filed a stipulated continuance, but Olney said that process was “inappropriate and just not right,” and he sought to immediately arrange a date for sentencing as soon as possible.
After discussing possible future court dates on Monday or Tuesday of this week with Manoukian, Olney issued a $50,000 bench warrant for Driscoll to be held until 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, and he ordered both the defense attorney and the defendant to appear.
Olney also said “it would be helpful” if Manoukian provided the court with the assessment of Driscoll made by a veteran’s organization in San Diego.
Manoukian said he thought that document had been filed with the court under seal, but Olney said it was not part of the court file.
Manoukian also told the judge a representative wanted to make a victims impact statement before sentencing, and he didn’t know how this court date would work with his schedule.
Olney did not respond to Manoukian’s concern.
Background of the case
According to a report from the California Highway Patrol, Driscoll, 58, of Martinez, was involved in a head-on collision about 6:22 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, 2015 on Highway 395 north of Laver Crossing. He was driving a 2008 Lexus. Driscoll suffered major injuries in the crash. The driver of the other vehicle, Roxanne Steward, 52, of Coos Bay, Oregon also suffered major injuries, and her passenger, Teka Brown, 27, of Coos Bay, suffered minor injuries. Steward was driving a 2002 Nissan Altima. According to a California Highway Patrol report on the accident, Driscoll was “possibly under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.”
According to the CHP, Driscoll was southbound on Highway 395 at an unknown rate of speed while Steward was northbound on Highway 395 at 65 to 70 miles per hour. Driscoll “either turned or allowed” his vehicle to turn to the left.
Steward turned aggressively to the right in an attempt to avoid a head-on collision, but that attempt failed.
According to the court record, Driscoll pleaded guilty to a felony violation of California Penal Code Section 23153(b), driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs causing injury. Another DUI charge (Penal Code Section 23153(a)) was dismissed, as were charges of driving a vehicle in a manner that resulted in injury and the mandatory use of a seatbelt.