North Bay Legal News of the Day for April 8, 2015

BY: Attorney Justin O. Milligan 

I seem to steer to articles involving criminal defense and personal injury, but I have to touch on something that is very interesting to me and hopefully to you.  That is that a passenger train pulled into the Cotati Depot the other day.  I cannot ever remember that happening in my life.  Perhaps it did back when I was just a baby.  I’m not sure.  I’d have to check.   But to see the video on The Press Democrat website is pretty amazing to me.  It’s simply starting an alternative to driving my car.  I love that!  It’s just a start. Will it immediately solve the commuter traffic jam Highway 101? Will it really only serve Sonoma residents working in Marin?  Will people actually ride the train?

Me, personally . . . I am a veteran Metro rider from my 2 ½ years on the East Coast.  If I have to commute from one place to another, I would want to ride on a train occasionally looking from my work or reading pleasure to look out the window as the scenery passed by rather than wasting my time behind a line of a thousand cars stretching across the county line as I commute at a snail’s pace from my office to the courthouse in San Rafael without the ability to do much, but listen to music, sports and news talk, and commercials. (First SMART cars roll into county, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

Unfortunately, some of the other news is sobering rather than uplifting.  There was a stabbing at that Mendocino Avenue strip mall just across from the S.R.J.C. just yesterday at around 4 p.m.   (Stabbing reported in parking lot of Santa Rosa store, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)  I have a particular fondness for this strip mall as I have known it all my life, which is funny for me to say because I think strip malls are bit, shall I say, ugly.  Now that I got that off my chest, I hope they catch the person who did this.

I am a staunch defender of a persons criminal defense rights and would champion this person’s cause if he came to my office and hopefully, if he gets his case dismissed for some reason despite having committed a crime, that at the very least there is a lesson learned as a result of having to pay thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.  I am sad that a person would feel he has to fight and stab to live their life.  This person, if caught, will face charges such as assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, inflicting mayhem, and more, and can expect prison exposure exceeding seven years.

In another case, William Steele faces multiple life terms in prison for his actions resulting in 22 felony convictions.  (Clearlake man found guilty in passenger’s death in 2013, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.) It is reported that he was contacted by law enforcement who they suspected he was driving under the influence.

He pulled over initially, but then took off.  During the wild pursuit of his vehicle his two passengers jumped out while he was still moving.  One of them died after hitting his head when he landed.   That resulted in a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, which means simply put that his passenger was killed without malice during the commission of a crime.   Mr. Steel was also convicted of four counts of attempted murder.  This would, at the very least, be as a result of turning his Chevrolet Tahoe towards pursuing police and revving his engine and then also for his shooting at them during the pursuit.

And finally, an unnamed woman, whose identity has been protected by law from being disclosed, took the stand against her parents to testify to a horrific child hood as a result of their deviant acts.  She told the story of being repeatedly raped by her stepfather whose acts were condoned by her mother.  (Victim takes stand in Santa Rosa sex abuse case, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

It is among the worst case of child molestation ever in Sonoma County.  Why would this go to trial I wonder?  You have a victim who alleges she was made pregnant twice by the stepfather, which is something that can certainly be almost 100% confirmed by paternity testing.  So why, facing such overwhelming evidence would the case go to trial?  There are many reasons why this could be so.  One likely scenario is that the district attorney’s office had extended an offer that was unacceptable to the co-defendant mother and father.  For instance, perhaps the district attorney offered that they “plead to the sheet.”

This would mean that, rather than to dismiss some of the charges if the couple pled to others, they were offered only that they plead to every single count contained in the charging document.  My experience in sex assault cases spanning years is that can be a lot of charges.  In a recent case I had, that amounted to over 60 counts of rape spanning two years.  Perhaps, the offer was for some of the charges, but not all, but was an “open plea,” meaning that it was for some or all of the counts, did not limit the number of years in prison, but left that decision up to the judge, which would leave a lot of uncertainty in the equation.

This is something a lot of people have a very hard time with.  By going to trial, the defendants really, for whatever reason, are telling the district attorney that they don’t like the offer and are going to take their chance with a jury.

Wrongful Death Claims In The North Bay

After the sudden death of a loved one, families face serious hardship. An already emotionally difficult time can be made even worse as medical bills and funerary expenses render making ends meet nearly impossible, particularly when the deceased was the family’s primary breadwinner.

No matter what the cause of death be it a motor vehicle accident, bicycle accident, motorcycle accident, or construction site accident – debt concerns impact families of lost loved ones when they are least able to afford it.

At one time, the common law did not allow the families of those who died from the negligence of another person to pursue a legal remedy. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today, California law allows the families of a deceased person to bring what is known as a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties.

Thus families may bring suit for medical bills up to the time of death (survival action), funerary expenses, loss of financial support and more, providing them with the help they need to cover quickly mounting bills.

Wrongful death damages that are allowed are split into two main categories; economic and non-economic damages.


Economic damages or financial losses are split into further categories as well, the main categories as follows:

1. The financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the decedent had before [his/her] death or the life expectancy of the surviving plaintiffs, whichever is shorter;

2. The loss of gifts or benefits that the surviving plaintiffs would have expected to receive from the decedent;

3. Funeral and burial expenses; and

4. The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided.

Any amount a judge or jury allows for future economic damages must be reduced to present cash value.

The Human Loss

Non-Economic damages are also called the human loss.

Also, often the greatest loss is the human loss of the care comfort and society of the deceased person. What does this long phrase mean? Essentially these are words meant to describe the relationship that the surviving heir would have likely had with the deceased person. This means the loss of the love affection support In California, wrongful death plaintiffs are not allowed compensation for grief however they are allowed compensation for the loss of the relationship they were likely to have with the person who was killed. This distinction makes the hiring of a personal injury attorney who is experienced with wrongful death cases all the more important. California wrongful death law allows recovery for several categories of non-economic damages, and specifically excludes others:

1. The loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; [and]

2. The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations (if the plaintiff is the surviving legal spouse of the decedent);

3. The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance.

The court will say that no fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages. It is up to the judge or jury to set the reasonable amount of non-economic damages in each case. An award for noneconomic damages should not be reduced to present cash value.

In determining a surviving plaintiff’s loss, we are not supposed to consider the following:

1. Plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;

2. The decedent’s pain and suffering; or

3. The poverty or wealth of the plaintiffs.


Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

Not just anyone may bring a wrongful death claim when a loved one dies. The California wrongful death statute limits the people who may bring a claim to certain classes of possible plaintiffs. Generally, only the following may bring wrongful death claims:

The surviving spouse of the deceased party

The surviving children of the deceased

If the deceased left no surviving children, those who would be entitled to the deceased’s property if he died without a will such as parents, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, or nieces nephews, as well as any family member who was receiving financial support from the decedent.

Determining whether someone may bring a wrongful death claim can sometimes be difficult and the advice of an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney is recommended.

What Must a Successful Plaintiff Prove?

Although each case is unique, a plaintiff must prove the following to be successful in a California wrongful death claim:

The defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased

The defendant unreasonably breached that duty

The defendant’s breach caused or contributed to causing the death of the deceased

Of course, exactly what the plaintiff must prove – the exact duty owed to the deceased by the defendant, whether the defendant breached this duty, etc. – depends on the specific facts of each case and it is up to an experienced personal injury attorney to ethically and skillfully present the claim or lawsuit.

Contact Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC Today 

If someone’s negligence caused the death of your loved one, contact Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507.

Mr. Fiumara and his team will evaluate your potential case and explain to you your options.

Abalone Diving, & The Natural Beauty Of Sonoma & Mendocino Counties

California Abalone Law 

The first weekend in April each year is the traditional opening for the abalone season and recreational salmon fishing. The temptation provided by this delectable sea snail, abalone, last year lured in at least 25,000 people who went through the proper licensing procedures. There are always others who fail to get the proper permits and licensing and that’s another story.

Because new rules were introduced last year, abalone divers should be much more vigilant and careful to follow every rule and regulation to avoid a citation for a misdemeanor, jail time and a hefty fine. One new rule introduced last year sets limits on Sonoma Coast abalone, which includes a later daily start time of 8 AM, and the closure of a popular swath of coastline around Fort Ross and State historic Park. Other restrictions include: 1. Red abalone diving and rock picking also is permanently prohibited in the Stewart’s Point State Marine Reserve, stretching roughly from southern Sea Ranch to Fisk Mill Cove in Salt Point State Park. 2. In addition, this same prohibition includes two smaller protected marine areas at Del Mar Landing and Gerstle Cove.


Fish and game wardens will be out in full force this year especially with the new regulations and the diminishing supply of abalone in particular. In a recent Press Democrat news article Capt. Steve Riske of the State Fish and Wildlife stated that, “we’ll bring in people from other counties to help out,”meaning that enforcement will be greatly increased, strict and scrutinizing, so be on the lookout. Our experience in representing Abalone divers who have been cited, is the result of Fish and Game wardens carefully observing them from the bluffs high-up above the water with high-powered binoculars, that can even see underwater! No, they do not work for the NSA but, they should!

Part of the reason for the increased law-enforcement presence and heavy-handedness of Fish and Game wardens is because tightened regulations were put into place after a 2011 “red tide” (caused by a toxic algae bloom) which decimated and killed thousands of these tasty sea snails off of the Sonoma Coast and contributed to a 60% decline in red abalone density found over a three-year period of time, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department.

Red abalone is the last of five abalone species that can be legally finished or pryed off the California Coast, but only in Waters north of San Francisco Bay and only by recreational divers and pickers. However, they must abide by very specific and exact guidelines: for example the catch must be a minimum of 7 inches in length with a daily bag limit of three abalone, and a maximum take per person per season of 18. Only nine (9) of which maybe taken south of the Mendocino County line. If you think these rules are complex then you must know how and when your catch must be “tagged” order to avoid the risk of getting cited for a misdemeanor, having your fishing gear and abalone confiscated and ultimately avoiding a court appearance in either Sonoma or Mendocino County–which carries a hefty fine and possible jail time.

It should be noted that abalone divers are prohibited from using scuba gear, so they have to be able to dive, locate individual abalone and pry them from the rocks while holding their breath. That can be a taxing endeavor for some. Our law firm has actually handled misdemeanor cases where divers who went into the water and for some medical reason could not drive down deep enough to secure the abalone had a family member do so for them. This is illegal and the wardens saw this from one of the bluffs overlooking the water with high powered special binoculars, so don’t do it. It is not worth being arrested or cited for a misdemeanor which can affect your record and ultimately future job prospects.

abalone 2

If you, any of your friends or family members have a question about a citation or a court case in either Sonoma or Mendocino Counties, please free to call us 24/7 for your free and confidential consultation: our Sonoma County number is 707-571-8600. We also have another convenient location in San Rafael at 415-492-4507 and finally you may be able to reach us on our toll-free line at (855)-247-3190… In the meantime happy fishing and diving!

North Bay Boating Accidents

Living in California with the Pacific Ocean right in our backyard, it is no wonder that water sports and water activities are such popular pastimes. However, although they offer excitement and adventure, boating and watercraft activities are also accompanied by a unique set of risks. It is when these risks are disregarded that innocent fun can turn dangerous or even deadly.

Boating and watercraft accidents are an all-too-common occurrence in southern California’s waterways. They can be caused by operator inexperience, recklessness or carelessness, piloting a boat or watercraft while impaired by alcohol or drugs, skier or passenger behavior, equipment failure, or improper boat loading as well as countless other factors. Needless to say, each boating and watercraft accident is different.

While it is critical for an injured party to obtain an attorney with experience in boating and watercraft accident cases, it is just as important that the attorney approach each of these cases with equal enthusiasm, care, and a fresh eye.

boating accident law

At Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC our attorneys have years of experience in litigating boating and watercraft accident cases. We also realize that each case presents a unique set of facts and issues, often involving complex legal and safety considerations. For this reason, our attorneys do not hesitate to consult with technical, medical, and economic experts to develop the strongest case possible and maximize recovery for our clients.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of another person’s negligent or reckless misconduct in causing a boating or watercraft accident, Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC can offer the experience and skill necessary to provide you with sound advice on how to protect your legal rights.

Call us today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507 to discuss your legal options.

North Bay Legal News of the Day- April 7, 2015

Written By: Attorney Justin O. Milligan

Mental health is critical to having a healthy and productive life.  Some might consider getting help if they find it hard to get up in the morning because they are depressed about some aspect of their job. Some will not seek help until their mental health deteriorates so far that they become incoherent to others.  I’m not sure Ned Kohler of Knights Valley has received the help he needs, but it had to be a sign when law enforcement were called 34 times since January regarding issues about Ned.  (Knights Valley man caught after manhunt, 4-6-15, The Press Democrat.)

Over the last three months Ned’s state of mind must have deteriorated because on Monday morning, he walked into the open door of his neighbor early in the morning and threatened to kill her if she didn’t leave.  What is heartbreaking about his is that the neighbor, Lauren Thollander, has known Ned “for years.”  Lauren, who is 61, told The Press Democrat that she used to pick Ned’s kids for school back when she drove a school bus.  She never expected him to threaten to kill her.  In fact, she had just recently seen him at the local store.  I really appreciate what she says at the end of the Press Democrat Article.  “I’m glad he’s going to get some help,” she said. “He deserves to have a chance to get some help.”  This is so true. There are resources for people with mental illness.  One of the best I can think of is NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  “NAMI Sonoma County is a grassroots

family, client and community member organization, dedicated to improving

the lives of people with mental health challenges and the lives of their families and friends. These challenges are known as neurobiological brain disorders,

or psychiatric disabilities.”  (  If you know someone who is experiencing mental illness, NAMI is fantastic resource that can identify resources for your loved one to help them get better and to cope with what is to some, a permanent disability.

On another front, two “rival” gang members were sentenced on Monday to state prison for the robbery of the Rite Aid store at Guerneville and Marlow Roads.   (Rival gang members sentenced in Santa Rosa drug store robbery, 4-6-15, The Press Democrat.)  The two were convicted of the gunpoint theft of several bottles of Promethazine.  Promethazine is apparently an under the counter cough syrup often used in a concoction with soda called Sizzurp.  I’ve never heard of that, which just highlights my age, but another thing that struck me is the allegation the defendants were rival gang members.  It reminds me of the sickness of street gangs.  It is a disease just like addiction in that these, often youngsters, make decisions to do things like rob stores for the purpose of supporting a criminal street gang that seem contrary to a desire to succeed to most of us.

What is it that causes a young person to join a criminal street gang?  I’ve never met a successful street gang member.  The ones I meet are always having to spend thousands of dollars to defend against accusations they committed a crime with a gang enhancement, which will add years to a sentence.  (Penal Code 186.22.)  Why do it?  Over the years I have developed some insight to this addiction to a gang and it is complicated.  One of the things I have learned is that no matter how smart these young people are (I have personally never represented a gang member more than, say, 25 years old) if they develop a bond with their street gang friends early on, it is as hard to break as a heroin habit.  And there are programs that view it this way.

For instance, Casa Calmecac, a Santa Rosa based recovery center operated by California Human Development offers treatment based on the specific needs of gang members to those “seeking greater self-sufficiency, independence and dignity through education, training, housing and other services.” (  I hope these young men also receive treatment for their disease while incarcerated.  People like them can and do rise above their childhood and their addiction.  I am fortunate to have seen it happen only twice in my career spanning 12 years of practice.  And all the time and effort I have put into trying to help all my clients accused of gang crimes is worth it just to see that happen twice.

Can’t help but to put a shout out to the A’s and the Giants who both won their season openers last night.  Though a Giant’s fan, I am impressed by both teams.  Looks like we may have another exciting season of baseball!

North Bay News of the Day, Andy Lopez Task Force to Make Proposals

The community has come a long way since a deputy who was in my opinion trigger happy at the very least killed Andy Lopez.  We are now at a turning point for starting up a citizen oversight board that would have some sort of oversight on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.  A community task force will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and propose that an Office of Independent Auditor be created that would “review policies and internal complaint investigations against Sheriff’s Office personnel, probation officers and correctional officers.” (Sonoma County task force readies proposal for civilian oversight of Sheriff’s Office, April 4, 2015, The Press Democrat.)

I really admire what the task force has come up with, which is a comprehensive set of proposals for achieving greater communication between the community and law enforcement by getting to know each other and learning to listen to each other.  I recently attended a presentation by Sonoma County’s Women in Law where Phyllis Rosenfield, a member of the task force, spoke about listening as a key element to a healthy dialogue.

That seems simple, right?  But just was does it mean to listen?  Does it mean you sit and simply nod your head or would an occasional response or acknowledgement be helpful?  If so, would it be appropriate to include opinions as well?  At least initially, my understanding is that a healthy listening means among other things not using language that can be construed as judgmental.  During the presentation Phyllis had us break into groups and discuss some of the proposals being made to the Board of Supervisors.  I was paired up with a family law practitioner whose first name I learned was Bert and we chose to contemplate initiating more mental health awareness to law enforcement.  It was a fun exercise and highlighted what it is like to have a conscious dialogue, that is, to consider how I am listening, what I am doing, am I helping or hindering the discussion.

I hope the Board of Supervisors adopts the proposal, which would include a requirement that the Sheriff’s Office hand over its completed internal investigations into to officer involved shootings, jail deaths, and other critical incidents for independent review as to their completeness and accuracy.  I think this is appropriate as long as the confidential information of the officers is kept from public disclosure.  Believe me, I have represented many people who were blatantly abused by the officers on the scene, whether from just a derogatory comment or to actual use of excessive force and I would love to know what those officers’ personnel records hold.

By the way, if I represent a person who tells me the officer used excessive force on them, I do as an attorney have a means to access that officer’s personnel records to see if there is anything there useful to my client’s defense.  It’s called a Pitchess Motion and the last one I filed resulted in a complete dismissal of the prosecution against my client. But to disclose such things to the public would expose everyday hard working honest officers to danger from the criminal element they worked so hard to protect us from.  I am not for that, but I am for an independent oversight board and healthier dialogue between law enforcement and the community.  I hope the Board of Supervisors adopts the community task force’s proposals!

Airbags & The Injuries That Come With Them

Airbags have probably been the most significant car safety device to be developed since the invention of seat belts, however even though they can provide significant protection against major injury, they can also cause injuries both when they work as intended and when they don’t. Airbags first began appearing in passenger vehicles in the 1970s, with driver airbags becoming common by the early 1990s, and with vehicles of today now often including both driver and front passenger airbags to protect against impacts from the front and side torso and side curtain airbags to protect against collisions from the sides and rollovers.

In order to protect a vehicle occupant from serious injury in a collision, an airbag must react with an equivalent significant force — it does this by exploding a pyrotechnic device that rapidly and forcefully fills the bag with gas. Some systems are smart enough to detect the severity of an impact and “explode” the airbag with just enough force to provide protection, but most systems — especially older ones — simply inflate the bag to its fullest. And in the United States, design standards require a more forceful bag inflation than do international standards.

Car Wreck

Types of Injuries from Airbags

Even when they are functioning as intended, airbags can sometimes cause very severe injuries or even death. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed more than 170 deaths from airbags in the United States during the 1990s, with most of these occuring in children and many of the remainder occurring in small adults. These occupants were the most likely to suffer injury from bag deployment due to their small size. This has since resulted in the development of passenger seat sensors that can detect the weight of a passenger to help judge whether or not to deploy the passenger side airbag. Other vehicles may have manual switches to turn the passenger side airbag on and off depending upon its occupant. Also, product design guidelines and regulations now mandate the placement of children and child safety seats in the rear seats of vehicles.

Severe injuries from airbags have most commonly been head injuries, though side airbags can also cause injury to occupants who may be leaning against a door when its bag deploys. Less severe injuries injuries from airbags have tended to be facial injuries from the impact force of the bag, and hand and wrist injuries to drivers gripping a steering wheel whose bag deploys.

After an airbag is deployed, the vehicle and its occupants may find themselves covered in dust — this is usually composed of talcum powder, chalk, and/or cornstarch which including the airbag to lubricate it during its inflation. Ordinarily, these substances are at most minor irritants to vehicle occupants, however some people with asthma or specific allergies may suffer a severe reaction to them.

Injuries from Airbags Improperly Deploying

More recently in the news, however, have been incidents where injuries from airbags have occurred due to the unintended deployment of airbags. A major international manufacturer of airbags and the numerous auto manufacturers to which it supplies airbag systems has been forced recently to issue recalls affecting millions of vehicles, especially those that have been operated in hot, humid conditions that may have caused the inflator mechanisms to degree and spontaneously trigger. In addition to the types of injuries that could normally result from an airbag inflating, these types of unexpected triggerings can obviously themselves cause serious motor vehicle collisions.

Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC makes sure that the negligent manufacturer and all insurance companies involved are held accountable.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a car accident — including any injuries from airbags — call us today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507.

Our New Criminal Defense Website Is Officially Launched

In addition to our current website, we are very proud to present our newly created, easy to use website that is fully dedicated to Criminal Defense only.

We invite you to take some time to look around and let us know what you think.

The website was designed with one goal in mind.. to help act as a resource for individuals who have been arrested and charged with a crime anywhere in the North Bay.

What developed is a legal website with fresh and helpful resources, timely content and simple navigation.

We Plan On Making Regular Blog Postings To Keep You Informed Of Recent Developments In California Criminal Law & Also Provide Useful Legal Information On A Variety Of Criminal Law Subjects.

Please click on the link below to watch a short introduction clip:

The official website address is:

North Bay News of the Day, April 1, 2015

Insurers have a duty of good faith and fair dealing with the people they insure.  That means that they can’t make the types of dismissive decisions that one can normally make in the course of business conduct.  For instance, if an insurer is obligated to pay on a claim by its own insured, , the insurer can not try to hide the fact or make the claimant work to prove that fact without some extreme consequences if they are wrong.  This was illustrated in the case of Akerstrom v. State Farm.  Gary Akerstrom is an engineer who was sued by one of his clients.

Mr. Akerstrom then made a claim against his malpractice insurance policy with State Farm, which included a provision for attorneys fees.  Basically, State Farm was supposed to provde Mr. Akerstrom an attorney to represent him in the law suite by his client, but refused to do so on the grounds the type of work Mr. Akerstrom was doing at the time was not covered by his policy.  Our local judge, Judge Mark Tansil, agreed and dismissed the claim against State Farm.

Mr. Akerstrom appealed the decision and it was reversed on appeal and sent back to our Superior Court for litigation.  However, once the matter came back here to our local courts, State Farm decided not to take the risk of a jury finding in favor for Mr. Akerstrom and settled the matter short of trial.  Why?  Well, because of their duty of good faith and fair dealing they faced triple damages if the jury found that State Farm should have paid for an attorney for Mr. Akerstrom.  That would have been a lot of dough!  It was such a high risk that State Farm settled the matter for an astounding 7.5 million dollars!  (Ukiah engingeering firm gets $7.5 million from State Farm in settlement, 4-1-15, The Press Democrat.) Believe me, you know State Farm believes it did something terribly wrong when they fork out that much money.  It’s good to be reminded that our insurances laws protect us so well.  State Farm will likely think twice before they dismissively deny another claim.


The Petaluma Police have their hands full lately!  Last night, one of their officers observed a black Mercedes speeding and darting through traffic.  When the officer attempted to pull the car over for reckless driving, it fled on a high speed chase, including reaching speeds of 120 mph.  It’s not clear from the Press Democrat article, but it appears the driver of the vehicle crashed and fled on foot and has not been apprehended, yet.  (High-speed chase ends in Petaluma-area crash, search for suspects, 4-1-15, The Press Democrat.)  Not only did this happen, but Petaluma Police believe they have a serial robber on their hands.  Business owners in Petaluma have suffered a series of five robberies all involving a masked man walking into their store, threatening cashiers with an unseen gun, and then quickly running away with undisclosed amounts of cash.  (Fifth armed robbery linked to same suspect in Petaluma, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  You can be sure that Petaluma has put overtime on the case to try and solve it because this type of crime causes so much concern in the community.  The culprit should be concerned about getting caught and perhaps that will convince the person not to commit another crime.  Pursuant to Penal Code section 213, he is facing at least up to 45 years in prison for the five robberies committed already.


Speaking of danger on the roadways, a young man died and his friend survived after a horrific vehicle collision apparently caused by the decedent turning left in front of an oncoming car.  Geeze, the young man who died and his injured passenger friend were only 20 years old.  (Santa Rosa man critically injured in weekend motorcycle crash expecting baby, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  And he is a soon to be father.  A passenger in the other vehicle who was seriously injured is a famous singer songwriter named Norman Greenbaum.  I wish a speedy recovery for the two very seriously injured survivors.  I hope that Nhmia Kahsay will get to hold his baby in his arms.  Please drive safely everybody!


Apparently, Petaluma is not the only town with car chases recently.  After a pickup driver ran stop signs and sped at least 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone he crashed into a parked car.  (Santa Rosa chase ends in crash, arrest of man in stolen truck, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  Thomas Paine who allegedly was the driver can expect a heavy hand from the district attorney for resisting arrest, reckless driving, and felony evasion of a police officer that put others in danger.  I know the Sonoma County District Attorney enough by now to know that they will be asking for some serious jail time and if Mr. Paine has a criminal record he can expect even worse.  In cases like this we try our best to get low jail time, but it becomes problematical when our client has wantonly and willfully run from police and then caused property damage.  Thankfully for Mr. Paine, nobody was hurt or he’d certainly be facing hard prison time.

Marin County and Sonoma County District Attorneys are by Sex Workers Organization claiming that California’s Prostitution Statute is unconstitutional

In addition to the two above mentioned defendants who were sued over a state penal code criminalizing prostitution, other law enforcement defendants were named including our esteemed Attorney General Kamala Harris who is named as a defendant in the U.S. District Court case which argues in part that the 14th Amendment protects individual liberty over private sexual conduct regardless of whether it is commercial or paid for.


Despite being known as the “oldest profession in the world,” prostitution and solicitation thereof still gets prosecuted very aggressively as a criminal act especially in light of the renewed spotlight on illegal sex trafficking which shouldn’t be confused with  the free choice of sex workers  to engage in the profession. Prostitution is defined in the CA Penal Code as:” to engage in a sexual act in exchange for money or other consideration, i.e., other goods or services.”


Under CA Penal Code 647(a), “An individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view is guilty of disorderly conduct,” a misdemeanor.  In the same Penal Code section, under the (b) section, it further states that, “anyone who solicits or agrees to engage in or who acts in any act of prostitution” commits the offense. This allows law enforcement to arrest sex workers and customers such as johns and where appropriate, the middle man who is otherwise known as the pimp.”  The current lawsuit that has been filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco by the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project on behalf of four individual plaintiffs including a Sonoma County resident (a one-time sex worker), who states that she would like to continue her chosen profession, but for the state’s legal prohibition, discrimination and stigma.



The lawsuit on its face is not frivolous because it is reflective of some very recent favorable case law and rulings that severely limit government’s interference in personal decisions involving sex.  This includes the famous landmark 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the United States Supreme Court invalidated and struck down laws prohibiting sex between same sex consenting adults and/or couples.


The plaintiffs’ attorneys who are representing the sex workers have a legitimate claim when citing to dissenting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the minority opinion in the Lawrence Sodomy case above.  He stated on the record that the majority ruling “called into question” all laws rationalized by public morality, like those prohibiting prostitution.  Well, here it is twelve years later,  laws against prostitution are being challenged and they have a good chance of being struck down like the State of Texas’ sodomy laws.  The general rule for striking down impermissible personal privacy laws seems to rest upon the meaning of the relationship or set of boundaries, absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution that the law protects.  In other words, there is no compelling or even legitimate rationale for the government to regulate prostitution unless there is a reason to do so, i.e., injury, violence, coercion, and the like. It could hardly be a valid  argument that prostitution destroys the traditional family since divorce rates are its own death knell and just recently Gay Marriage has been sweeping the country despite the argument that its passage would also “destroy the traditional family,” whatever that means!


If you take  Sonoma County District Attorney-Elect Jill Ravitch’s argument, (the county’s top law enforcement official), who is quoted as saying,  through her “collaborative effort with the police”  she “is saving lives and holding those who traffic victims accountable!”  However, if you can prove that sex workers have voluntarily chosen their profession and that there was never a demonstration that the commercial exchange of sex between consenting adults-as distinct from human trafficking-resulted in any harm how can current prostitution laws be upheld.   Based upon the voluntariness of prostitution and the lack of coercion and other abusive factors, the plaintiffs make a valid argument that there is “no compelling or legitimate governmental interest in prostitution’s criminalization” and the criminalization of prostitution is far worse than legalizing it.  The arguments that the plaintiffs’ law suit advance in favor of legalizing prostitution are listed below:


  1. The current criminal law and zealous prosecution creates victims among both those who would make a living in the sex trade/industry (were it not illegal) as well as those for whom sexual intimacy is possible only with a professional sex worker or provider, i.e., one of the four plaintiffs happens to be a disabled man who wants to be able to procure the services of a sex worker and is prohibited from doing so.
  2. The second argument is that all sex workers have been lumped into one category and all have been robbed of the right and ability to earn income from their chosen line of work and face further discrimination in housing, education, child custody, and decisions in other areas of their life if they continue to choose their profession the lawsuit has emphasized.
  3. The continued criminalization of sex workers and prostitution in general exposes the participants to the possibility of arrest and prosecution if they try to report assault or abusive behavior towards themselves or an innocent third party.
  4. Sex workers or prostitutes are never taken seriously as victims; not until now at least with the generalization that all prostitutes are victims which can’t be proven since this lawsuit exposes that hypocrisy.
  5. Sex workers or prostitutes do not feel safe to report criminal behavior they might witness and suffer such as human trafficking or child abuse. Therefore, the criminalization of prostitution and/or their chosen field puts them in a hated and despised class where they are not able to even help law enforcement against the real problem—sex trafficking which is NOT voluntary or chosen.


These arguments above appear to be compelling since the old guard and most members of law enforcement continue to categorize all sex workers and prostitutes all together as victims of sex trafficking thus impermissibly lumping everybody together for the purpose of continuing the sex stings, prostitution stings, and heavy handed counterproductive law enforcement.


Finally, it appears that even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the most conservative member of our United States Supreme Court basically said if you can’t criminalize sodomy (most often only enforced against homosexuals and not heterosexuals) based on morality, how can you criminalize prostitution based on morality?  So, the bottom line is that the plethora of new case law is being worked to get prostitution legalized in California.   Further, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are attempting to correctly distinguish willing providers of sex for money from those real victims who are being forced into service through violence or other means!  The two should never be mixed and by doing so we believe that free choice and free association as well as free choice of one’s profession is being usurped by an overreaching government steeped deeply in morality and hypocrisy.