Judge Charles D. Sheldon Is Captain Kangaroo

Inside the biased, anti-medicinal marijuana courtroom of the Long Beach jurist

At press time, the verdict was still out in the trial of Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine, the one-time Weekly cover boys (see "Buds," June 9) and former owners of a pair of Long Beach cannabis clubs as well as Garden Grove's Unit D collective. Both were charged with several counts of selling pot at their dispensaries, which were raided two years ago this month; additionally, Byron, owner of Long Beach eatery Egg Heaven, was charged with tax evasion and electricity theft. The fate of the two men remains unclear. So does something else at stake in this trial: the fate of medical marijuana in the state of California.

Assuming the two Joes are convicted for doing something—providing pot to qualified patients in return for cash—that hundreds of other collective operators are doing, including numerous city-permitted clubs in Long Beach, this will have far less to do with the actual facts of the case than with the overwhelmingly apparent bias of the man who presided over the trial, a 79-year-old jurist with white hair, a bushy mustache and a gravelly voice reminiscent of a True Grit-era John Wayne: Charles D. Sheldon, presiding judge of Long Beach Superior Court's Department K.

That letter, as another Long Beach judge once drew unintended laughs for explaining, stands for that lovable, bouncy rodent from Down Under: the kangaroo. Get it? Kangaroo Court? Where all defendants are presumed guilty until convicted and marched off to prison or the firing squad?

It'd be funny if it weren't true.

Sheldon's intense dislike of the defendants and their lawyers, Allison Margolin and Christopher Glew, became obvious early in the case through his pretrial rulings. First, he denied the defendants the right to mention medical marijuana in their defense, much less the fact that California state law allows patients to smoke marijuana for medical reasons and to establish collectives to grow and distribute the plants. Only a last-minute ruling by the California Court of Appeal forced Sheldon to allow such a defense.

However, Hizzonor immediately refused a motion by the defense team to delay the trial for a week so they could restructure their case and contact previously off-limits witnesses, gruffly insisting the trial start the following morning. Things only got worse from there. When the prosecution argued its case, Sheldon ruled against almost every defense objection, and he allowed prosecutors to put more than 30 witnesses on the stand. He later limited each defendant to exactly six witnesses each.

Despite the lopsided nature of things, the prosecution didn't really amount to much—at least in terms of actual crimes. In its essence, the case boiled down to a dozen supposed "sales" made to undercover police officers who admitted to the jury they weren't allowed inside the club until they could provide a valid California driver's license and a doctor's note allowing them to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.

Given that state law allowed the cops to obtain those doctors' notes and to obtain cannabis to treat their supposed ailment—insomnia, as one cop sarcastically informed the jury—it was hard to see exactly where a crime had occurred. Indeed, the defendants happily acknowledged the so-called sales had taken place, but, they pointed out, their cash-strapped patients were habitually handed free cannabis, food drives and wheelchair donations were common events, and Grumbine drove to disabled patients' homes to help them cultivate their own marijuana, even installing wheelchair ramps and grab-bars at their houses.

The evidence for any compelling crime may have been rather mundane, but the courtroom drama was anything but forgettable. For reasons only he knows, but which the California Commission on Judicial Performance might be well-advised to contemplate, Sheldon allowed prosecutors to place a screen on the left side of the courtroom. This effectively blocked the jury from seeing the audience, which consisted overwhelmingly of current and former patients of the three collectives, mostly elderly people and folks in wheelchairs.

At one point, frustrations at the defense table got the better of things, and a juror handed Sheldon a note asking him to admonish Glew and Margolin to not roll their eyes. On another occasion, citing Sheldon's bias, Glew attempted to argue for a mistrial; Sheldon responded by declaring a break in the proceedings. In full view of the jury, he took off his robe and began to march out of the courtroom

"Your honor, if I could just finish my sentence," Glew said.

Sheldon became enraged. "We're not talking about this," he bellowed, jabbing his finger in the air as he stormed out. "You're out of line!"

Later, Sheldon interrupted a clearly intimidated Margolin to tell her that she was doing a "disservice" to her clients by objecting too frequently, warning her that any further attempts would be futile. When Margolin protested, Sheldon cut her off. "You'll make your objections, and I'll overrule them," he snarled.

When it came time for Margolin and Glew to present their case, Sheldon seemed to have much more interest in sustaining objections, seeing as they were now coming from the prosecution table. This trend continued well into closing arguments, when Sheldon overruled each defense objection during prosecutor Jodi Castano's speech. For example, when Castano told the jury the law doesn't allow for collectives to sell marijuana at a profit nor does it provide for patients to obtain cannabis via over-the-counter sales, Margolin repeatedly objected on the grounds this statement misstated the law, but Sheldon repeatedly ignored her.

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13 comments
Stacey
Stacey

@jason .........my roomate's mother makes $70/hour on the computer. She has been fired from work for 5 months but last month her pay was $7232 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site http://nutshellurl.com/22i5

Spawnofsodom
Spawnofsodom

Facts are facts. Joe Grumbine bragged that he never has any trouble selling marijuana, medical or otherwise, until he went 'legit.' California law PROHIBITS profits being made from sales, something Mr. Grumbine chose to either ignore or forget. As a matter of fact, Mr. Grumbine continues to see marijuana out of his home...I know this for a fact. I purchased some medicine from him on four different occasions. I doubt he's paying the required taxes on those sales, too.

Idea Man
Idea Man

Sounds like we need to recall this so-called judge immediately. Can O.C. Weekly take the lead on this effort? This guy reminds me of what I encountered in "Family Court."

Rory Murray
Rory Murray

I want to thank Nick for shedding light on this ridiculous miscarriage of "justice", which has cost California taxpayers over 2 Million. The half-dozen Bailiffs alone in Sheldon's Kangaroo Court had to have cost several thousands. Sheldon's a tired old man and deaf as a dog's ass. Should've recused himself. But can he excuse himself? And what trial was the JURY watching?

Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard

To the juror, you are not to blame. But you never heard the whole story.

Throughout this year long trial, that began with $250,00 bail (more than the county recommends for rapists, child molesters and kidnappers) intended to keep the Joe's in jail (who have no prior convictions for ANYTHING) and through the preliminary hearing that disallowed the defendant's ability to present ANY evidence, then through the 6 months of pr-trial hearings where the judge denied over 20 motions to allow a defense, to ultimately the judge denying a medical defense or ANY mention whatsoever of medical marijuana, and the judge then getting over turned in the appellate court before trial even began, the trial was a travesty. But the jury was never allowed to know ANY of that.

The ultimate piece of this is the defense requested dozens of items of seized evidence that were NEVER turned over to the defense. Their very existence was denied by the police. The defense lawyer Chris Glew even took the stand to say there were items of evidence the police lost or destroyed, that would have shown the reality of the numbers and accounting. Those numbers actually showed a net loss to the collective as opposed to an overwhelming profit. The collective was deeply in the red when they were raided. They were a new business. Their first grow hadn't even been completed, there was not even one harvest. So the profit numbers were totally bogus. But somehow those particular items, along with a written employee reprimand for on the job drinking made to the disgruntled employee that started this whole case out of malice, disappeared. Poof, like so many smoke clouds.

Not to mention the 5 cases of defense witness intimidation that the judge refused to do anything about.

Sorry, but the jury got it totally wrong and convicted 2 innocent, compassionate men. But the jury was duped and not allowed to hear the truth.

That's Long Beach Kangaroo Court, Sport!

Sam Surdi
Sam Surdi

What can you expect from a corrupt court system. After all the FEDS do claim ownership of this plant... US PATENT 6630507 - Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants ASSIGNEE - The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services

Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard

In case you haven't heard, the verdict came in yesterday. Both Byron and Grumbine were found guilty on all counts.

aynrandspenismighty
aynrandspenismighty

It sounds like Sheldon is the defense's dream come true. This will surely concluded in a conviction, immediate appeal and then overturned on the basis of his actions, attitude and complete disregard for his role as a jurist.

ZZardozz
ZZardozz

Judge Sheldon did little to hide the fact that he was actively assisting the prosecution. This must be overturned by appeal. They are railroading two very wonderful men, who help many people.

Jason D. Andrews
Jason D. Andrews

What a joke of a trial, these two men had no chance from the beginning!!

Rory Murray
Rory Murray

Please join us on January 11th, 2012.

 
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