Steven D. Bromberg, a former Newport Beach mayor and criminal defense lawyer, is relatively new at his judge job at the Orange County Superior Court and that fact may help explain his clumsy moves in a drug case involving Julie Ann Shanholtzer.
It's rare when a judge completely ignores the prosecution, but in Shanholtzer's case Bromberg--a 2005 judicial appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger--did everything he could to keep her out of prison for her admitted unlawful possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in August 2008.
Prosecutors in the Orange County District Attorney's Office believed that Shanholtzer should serve a prison sentence of at least four years (maximum allowable was nine years) because the defendant had 12 prior convictions (including one involving criminal street gang membership) and three prior prison stints.
(I should also not that she'd accumulated that impressive rap sheet before she'd reach 28 years old.)
But Bromberg decided to ignore prosecutors and offer Shanholtzer zero prison time. If she pleaded guilty, he said he'd send her to a two-year drug rehabilitation program at Delancy Street Foundation in Los Angeles. If, however, she violated her probation at any point, she'd have to serve six years in prison. She accepted the judge's kindness.
Though thousands of defendants go through Orange County's criminal justice system annually without getting a chance for such a break, Shanholtzer--then the mother of three children she'd abandoned--incredibly didn't bother to report to Delancy Street, a violation of her probation.
Bromberg ordered her arrested.
At a hearing, Shanholtzer showed up eight-month pregnant and with her pastor in tow. She said she'd recently found God and was trying to include her first three children in her life. She wanted another break.
But Bromberg sentenced her to the six-year term after he announced that he'd technically botched his previous generous ruling by assuming prosecution powers he didn't possess.
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Shanholtzer appealed, claiming that the judge had engaged in illegal plea bargaining when he bypassed the OCDA's office and she should be allowed to withdraw her guilty pleas in hopes of avoiding prison.
This week, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana considered Stanholtzer's cries and ruled that she is barred from winning an appeal of her plea bargain, even though it was defective, because she had a chance to reap huge benefits from it.
Upshot: No good deed goes unpunished. Right, Judge Bromberg?