Senior Assistant DA John Anderson sat in the juror section of Superior Court Judge Kazuharo Makino's courtroom this morning with pursed lips. He listened closely to what Makino was going to say -- and how he would rule -- with regard to the preliminary gang injunction set to be imposed on some 20 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang in Orange whose cases were being considered today.
The last time in mid-April when everyone gathered in court, prosecutors and defense attorneys were left nearly speechless by a legal loophole Makino brought up that could allow minors without a court approved guardian or attorney to verbally remove themselves from an injunction. Those named on the injunction, which imposes probationary terms on the people living within a four mile radius of the historic Cypress neighborhood, were chosen based on "expert declarations" submitted by Orange police officers, a controversial approach that some, including the ACLU's Peter Bibring, say is flawed: "Letting officers decide who isn't or isn't subject to the injunction invites abuse and racial profiling," he said.
The DA's office was effectively dealt another blow today when Makino essentially found that the evidence submitted by prosecutors against 15 of the 20 defendants was not sufficient enough to consider them active gang members. He rejected the DA's petition that they be placed on the preliminary gang injunction. In the cases of some of the minors without legal representation, Makino said he would not impose an injunction that is "immediately voidable."
The ACLU, which has been involved in fighting gang injunctions in Los Angeles, but never in Orange County until now, say they will challenge what they believe is an "overly broad and unconstitutional" injunction. Since community activists became involved, nearly half of the names originally appearing on the injunction have been temporarily or permanently removed.
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One of the ACLU's defendants, Erika Aranda, has never claimed gang membership, participated in a gang or been convicted of a crime. Aranda's apparent gang connection, according to the profiles submitted to the DA's office by Orange PD, was that she was friends with or related to an alleged gang member. Aranda was among those whom Makino did not place on the preliminary gang injunction.
The problem for prosecutors in this latest lawsuit is that a process which they normally wrap up in a few short months, has been duly protested, thwarted and legally challenged by community members from the Cypress neighborhood with deep roots in the county's fruit picking and packaging industries who have -- in the months since the lawsuit was served to more than 100 defendants -- sought big-name legal aid, formed an "Orange County Youth Injunction Defense Committee", held a vigil and protested the inclusion of a historic mural in the lawsuit, petitioned to have Judge Daniel Didier (who has rubber stamped every other injunction in the county) removed from presiding over the case, appeared on an evening radio news program, and today were interviewed by Channel 4's Vikki Vargas for an evening news report.
Many of the defendants appearing today were minors and many, including some adults, have full time jobs, are in school, are on honor rolls, are volunteers with their churches, and haven't been in trouble for several years. They are the ones, activists say, who don't deserve to be included on the injunction with defendants who have committed hard crimes or are already serving time.
Both sides claimed a victory today, but Anderson and other prosecutors' watched tensely and occasionally shook their heads as Makino issued his rulings. A trial is set for early July and civil rights attorneys for the defense say they are hoping to set precedent for others in the county who they say have unjustly been stripped of their basic civil rights by the gang injunctions.