Please join me in welcoming Alhambra High School student Kyla Menconi as summer intern at Tully & Weiss. She has the fire and drive needed to be a great criminal defense attorney, fueled by a strong sense of Justice. Her blog post below rails against judicial misconduct, and how it almost always is directed at defense attorneys. She gives me hope for the future of Liberty. – Joseph Tully

I’ll Show You Judicial Misconduct

In a recent opinion piece by Al Menaster, Head Deputy of the Appellate Branch of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, he discusses a concerning topic many of us have had to go through before.  The title is “Misconduct? Judicial Misconduct? You Want to See Judicial Misconduct, Tons of It?.” It’s been well-known for quite a while now that defense attorneys aren’t treated fairly, people just don’t like us. It’s fine to not like us, but we should be treated equally in court. It’s not just the fact that judges can be hostile to the defense counsel, but in some cases, they can actually rule unfairly and completely invalidate the defendant. 

In July of 1998, Sandy Nieves of Santa Clarita, California, set her home on fire and killed her four daughters, and attempted to kill her son who miraculously survived the house fire. The defense counsel brought a strong case to court, including evidence that Nieves on the night of the fire was in an unconscious state because of the anti-depressant and seizure medication she was on. The judge of this death penalty trial was Jeffrey Wiatt of Los Angeles Superior Court. When the second defense counsel started speaking during the trial, Wiatt would shoot them down with inappropriate remarks such as commenting about their lack of preparation and improper cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. He said that the defense counsel wasted his time, and even disregarded an expert on the defense side, saying that he didn’t know what he was talking about. 

And the horror of this judicial misconduct continues. During the defense’s closing statement, Judge Wiatt exclaimed that the defense counsel was misstating the law and erroneously characterized it incorrectly as mitigation. He also shot down multiple defense witnesses, asking needlessly hostile questions.  Judge Jeffrey Wiatt sentenced Ms. Nieves to death on October 6th of 2000. Thankfully now that judicial misconduct evidence is being put into play 21 years later, Ms. Nieves case is now put under review. If successful, her sentence could furthermore be commuted. 

As many of us have seen first hand, Jeffrey Wiatt isn’t the first-ever trial judge to behave in such a manner; there have been hundreds of other judges that have acted the same way, creating fundamentally unfair and biased trials to end in ways similar to People V. Nieves. Enough is enough! Having a single verdict overturned is not enough. At the bare minimum, the courts themselves should start treating both sides fairly and not favoring the prosecution. Only when judges such as Jeffrey Wiatt are held accountable will those who are falsely accused face the prospect of a fair trial. 

Post Script: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9541967/Death-sentence-overturned-California-mom-murdered-four-daughters-fire.html
Death sentence is overturned for mom who murdered her four young daughters in a 1998 house fire after California SCOTUS rules original judge had been ‘threatening and disparaging’. “Absent the trial judge’s persistent, disparaging remarks, a juror might have viewed these circumstances with greater sympathy and concluded the crime was a tragedy lacking the moral culpability to warrant death. A juror might also have given greater weight to defendant’s remorse and evidence she had been a loving mother to conclude that life in prison, confronted each day with what she had done to her children, was a fitting punishment.”

My name is Kyla Menconi, and I am the summer intern at Tully & Weiss. I will be a senior at AHS in the fall and I’m 16 years old. I have lived in Martinez my entire life, and my passion for law started young as well. I’m planning on after graduating high school, studying political science at a California school and then attending law school after to become a criminal defense attorney. I’m extremely passionate about criminal defense law and am so thrilled to be working with the extremely talented adults of Tully & Weiss.