Dueling Protests: Two Groups Picket OC Superior Court

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Christopher Victorio
Two groups with quite different agendas but upset at the same thing--Orange County's justice system-- joined forces today at OC Superior Court in Santa Ana, carrying signs and chanting slogans in an effort to alert the public to problems inside OC's main courthouse.

In front of the building, OCNORML, a local branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, protested over several high-profile raids against local cannabis clubs, some of whose members now sit in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, in the back of the building, activists gathered to demand reform of OC's treatment of so-called "pro persona" defendants who choose to act as their own attorneys.

At one point the two protests merged when the folks out back went up front with their signs and were greeted with cheers by a few dozen OCNORML protesters who waved signs urging the OC District Attorney's office to stop harassing medical marijuana smokers. "This is a peaceful protest," said Kandice Hawes, OCNORML's president, as passing motorists honked their horns in support. "We're asking the DA to redirect their resources to more serious drug problems and violent crimes."

"They're wasting taxpayer money," added Al Moreno, vice president of OCNORML. "This has been state law for 13 years now and they should be following it. It's a waste of resources. LA is going bankrupt. The government should tax and regulate medical marijuana--that'd solve a lot of problems--instead of going against the will of the people of California."

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Christopher Victorio
One protester not present that day because of medical marijuana was CJ Ford, a private investigator who was featured in a recent OC Weekly story, "The Bad Detective," which profiled Ford's efforts to work as a private investigator for several pro persona defendants being tried at the courthouse. Although elsewhere in California, such defendants can choose their own investigators from a published list, there is no such list in OC, leaving many defendants saddled with Joseph Szeles, an investigator with a checkered past who somehow managed to get the lion's share of the pro per cases. "What we're doing is following up on that article about Szeles to demand that they post a public list of investigators and make sure they allow pro per defendanst to choose their own investigators," Ford said. "They can choose their own investigators everywhere else except OC."

Another activist, Tina Jackson, asserted that OC judges have an inherent bias against pro persona defendants, despite their constitutional right to represent themselves in court. "These judges don't like pro per defendants because they dare to represent themselves even though they didn't go to law school. They don't grant their motions automatically, and then give them the stiffest sentence possible, for the crime of representing themselves. They've been doing this for for years, and it's got to stop. What are they afraid of?" she asked. "That one of these guys is going to actually win his case?"

At one point, Ford, Jackson and other protesters marched to the front of the courthouse chanting "I don't know but I've been told, all bad judges have to go."
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