Thursday, September 18, 2008

Judge Misses The Call, News-Press Misses The Story

At the Daily Grind on Tuesday morning the two guys sitting at the table next to me were talking about it. After my class that night, one of my students asked me about it. It's one of the most commented on stories of this week on the local blogs and Internet websites. KEYT covered it on their Monday newscasts. The Daily Sound had a front page story on Tuesday. But as of Wednesday, the News-Press had not run a story on it in their print edition.

The story I'm talking about: the recall of Heather Hulsey's prison sentence of six years, and release on probation.

You will recall that two years ago Hulsey, while driving under the influence and fumbling for her cell phone, struck Ronald Shlensky, a local psychiatrist, while he was walking his dog in Montecito one afternoon. What could be worse? She then drove off and left him for dead.

Shlensky did die a day later. Another week would pass before Hulsey would be arrested and only after her father took the car she was driving down to the Ventura area to have the damage done to the automobile repaired.

Hulsey got out on bail. Then her bail was revoked when pictures of her drinking and partying, reportedly taken after her arrest and release, showed up on My Space.

She plead no contest (which in a criminal court is the same as a plea of guilty) to vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run in December of 2007. By the time she returned to court in February of this year to be sentenced she was pregnant.

Judge Frank Ochoa sent her to prison, but retained the power to recall the sentence so he could review it in the event she was not admitted to a special program within the prison system for the mothers of infants. It turned out that having been convicted of causing the death of another person made her ineligible for the program. Upon giving birth, her baby would be taken away from her and placed either with her family or in foster care. Apparently Ochoa didn't want to see that happen. So when she returned to court on Monday, Ochoa vacated the prison sentence and released her on probation.

So, partaking in reckless behavior (I'm assuming it was an act of unprotected sex that resulted in her becoming pregnant) earns her a "get out of jail card" for manslaughter. Having taken someone else's life evidently did little to slow her down in the drinking and partying department. And given her due date of September 21, it sure sounds like the baby was conceived between the time she entered her plea in December and returned to court in February to learn her sentence.

Having spent four years serving on the juvenile court bench in Santa Maria, I'm loathe to second guess judges. I know Frank Ochoa and like him. But this was the wrong call.

Need I say more?

(The L.A. Times article on this story.)

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And by the way, is anybody enforcing the "hands-free" cell phone law? Based on what I see driving around town, doesn't look like it to me.

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Ever wonder about those ubiquitous "staff report" by-lines in the News-Press.

On Monday there was a story in the sports section about the UCSB women's soccer team's victory over Tennessee. It carried the "staff report" by-line.

The exact same story, virtually word-for-word was posted, with a dateline of one day earlier on, the website of the school's athletic department.

Perhaps those press release writers at UCSB ought to think about joining up with the Teamsters?