Pubdate: Sat, 18 Mar 2000
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397
Author: Maline Hazle
Bookmark: MAP's link to California articles is:


A judge said Friday that he will decide soon whether to hold a hearing to
determine if Shasta County Sheriff Jim Pope should be held in contempt of
court for failing to return a Redding man's medicinal marijuana.

Trinity County Superior Court Judge John K. Letton set April 25 as a
tentative date for that hearing, though he could decide before then to
throw out the case.

Letton, a regular visiting judge in Shasta County, was assigned the case
after all nine Shasta County justices removed themselves from it, citing
potential conflicts of interest.

Pope and Undersheriff Larry Schaller, also named in the contempt action,
were not at Friday's two-hour hearing.

The case stems from the December acquittal of Richard Levin, 49, on a
charge of growing marijuana for sale.

Levin's attorney, Eric Berg of Redding, convinced jurors that his client
used the drug to treat hepatitis C and back pain, which is legal under the
state's 1996 Compassionate Use Act.

In January, Judge Bradley Boeckman twice ordered Levin's 1.5 pounds of
marijuana and dead marijuana plants returned. But when Berg and Levin
arrived to retrieve the drugs Jan. 21, they were told that a federal agent
had seized the evidence because marijuana possession is illegal under
federal law.

Berg filed a contempt petition Feb. 3, contending that Pope and Schaller
and other unnamed ''co-conspirators'' orchestrated the seizure and that the
sheriff had no right to ''thumb his nose at the court.''

Speaking for the sheriff, Schaller called their actions ''absolutely
ethical and legal and in consultation with (county) counsel.''

Berg argued later that County Counsel Karen Jahr should be thrown off the
case. He said if county lawyers consulted with the sheriff on the seizure
it would be a conflict of interest for the same lawyers to defend the
sheriff on the resulting contempt charge.

At Friday's hearing, Letton threw out Berg's motion to have Jahr removed
from the case and another motion in which Berg said the county counsel's
arguments against contempt should not be considered.

''It's not the role of the court to inquire into matters that are
privileged (private) between counsel and client,'' Letton said.

Gary Roberts, a Berg associate who appeared in court Friday, asked Letton
for the authority to take statements from people who might have been
involved in arranging for the federal seizure.

''It's the nature of this contempt that it happened behind closed doors ...
Levin has no access'' to those details, Roberts said.

Letton said he may consider that request later, after he decides whether to
hold a hearing on Levin's allegations.

Letton also asked Roberts about the time frame in which the alleged
contempt occurred.

It happened after Boeckman's second order Jan. 14 and continued until the
Jan. 21 seizure, Roberts said, arguing that even as Schaller was in court
''telling the judge he is going to comply,'' he was plotting a way around
the order.

''That's the outrage,'' Roberts said. ''When the sheriff says he is going
to comply with it next week ... you should be able to think he's telling
the truth.''

In addition, Roberts argued, the sheriff was merely holding court evidence
before its return and had no discretion about whether to give it back.

''That tightens the noose around the sheriff's neck,'' he said.

Deputy County Counsel John Loomis countered that many of Roberts' arguments
were not backed up by evidence or by law.

''Knowing they cannot prevail on principles of law (Levin and his
attorneys) resort to sophistry, innuendo, repetition, irrelevant
declarations, newspaper clippings and a spurious attempt to recuse (remove)
county counsel,'' Loomis wrote in papers filed in court.

''We have a strong case, and I think we will win,'' Loomis said after
Friday's hearing.

Roberts declined comment, but Levin said he's glad the judge may hold a
full hearing on the issues.

''Whether they find the sheriff in contempt or not I think he's already in
contempt in public opinion,'' Levin said. ''That's enough for me.''

Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or at  ---
MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst