Pubdate: Fri, 28 Feb 2003
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Denny Walsh, Bee Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Oakland Cannabis Court Case)


A Judge Was Angered Over Criticism Of A Fellow Magistrate's Drug Case Conduct.

Angry that a medical marijuana activist blames a fellow judge for 
disrupting a major pot trial in Sacramento federal court, a magistrate 
judge sent the activist to prison for three months Thursday. Jeff Jones, a 
nationally known champion of medical marijuana, was found guilty at a 
non-jury trial in December of attempting to influence the trial of fellow 
medical pot advocate Bryan Epis.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski ordered Jones, 38, to pay 
restitution of $3,925, the cost of bringing the first prospective jurors to 
court for the Epis trial. All 42 were disqualified and a second panel 
convened by U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr., who was convinced 
that material handed out by Jones and other protesters to members of the 
first group as they walked toward the courthouse contaminated the entire pool.

Jones' attorney, Michael Bigelow, set off Nowinski and caused him to 
reconsider his inclination to impose straight probation by arguing that it 
was not necessary to dismiss the jury pool.

Damrell acted out of "pique, rather than reason," Bigelow wrote in 
objecting to nearly $4,000 in restitution.

"Had it been the defense complaining of potential bias instead of the 
government, the court would have questioned the prospective jurors and 
picked a jury from among those who had not been exposed to the material," 
Bigelow argued Thursday in court.

"That would have benefited only Mr. Jones," Nowinski retorted. "There is no 
acceptance of responsibility here. He is virtually thumbing his nose at the 

Jones, who has no prior criminal record, was the only one charged among a 
number of protesters and pickets drawn to the federal courthouse last year 
for Epis' trial.

Jones is an icon of the medical marijuana movement, having headed for a 
number of years the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which took the 
cause to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost. The high court ruled that medical 
necessity is no defense to a federal drug charge.

In a memorandum signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Spangler, the 
government conceded "there was other activity occurring outside the 
courthouse on the date in question," but argued that "Mr. Jones' conduct 
was egregious. He stood on the courthouse steps distributing pamphlets 
specifically targeting" prospective jurors.

Outraged by Bigelow's argument that Damrell acted precipitously, Nowinski 
directed that Jones be taken into custody immediately. He then relented, 
and ordered him to surrender Monday.

Every time Bigelow said the words "medical marijuana," Nowinski cut him off.

"This case isn't about medical marijuana," he told the defense attorney. 
"It's about the integrity of the jury system."

Thursday's stormy proceedings are just the latest misery left in the wake 
of the Epis prosecution.

Epis, 35 and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, was the moving force 
behind a cannabis buyers club in Chico. He was found guilty by a jury in 
July of growing marijuana, and Damrell sentenced him to a mandatory minimum 
10 years in prison. The conviction is on appeal.

The case became a rallying point for medical marijuana proponents 
nationwide, who view it as the ultimate injustice to come from the chasm 
between California's Compassionate Use Act, mandated by the voters' passage 
of a 1996 ballot initiative, and the federal government's zero-tolerance stand.
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