Pubdate: Tue, 18 May 2010
Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Modesto Bee
Author: Merrill Balassone
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


A judge ruled Monday that two people arrested for handing out clean 
syringes to drug users and collecting dirty ones will be barred from 
telling a jury they did so to help prevent a public health emergency.

Kristy Tribuzio, 36, and Brian Robinson, 38, face up to a year in 
jail after undercover officers said they caught the two operating an 
unauthorized needle exchange in a south Modesto park in April 2009.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova said the pair 
had other options that were legal, such as lobbying local officials 
to change the law. In September 2008, the county Board of Supervisors 
voted against legalizing needle exchange programs over the 
recommendation of county health officials.

"Frankly, this is a political decision with which the defendants 
disagreed," Cordova said.

Tribuzio called Cordova's decision "insulting."

"This doesn't have anything to do with politics," she said. "It's a 
public health issue."

During a nearly two-hour hearing, Tribuzio and Robinson's defense 
team argued their clients were acting out of medical necessity: that 
conducting a needle exchange program was a justified act aimed at 
saving lives and preventing such diseases as HIV and hepatitis C 
among drug users.

Nearly two dozen needle exchange activists from Oakland, Sacramento, 
Fresno and Modesto were in court for the ruling.

Tribuzio's attorney, Alonzo Gradford, likened the rate of new 
hepatitis C cases in Stanislaus County -- nearly 12 per week -- to a 
ticking bomb.

"People are dying every day as a result of dirty needles," Gradford 
said. "That's an imminent emergency."

Prosecutor Merrill Hoult said the defendants knew what they were 
doing was illegal and operated the needle exchange as an act of civil 

"We have a systematic breaking of the law," Hoult said. "Needle 
exchanges may have been legal in other counties, but it's illegal here."

In California, there are more than 40 needle exchange programs, but 
the Central Valley has just three, according to the state Department 
of Public Health. Fresno County approved a needle exchange pilot 
program in December 2008.

Robinson's attorney, Ruben Villalobos, described the scene in Mono 
Park on a recent afternoon. He said he and an investigator found four 
dirty needles left in the park, nicknamed "Needle Park" and "Heroin Park."

"If we were in another county, what Mr. Robinson did would be 
perfectly legal," Villalobos said. "We as a society have decided you 
can't do it."

Tribuzio and Robinson will be back in court Aug. 2 for the setting of 
their trial date. 
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