The court proceeding scheduled for Sara Batterham this past Tuesday didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened.
What was supposed to feature a series of motions in two cases involving Batterham was continued to later this month, due in part to her attorney, Therese Hankel, being unable to attend in Bridgeport for health reasons.
Batterham was convicted on Nov. 16, 2011 on three of five charges against her, including embezzlement, one of two forgery counts, and preparing and submitting false documents for trial. She is to stand retrial on of one of the original counts from last year’s trial, Count 5 Intimidating a Witness, on which the jury was deadlocked, as well as three new charges: preparing false documents to be produced as genuine for fraudulent or deceitful purposes, and doctoring court minutes to escape from custody by purporting she had been released on her own recognizance.
One of the motions that was to be heard by both Judge John T. Ball in the matter of the Count 5 retrial, and Judge Richard K. Specchio, Alpine County Superior Court Justice, in the matter of the new charges, was a move to consolidate both matters into a single court proceeding, which would then be taken over by Judge Specchio, who was also unable to attend Tuesday’s proceeding.
Batterham previously turned down a deal that would have had her plead guilty to the original Count 5, but in exchange she would serve only concurrent time; no additional sentence time would be added. If she’s convicted on the Count 5 retrial, she could get an additional 2 years, 8 months added to her sentence.
Also known by her maiden name of Wisemiller, Sara was arrested on Aug. 30, 2007, along with her husband, Colin Batterham. At the time, the Batterhams were employed by Surat Singh, owner-operator of the Mammoth Econo Lodge, Sara (then 30) as a manager, and Colin in hotel maintenance. After an investigation, in August 2008, the Batterhams were charged with creating a fictitious merchant account under Singh’s name, and routed almost $11,000 in transactions to another account registered to the couple.
In February, Judge Stan Eller made a finding that there was enough evidence to allow the three new charges to go to trial, and set Batterham’s bail at $100,000. On Tuesday, she requested a bail hearing in the old trial, which Judge Ball denied.
Batterham, meanwhile, has reportedly been requesting sentencing in what’s become known in her situation as the “old trial” for some time, but said Tuesday that she was not willing to proceed down that road without consulting with Hankel. She has reportedly alleged that the court has failed to sentence her in a timely manner, though some of that inactivity is likely attributable to the new trial and additional charges that were filed either as a result of or tangential to the old trial.
It remains to be seen as well whether Hankel continues as her attorney for much longer. One of the motions on the docket is what’s known as a Marsden motion, which gets its name from the case of People v. Marsden in 1970. It is a request to the court by a criminal defendant to discharge his or her lawyer on the basis of being incompetently or inadequately represented by counsel.
One of the other matters to be heard Tuesday involved a 995 Motion to Dismiss, alleging that the material evidence linking Batterham to her supposed escape attempt was flimsy at best when Judge Eller made his determination that it was sufficient to send the matter to trial.
Batterham is also seeking a recusal of the Mono County District Attorney’s Office regarding the new charges, and a disqualification against Judge Ball. While Judge Ball was unable to rule on the new trial aspect, he did point out that once a judge has heard a case, it’s rare if ever that they are subsequently removed. He called her efforts to have him removed “industrious … but also fruitless.”
Batterham also protested the fact that Judge Eller had previously recused himself as a judge in old trial in September 2011, but had no problem hearing the new charges and setting bail in that matter.
Representing the People, Mono County Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Ibrahim said the delay presented some timing issues. The People, he told Judge Ball, are “ready to go,” but had hoped to get some of the motions out of the way this week, and propose to move the date of the new jury trial up a week from April 30 to April 23. Ibrahim said two of the Peoples’ major witnesses — Oklahoma-based attorney Christian Zeaman and fellow Mono County Deputy District Attorney Kyle Graham — are both set to be out of the country from April 30 through May 15, and the desire was to at least start the trial within the statutory time limit.
All of these and other matters were continued until April 17 at 9:30 a.m.