Judge Tosses Lance from Court

High Drama, Little Progress in Pretrial Hearing

Peter Lance, after being admonished last Tuesday by Judge Brian Hill for giving a thumbs-up to a witness, responds with a more dramatic gesture of approval (July 26, 2011).
Paul Wellman (file)

DUI defendant Peter Lance was thrown out of a pretrial hearing Monday after he interjected into the proceedings to accuse Judge Brian Hill of “muzzling” witnesses. Lance — a freelance journalist who has already published eight parts of an ongoing series in the Santa Barbara News-Press alleging misconduct by his arresting officer, Kasi Beutel — was excluded from the hearing in an effort by Hill to regain control of a courtroom circus.

“This isn’t the Eastern bloc — it’s the United States of America,” Lance said as court bailiffs gripped him by the elbow to escort him out of the courtroom. “The whole world is watching this.”

Lance’s interjection came after Hill ruled that several defense witnesses — who had all been arrested by Beutel on suspicion of driving under the influece — should submit a declaration to the court alleging that Beutel had forged their signatures on a Trombetta waiver to deny them a blood test on the night of their arrest. Hill’s ruling broke course with his decision last Tuesday to allow two defense witnesses to testify on the stand that they had not signed the Trombetta waivers that bore their signatures.

Hill proceeded to deny a request by Lance’s defense attorney, Darryl Genis, to put Beutel on the stand. While Genis wanted Beutel to testify regarding her alleged forgery of the Trombetta waivers, Hill maintained that Beutel should testify when the trial begins.

At this point, Lance — who had stayed silent for the first hour of the proceedings — could resist no longer, and interrupted to reprimand Hill for muzzling both Beutel and the defense witnesses. Hill excluded him from the courtroom almost immediately.

From the first few minutes of the hearing, Hill tabbed courtroom conduct as the focus of the day by admonishing Lance and Genis for their “totally inappropriate behavior” in a pretrial hearing last Tuesday. He called out Lance for leaving the courtroom to take a phone call and “cheerleading” the defense witnesses before chastising Genis for accusing the court of “filibustering” the proceedings.

While he held neither Lance nor Genis in contempt of court, Hill declared that “what happened last time we were in court is not going to happen again, under any circumstances.”

At first, Lance obeyed Hill’s order, only making his feelings known by nodding his head, whispering to Genis, and, at one point, using hand gestures. When Hill said he had not yet read the entirety of Lance’s five-part series, Lance wordlessly corrected the judge by holding up eight fingers to signify that his series was, in fact, eight parts long. But Lance needed words to protest Hill’s decision to deny testimony from Beutel and the defense witnesses, and his day in the court quickly came to a close.

Lance was not the only person to be excluded from the courtroom Monday, as audience member Cruzito Cruz was thrown out for clapping during the proceedings. Cruz — a community activist and City Council candidate who was arrested by Beutel last March for DUI but never faced charges after his blood test revealed a 0.00 blood alcohol content — burst into applause when Genis made a motion to limit police presence in the courtroom due to their “intimidating effect.” As bailiffs escorted him out of the courtroom, Cruz pointed at the four uniformed officers in the audience and declared, “They shouldn’t be here!” Hill denied Genis’s motion on the basis that the courtroom is open to the public.

After the two courtroom ejections, the hearing settled down and the court accomplished its primary task of the day. Hill collected 20 signatures from two defense witnesses, Alison Woolery and Rachel Morales, for handwriting experts to analyze. The pretrial hearing will resume Friday to allow the court to collect signature samples from Lance — a task that was scrapped from Monday’s agenda.

Out on the courthouse lawn after the hearing came to a close, Genis and Lance weighed in on Hill’s motivations. According to Genis, Hill took “extraordinary measures” to prevent evidence that would be damaging to Beutel’s credibility from being exposed in the courtroom in an effort to protect Beutel.

For his part, Lance went even further. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this judge was gotten to by someone over the weekend,” Lance said. “Hill is acting as a district attorney in a judge’s robe.”


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