, May 23, 2022

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Deputy physically accosted defense attorney in Solano courtroom, court filings allege

  •   4 min reads
Deputy physically accosted defense attorney in Solano courtroom, court filings allege
The Solano County Law And Justice Center in Fairfield.

FAIRFIELD – A bailiff in a Solano County courtroom grabbed a defense attorney from behind, pulled her backwards and “hushed” her as she was arguing a bail motion for her client last September, according to a recent appeals court filing by the Solano County Public Defender’s Office.

In a petition filed with the California 1st District Court of Appeal this month, the public defender’s office has sought to disqualify Judge Carlos Gutierrez from handling the criminal matter where the bailiff accosted Chief Deputy Public Defender Tamani Taylor.

Tamani Taylor. Photo: Solano County Public Defender's Office.
Tamani Taylor. Photo: Solano County Public Defender's Office.

The public defender’s office said that Gutierrez told Solano County Public Defender Elena D’Agustino that he had given the bailiff a nonverbal gesture that led to the bailiff grabbing Taylor. In court filings, Gutierrez denied that he directed the bailiff to take that action.

The Solano County Sheriff’s Office, which provides bailiffs to the court, did not respond to questions about whether it was appropriate for a bailiff to physically accost an attorney in open court.

It’s the second recent allegation of misconduct by a bailiff in Solano County courts after a deputy punched a man eight times inside the same Fairfield courthouse in 2019. During a preliminary hearing in October, a superior court judge dismissed felony charges against the man because he found that body camera video showed the deputy used excessive force during the encounter.

The incident happened in the course of a criminal proceeding against James Koontz, who is charged with several counts related to domestic violence and assault on a police officer. His bail was set at $100,000 earlier in 2021, but in September, Taylor filed a motion to reduce it.

On Sept. 16, Koontz had a bail hearing in Gutierrez’s courtroom. According to a transcript of the proceedings included with Taylor’s challenge, as Gutierrez was finishing his remarks denying Koontz’s motion for reduced bail, Taylor said, “I understand that your honor,” and then, “At some point we’re going to have to transition him into the community.”

Gutierrez responded that Taylor was interrupting him. Taylor then said, “I don’t need to be touched.”

According to a sworn statement from Taylor and the petition filed in the appellate court, the deputy grabbed her shoulder from behind and pulled her backwards. Taylor wrote that the deputy “made a sound that basically conveyed the intention that I should stop talking.”

The court filings do not name the bailiff, but a source with knowledge of the incident told the Vallejo Sun that she was Deputy Amanda Schwarz, a former Vallejo police officer who had joined the sheriff’s office earlier that year. In 2019, Vallejo settled an excessive force lawsuit against Schwarz and Officer Robert DeMarco for $175,000. The lawsuit alleged that Schwarz Tased a man multiple times just after DeMarco used a baton to break his arms.

According to Taylor’s statement, Gutierrez told D’Agustino, Taylor’s boss, in December that he gave a nonverbal gesture to the bailiff, directing her to accost Taylor and shush her. In a response to Taylor’s filing, Gutierrez denied that he communicated that the bailiff should grab or quiet Taylor and said that day was the first or second time the bailiff had worked in his courtroom.

Taylor alleges that wasn’t the last time she was treated unprofessionally in Gutierrez’s courtroom. In an incident in November, Taylor wrote that she was observing a mental health court run by Gutierrez and when a client who  had previously been represented by the public defender’s office sought assistance, she attempted to contact the client’s previous attorney on her cellphone. But a bailiff loudly exclaimed, “Put your cell phone away!”

Then in January, Taylor said that she entered Gutierrez’s courtroom and quietly asked the opposing prosecutor a question about her case, and a bailiff exclaimed, “No talking in the courtroom!”

Taylor wrote that she asked other attorneys who have worked in Gutierrez’s courtroom. They told her that they had not been admonished by a bailiff like that, nor had they been subject to verbally or physically accosted by bailiffs.

“I believe that based on the fact that Judge Gutierrez admitted that he has previously given non verbal commands for the bailiff to act against me personally and the fact that I have been subjected to actions by bailiffs within his courtroom that deputy public defenders who regularly appear in that courtroom have not that these facts demonstrate that there is a substantial doubt concerning the ability of Judge Gutierrez to act in an impartial manner,” Taylor wrote in her statement.

Gutierrez, however, found that there was no evidence of his own bias and no reason for his disqualification.

“I deny the claim that I am biased, or that any ground for disqualification exists,” Gutierrez wrote in a Feb. 4 order. “I am not biased or prejudiced in favor of or against Ms. Taylor. I am not biased or prejudiced in favor of or against any party or attorney in this action. I know of no reason why I cannot be fair and impartial.”

Following Gutierrez’s order, the public defender’s office appealed on Feb. 14. The appeal is pending.

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