Hundreds of court cases in Orange County, California are under review amid allegations that someone forged court records to fix DUI and other traffic cases.
The FBI and Orange County prosecutors are investigating close to 600 superior court cases going back as far as 2006. It has been suspected that a court employee recorded fake sentence reductions and dismissals and incorrectly made it appear that at least one defendant had served jail time. All of the cases appear to be tied to a specific clerk who left his job in recent months.
After being arrested for his second DUI last year, defendant David Hernandez heard that there was someone in the Orange County court system who could “fix things.” Last fall, he paid the fixer eight thousand dollars through a middleman. For a while, it seemed the case had disappeared. Several weeks ago, however, Hernandez received a letter ordering him to appear in a Westminster court on June 12.
On June 12, over 100 attorneys and criminal defendants were brought to appear before Judge Thomas Borris and told that there were errors found in the court records tied to their cases. The allegations against them were primarily misdemeanors, ranging from unsafe lane changes and DUIs to not having car insurance and driving vehicles with tinted windows. Sheny Gutierrez, one of the attorneys who appeared, indicated that a specific clerk was getting paid in exchange for entering false information.
Judge Borris reversed settlements in about 12 cases. Unrepresented defendants were given the option to negotiate with a prosecutor or judge, or to hire a private attorney. FBI agents waited outside the courtroom to question defendants as they left.
Ramon Vasquez, a criminal defendant whose case was under investigation, was given a work program in 2012 after pleading guilty to driving with a suspended license. On June 12, Judge Borris demanded that Vasquez produce documents to prove he completed the work program. Vasquez thinks it’s an injustice: “If there’s a flaw in the court system, it’s on them, it’s not on us.”
Judge Borris also ordered the arrest of defendant Hariana Farias, who claimed to have served three months in a private jail in 2013 for a DUI charge. The private jail confirmed that Ms. Farias was never there, and the documents allowing her to serve time there appeared to have been forged. Moreover, the attorney who apparently signed the documents claimed to have never represented her. Ms. Farias was immediately taken into custody and held without bail.
A number of lawyers who appeared before Judge Borris on June 12 claimed to never have met the defendants they allegedly represented according to court records. Virginia Landry, an Orange County DUI attorney, indicated that several attorneys in her firm were called to court on behalf of clients they’d never encountered.
“This is big-time corruption,” said Stanley Goldman, a Loyola law professor and former criminal lawyer. While the cases are mostly low-level offenses, the number of the cases together “adds up to a very serious criminal enterprise.”
Law enforcement sources tied to the investigation told the Los Angeles Times that the scheme appeared to target primarily Latino defendants. The cases were discovered when another court employee discovered an incomplete DUI case, prompting a review of all cases related to the clerk who had handled the incomplete case. Goldman said that the computerization of the court system likely made things easier for the fixer. Since so many cases are involved, he continued, the scheme will likely take months to untangle.
As Hernandez left the courtroom on June 12, an FBI agent handed him a subpoena. He is being called to testify against the fixer in federal court this July.
If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.
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