Mark J. Reichel, one of the attorneys defending the boy accused of killing his sister Leila Fowler, had a hand decades ago in what was probably the highest-profile murder trial ever to come out of Calaveras County. That case was launched in the mid-1980s with the horrific discovery of the remains of up to 25 people at a hidden torture chamber near Wilseyville. Investigators said that Leonard Lake and Charles Ng were the killers. Lake committed suicide after he was arrested. Ng fled to Canada. It wasn’t until 1991 that Ng was returned to the United States for trial.
Reichel, then a recent graduate of University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, worked as a researcher on Ng’s defense team. Ng’s trial was eventually moved to Orange County where he was sentenced to death. Ng is still on Death Row at San Quentin.
Calaveras County Clerk Recorder Madaline Krska Tuesday explained to the county Board of Supervisors that the basic tasks of recording documents and looking for liens on property has become a bit more difficult in Calaveras in recent weeks. Apparently the aged computer server used for those tasks dates back to the mid 1990s. A power outage on Nov. 12 caused that machine to go on the blink. Krska and her staff called the company that contracts to provide the server and were told it would not be upgraded to protect against such problems. So Tuesday Krska asked supervisors to change the contract, making it a monthly renewal rather than annual. That gives Krska the flexibility early next year to find a new firm to provide computer services. The board vote was unanimous.
Meanwhile, the old system is being revived, at least for now. But for a while, it was taking three hours for title company representatives to manually check through recent documents to see if a property’s title was clear, Krska said.
When we get power outages here in Calaveras County, they typically last for a few hours at most, or in some remote areas during winter storms possibly a few days. The outages in recent days in Arnold and West Point have been like that, at least so far at the time Friday afternoon when I’m writing this.
Consider the case of the island of Panay in the Philippines, home to Iloilo, Stockton’s sister city. The Philippine Sun Star reports (http://tinyurl.com/lyl8629) that the power in portions of the island has been out since Typhoon Haiyan hit on Nov. 8. The estimated time to get it back running: Dec. 20. That’s six weeks without power.
I spoke today to six high school age students at Mountain Oaks Charter School in San Andreas. I was talking about newspapers and mass media, and how to be a sophisticated consumer of news, why certain types of stories get more play and so forth. I was impressed by the intelligence in the questions and discussion. Mountain Oaks essentially offers individually tailored programs for families who are home schooling. As a result, students there tend to be a diverse group who often don’t particularly want to be part of the more conformist culture at conventional schools. It happens that Mountain Oaks is right next door to the Ark2000 refuge of the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Those two institutions are a great example of what I love about San Andreas — It is a town where there’s the space and freedom to do a lot of different kids of things, and it is OK if those things are outside the mainstream. Yet more traditional institutions like the Masonic Lodge, the VFW post, and the Calaveras High football team (in round two of the playoffs tonight!) also thrive here. This is American society at its best, crusty old ranchers and animal rights activists, organic gardeners and fast food fans living in the same town, often in the same houses.
My apologies to those who got connected to my former personal Twitter account. I’ve now deactivated that one. The one that is connected to my work for The Record is the @DanaReports
You can now follow me on Twitter — @DanaReports
I recently wrote a happy story about the value of agricultural production in Calaveras County rising significantly to almost $30 million in 2012: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20131103/A_BIZ/311020313/-1/A_COMM02
That’s good news in a mountain county with few mines, no mills, and a sadly reduced construction industry. But it is only about $660 a year per person when divided by our population of about 45,000. The big money is retirement benefits, and some other benefits such as disabilty.
I just looked at the Social Security Administration statistics for our zip codes. Social security benefits in 2012 brought somewhere around $160 million into Calaveras County. Let’s hope the bankers and politicians don’t ever decide we’re expendable and just stop sending those checks.
Several things are striking about the court appearances so far by Charity Ford, the woman accused of killing her husband and wounding her granddaughter with gunfire Oct. 16 at their home in Burson:
1) No friends or relatives have been visible at any of those court appearances.
2) Ford and her former husband Randall Ford owned a home. He had a long career in law enforcement. Those are usually signs that a family is not in dire poverty, and thus that she could afford an attorney. So far, she’s being represented by the public defender. The public defender has said the last two weeks at the last two court appearances that her relatives are trying to scrape together funds to hire an attorney. Proceedings (ie. scheduling a preliminary hearing) have been delayed twice now on the understanding that Ford was on the verge of hiring a private attorney. If that doesn’t happen by next week, Judge Douglas V. Mewhinney said he will no longer delay setting a preliminary hearing of the evidence against Ford.
3) As the weeks drag on, Ford’s voice when she speaks in court is getting fainter and fainter. She has always appeared confused, perhaps dazed. When she was arraigned a few days after the shootings, she was at least able to speak up and tell the judge she didn’t understand the charges against her. At the most recent appearance when the judge asked her name, it was barely audible as she whispered “Charity Ford.”
Those who have been following the Karl Karlsen case in New York State may want to check out this story on ABC’s Nightline:
Karlsen, a former Calaveras County resident, is accused of causing the 2008 death of his son Levi in order to collect life insurance. The case in New York has also prompted Calaveras County authorities to re-open an investigation into the 1991 death of Christina Karlsen, then Karl Karlsen’s wife. Christina died in a fire at their home near Murphys. Karlsen also collected life insurance after her death.
Calaveras Unified is revising its election system — going to a by-trustee-area vote to avoid any chance the district could be found to have discriminated against minority groups. The current system of a school-district-wide vote on the person to represent each area is being phased out around the state after several districts got in legal trouble.
In the process of adopting the new election system, Calaveras Unified is also revising trustee area boundaries. An earlier draft of the proposed boundaries divided the La Contenta neighborhood of Valley Springs between Trustee Area 2 and Trustee Area 3. District officials said they received objections to that split.
The latest revision puts all of La Contenta into Trustee Area 3, which is represented by Gregory Gustafson, who happens to live in La Contenta. In exchange, a wide swath of western Calaveraras County around Wallace and Burson is getting shifted into Trustee Area 2, which is represented by Evan Garamendi.
Click here to see the revised proposed boundaries for Calaveras Unified trustee areas 2 and 3