A judge temporarily halted the fact-finding phase of the Los
Valientes civil case Wednesday and set a date for the deposition of
District Attorney John Sarsfield in regards to his motives for
suing the anonymous group for allegedly violating the civil rights
of several local officials and business owners.
Hollister – A judge temporarily halted the fact-finding phase of the Los Valientes civil case Wednesday and set a date for the deposition of District Attorney John Sarsfield in regards to his motives for suing the anonymous group for allegedly violating the civil rights of several local officials and business owners.
Judge Harry Tobias ordered Special Deputy District Attorney Nancy Battel, who is prosecuting the case, to postpone her requests to depose six other people associated with the case until a week after Sarsfield is to be deposed by Los Valientes attorney Mike Pekin on March 16.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to get that deposition settled – this thing has been delayed for over a month,” Tobias said Wednesday. “I understand Mr. Sarsfield wants free reign to go forward, but Mr. Pekin needs the same.”
Sarsfield is suing Los Valientes for allegedly violating the civil rights of several elected officials and business owners by filing false lawsuits and threatening to expose their secrets through extortion. The Los Valientes are an anonymous group which has sued the county alleging wide-spread corruption. The Los Valientes later dropped out of the suit and county resident Juan Monteon took the role of plaintiff.
Last week, Sarsfield named several well-known community members he believes are associated with Los Valientes, including supervisor candidate Richard Place and Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz. Both have denied the accusations are asking the county to foot the bill for their defense costs. Sarsfield said he plans to bring evidence linking the two to the covert group in the coming months. The district attorney also named several locals he believes to be associated with the group including businessman and 28th Assembly District candidate Ignacio Velazquez, Los Valientes attorney Michael Pekin and Hollister residents Vince Pryor, Dennis Madigan and David Grimsley.
Sarsfield was scheduled to be deposed last month, but questions over who the county would hire to represent him delayed the event. In March, Sarsfield will be represented at the deposition by attorney Jon Giffen and the county will pick up the tab.
Despite setting a date for the deposition, Pekin was frustrated Wednesday by the slow pace of the case. Tobias denied his motion to dismiss the case and also denied several of his discovery motions.
“Judge Tobias is still not recognizing the Constitutional wrongs that are being inflicted on people – he’s not stopping the district attorney,” Pekin said. “I’ve had it. I’ve been bruised and battered for the last 14 months. I’m considering a writ to ask a higher court to intervene.”
Pekin’s writ, a swift form of appeal, would go to the Sixth District Court of Appeals in San Jose, which could overturn the rulings of the Superior Court if it deemed such rulings did not uphold the law or were erroneous, Pekin said.
Pekin said Sarsfield was harassing his witnesses and trying to exhaust him physically and financially so he could not proceed with the stalled Monteon corruption case, which makes allegations that former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti used his influence as a sitting board member to profit personally. Judge Tobias previously told Pekin to feel free to file any motion he felt was necessary. Pekin said higher courts rarely intervene in on-going civil cases, but felt his motion would be granted in this case because of a previous ruling by Judge Kenneth Andreen that Sarsfield’s prosecution of the Los Valientes was discriminatory in nature.
Sarsfield said that Pekin could file whatever motions he wanted to and was pleased with the way Wednesday’s hearing went.
“Mr. Pekin got beaten badly today,” Sarsfield said. “We believe he has violated the law and we’re going to treat him accordingly.”
Sarsfield said Pekin’s decision to file a writ was a sign of desperation and wouldn’t get much attention from the higher court.
Sarsfield said he did not have any qualms about being deposed and denied claims that he had harassed any of Pekin’s witnesses. Sarsfield also said his prosecution of the Los Valientes was to protect the citizens of San Benito County and not to stifle litigation.
“Mr. Pekin could put a stop to this at anytime by taking responsibility for his actions and admitting what he did,” Sarsfield said.
Sarsfield is suing the Los Valientes for nearly $1 million in damages alleging that it filed lawsuits against governmental entities without proper investigation, and filed false suits against public officials and private citizens with the intent of profiting financially. The victims named in the suit include former Pinnacle Publisher Tracie Cone, Scagliotti, San Benito Tire owner Bob Cain, former Planning Department Director Rob Mendiola, Supervisor Pat Loe and former Supervisors Ruth Kesler and Bob Cruz. Each has been singled out for alleged wrongdoing in the Los Valientes lawsuit.
In 2003, Pekin and the Los Valientes filed a suit against Scagliotti claiming that Scagliotti used his position on the Board of Supervisors to profit financially. Among the allegations, the suit says that the Churchill Nut plant was posthaste rezoned from agricultural to manufacturing land, helping Scagliotti make a $1.2 million profit.
Brett Rowland covers public safety for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]