It's official: Former OC Weekly cover story icons Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine are no longer convicted felons.
Both men were operators of a pair of Long Beach
marijuana dispensaries as well as Garden Grove
's Unit D
collective that were raided in Dec. 2009; they were convicted of pot sales in a Dec. 2011 trial that ended with the presiding judge, Charles D. Sheldon
, dismissing himself from the case after sending a congratulatory letter to the prosecutor–just the latest evidence of his overwhelming bias, (see “Judge Charles D. Sheldon is Captain Kangaroo, Dec. 22, 2011
). But today, acting on a motion for a new trial by defense attorneys Christopher Glew
and Allison Margolin
, Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani
threw out the two men's convictions, awarding them the right to a new and hopefully fair trial.
In making her ruling, Cassani referred to several aspects of Sheldon's mishandling of the case which the Weekly pointed out during our coverage of the trial. For example, Cassani argued, Sheldon complimented the prosecutor, Jodi Castano, in front of jurors, while also being so rude to the defense team that he actually brought Margolin to tears at one point when jurors were about to enter the room. Instead of giving Margolin a few minutes to collect herself, Cassani noted, Sheldon allowed the jurors to march into court.
Cassani observed that Sheldon also ruled that a videotape and a photograph were relevant to the prosecution's case and should therefore be allowed into evidence–without ever having examined the video or photograph in question. Just as questionable to Cassani was the fact that trial transcripts show that while Sheldon sustained the vast majority of prosecution objections, it wasn't until page 1004 of the transcripts that Sheldon sustained a defense objection.
As the Weekly previously reported, Sheldon initially sought to deny Byron or Grumbine the right to even mention medical marijuana before the trial began, and then, when another judge overturned his ruling, he forced the defense to go to trial the very next day. Cassani described Sheldon's actions as a series of errors that began before the trial even started, and which continued and worsened throughout the course.
“This was a terrible, terrible, terrible trial,” she concluded.
Cassani's ruling–overturning a pair of criminal verdicts in a case supervised by a fellow judge even before the verdicts have been formally appealed–is relatively rare, said Glew. “To have a hearing like this–and to have the motion for a new trial actually get granted–is very rare. And the only reason it happened is because Sheldon recused himself from trial.”
Although the next hearing for the case is scheduled for May 8 in Judge Arthur Jean's courtroom, assuming the case does go forward, trial isn't likely to begin until August.
“For today, justice prevailed,” said a delighted Margolin, in the hallway a few moments after the hearing ended.
“We couldn't be happier with today's result,” Glew said. “I'll echo [Cassani's] sentiments. “This was a terrible trial.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).