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Judge Tried Incarcerating Man for Not Being in Two Places at One Time

Illustration by Michael Ziobrowski

Fifty-five years after Rod Serling stopped producing The Twilight Zone—whose scary plots the website IMDb.com described as “ordinary people . . . in extraordinarily astonishing situations”—Orange County’s criminal-justice system continues to create fitting scripts for the series.

This latest story involves 37-year-old Jordan Ali Stone, and let’s get these likelihoods out of the way: Stone’s not exactly ordinary, and you probably won’t like him. You may even smile that officials made his life as difficult as possible by sly, extra-judicial means.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 280-pound Stone is a former Louisiana college-football star who had a brief stint in the NFL. He’s also a convicted felon. And his crime was not exactly endearing: pimping.

An on-the-ball member of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force converted a routine, 2014 jaywalking incident into unraveling Stone’s prostitution racket. He’d moved from Illinois to Irvine to work at a car dealership, but, along with his nephew, ended up selling the sex services of two women—Ashley and Megan—at a seedy motel on Costa Mesa’s Harbor Boulevard.

In a negotiated deal, Stone pleaded guilty in November 2014 to reduced charges, and a judge stayed a stiff prison sentence. Instead, he was ordered to spend about 10 months in jail, undergo three years of formal probation and report to a probation officer within 72 hours of his release from custody.

Two months later, our local criminal-justice system initiated the kind of tale Twilight Zone fans can appreciate. Without releasing him from custody, Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) officials sent Stone to Illinois, where he faced another warrant. There, Stone was placed on parole and ordered to remain in the state. He complied, went to school to get a truck driver’s license, stayed crime-free, took care of a 9-year-old son as a single parent, expressed remorse for his past conduct, and eventually called OC probation officer Jason Doud to provide contact information for himself as well as his Illinois probation officer.

But Stone, a U.S. Navy veteran who served four years in Middle East combat zones, faced a ridiculous dilemma: If Illinois officials ordered him not to leave under threat of severe punishment and California officials demanded he report to Santa Ana under threat of severe punishment, what was he supposed to do?

The Orange County bureaucratic-bullshit machine kicked into high gear. Doud, who’d spent months insisting he had no idea of Stone’s whereabouts, formally accused him of failing to report in person, which prompted the revocation of his probation and a new felony arrest warrant. Deputy District Attorney Daniel Veron pressed for a prison punishment for the infraction, and Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald, who has a history of committing unconscionable acts on the bench, stayed true to form, showing no hint of empathy.

After Stone turned himself in to Illinois officials in September 2016 for the OC warrant and local taxpayers were forced to pay for his airfare to California, Fitzgerald acted baffled by the defendant’s claim of having been placed in a predicament. He also claimed he couldn’t “understand” a defense attorney’s explanation of what had transpired. Agreeing with Veron that a violation is a violation, regardless of the factual circumstance, the judge ordered Stone sent to prison for a whopping nine years and four months.

In late December, the California Court of Appeal rejected Fitzgerald’s moves.

“It is obvious from the allegations of the [appeal] that [Stone] had not absconded,” justices Raymond Ikola, Eileen Moore and Thomas M. Goethals ruled. “He was in custody in another state. To the extent the probation officer could not determine the defendant’s location by asking the jail personnel, the fault plainly did not lie with the defendant. The jailer’s failure to have a record of the state to which the defendant had been transported cannot be the basis to charge a willful violation. He had not willfully failed to apprise his probation officer of his location. Anyone in the defendant’s position would assume the Orange County Sheriff’s [Department] knew exactly where he was.”

The panel concluded that Fitzgerald twice violated Stone’s due process rights and vacated the prison punishment.