Monday, October 12, 2009

People v. Bleich (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 9, 2009)

It's Columbus Day today. Not that this matters much to most non-governmental employees, for whom today is like any other Monday. Or probably even to Christopher Columbus, may he rest in peace. It's a close call as to which of the following I'd prefer: (1) to be a famous guy in history, or (2) to be a famous guy in history for whom a disputed holiday is named and that results in my name being taken in vain by a significant fraction of the population every year. Though I admit that those who think it's better to be known than loved would prefer the latter.

One good thing about the alleged holiday is that it lets you reread some cases from the previous day. Like this one.

It's a case from down here in San Diego with a typical fact pattern, but with a twist. Basil Abdulahad worked at the pharmacy at CVS and received a profanity-laced voicemail at 3:18 a.m. on his cell phone that accused him of trying to sleep with the caller's girlfriend and that threatened to slit his throat and put him in a bodybag. The voice sounded exactly like Basil's supervisor at CVS, who (after the voicemail) started harassing Basil and cutting his hours. Two days after the voicemail, a visibly shaken Basil reported the voicemail to the El Cajon police, who listened to the tape and thought the caller was pretty clearly high or on prescription drugs when the call was made. They then made a copy of the tape and played it to the assistant manager at CVS, who -- like Basil and his mother -- identified the caller as Basil's supervisor. The assistant manager also not only confirmed that the supervisor had lately started retaliating against Basil, but also said that customers had been saying that the supervisor had been manipulating their prescriptions, stealing their narcotics, and yelling and cursing at them to boot. This seemed to be consistent with the theory that the drugged-out supervisor left the message, especially when the supervisor denied to the police ever threatening Basil -- even before they told the supervisor exactly what they were there for. So, of course, they arrested the supervisor.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Here are the two slight twists. First, the supervisor's a woman: Ida Bleich. Second, this isn't an appeal of Bleich's criminal conviction. It's an appeal of the trial court's denial of her petition to be declared factually innocent of the offense.

Justice Benke affirms, holding that even though the trial court rightly dismissed the criminal case for insufficient evidence to bind Bleich over, she still wasn't clearly innocent. I agree with the holding, but truthfully, I'm not even sure that the trial court rightly dismissed the criminal charges. To me, it seems like there was more than enough evidence to bind Bleich over. Sure, maybe the jury finds her not guilty. But even without listening to the tape, she sounds pretty guilty to me. And that she was eventually disciplined for failing to properly account for Vicodin, Xanax and Viagra -- in addition to other bizarre behavior discussed in Justice Benke's opinion -- only heightens my suspicion.

Given that fact, I thought it was extremely bold for Bleich to file the motion to declare herself factually innocent, and even bolder to appeal the denial. Which, in the end, merely resulted in a published opinion that identified Bleich by name and recounted the pretty substantial evidence against her alongside other facts that I can't imagine at all assist Bleich's stellar reputation.

You gotta let go sometimes. Declare victory and go home. This was one of those times.