Dismissed in the interest of justice

February 7, 2013

On the morning of Jan 25, in the courtroom of Judge Larry Hayes, all criminal charges against Eva Ruiz Gomez were dropped. After two and a half years of torment, humiliation, fear and trauma for Eva and her family, the criminal case against her for felony kidnapping of her own son (later referred to as deprivation of custody and visitation) was dismissed. In fact, Judge Hayes stated that the biological father of Eva’s son did not follow the court orders and arrange visitation. Instead he chose to pursue criminal charges against Eva.

There is of course for Eva, as well as her friends and family, enormous relief and a sense of vindication; it is a time to celebrate and be eternally grateful that it didn’t go differently in Judge Hayes’ courtroom on that recent Friday morning. But there’s much more, including a sense of urgency to set the record straight about certain things, including de-bunking the myth that “all you need is a good lawyer…”

Eva feels–rightfully so–that the only reason the charges were finally dropped was Judge Hayes took the time to read all the court documents and consider all the facts. The reality is that it took an ungodly number of court hearings, hundreds of hours of research and investigation, meticulous documentation, tens of thousands of dollars, 5 lawyers over 2 and a half years, incredible media coverage and enormous community support to get to the point where one unbiased, conscientious judge would look at the court orders in question and make some intelligent conclusions.

Who know why it took all of that because, when Judge Hayes, in his two weeks on the case, read the documents he was able to conclude that: 1) Eva had full legal and physical custody of her son and permission from the court to move to Mexico with him, 2) there was no court order for visitation in Mexico, 3) there was no malice on Eva’s part and no evidence of Eva ever hiding, and 4) Eva didn’t deprive the father of visitation.

Something is seriously wrong with this system. Eva is now reliving all the terrible things her lawyers said to her, those in the beginning, who pressured her to plea bargain—one who said “You can have all the proof in the world, but there is so much corruption, if they want to get you, they’re going to get you.” Or the lawyer who told her “If you don’t have $25,000 in your pocket right now, it doesn’t matter if you are innocent or not, I will not go through with the case.” That outrageous statement was spoken 10 minutes before a pre-trial hearing by a lawyer who Eva had already paid $8500 up front in preparation for trial, but now he was heavily pressuring her to plea-bargain and take a misdemeanor.

At the same time as all this was happening in criminal court, Eva was also doing battle in family court. The same man who filed criminal kidnapping charges against her—the biological father —repeatedly brought contempt charges against her in family court as well, but each time they were rejected by the judge for lack of basis. Many times she would go to court twice in the same week–once to criminal court in Salinas and next to family court in Monterey. Before friends starting going with her, she endured these hearings alone, which took a terrible toll on her. Many months at a time she represented herself in family court—unable to afford legal counsel until, in the spring of 2012, two pro-bono lawyers took both cases.

For almost two years, Eva endured humiliation at the hand of the judges time after time in court. Then friends started going to hearings with her, and next Frank Lambert covered her story in the Gazette. Soon afterwards Claudia Melendez from the Herald covered the case, next Mary Duan from the Weekly wrote about it. Then attorney Blanca Zarazua announced in court she was there representing the Mexican Consulate, who had taken a “keen interest” in Eva’s case. Finally the judges began to act like human beings, but not a moment before that. Eva was terribly bullied by both lawyers and judges, and that is so, so wrong. That needs to not be forgotten just because friends and supporters are elated and relieved that this criminal case is over.

It took a lawyer like Dario Navarro, coming from out of town (pro-bono, on top of that!) to realize the DA’s case was groundless and to challenge the local authorities. Eva’s previous three lawyers had recommended that she take the plea bargain and admit guilt to a lesser charge. Eva said, “Why should I plead guilty when I haven’t done anything wrong?” Dario believed the case should be “dismissed in the interest of justice,” and filed a 995 Motion to Dismiss. But the judges and DA’s wore Dario down, and that combined with ill health, caused him to leave after 6 months, sick and unable to continue working. When Dario withdrew from Eva’s case, Judge Mark Hood gave Eva 48 hours, on a weekend, to find a new lawyer or he would assign her a public defender, who would surely recommend she “cop a plea,” and she would have likely ended up in state prison. She was fortunate that co-counsel Dominic Flamiano (also pro-bono) stepped forward to continue the case through the Motion to Dismiss hearing on Jan 25.

But there’s much more to this story–many generous people who contributed their time, money and energy, and so many kind and thoughtful words and deeds, such stellar effort, cooperation and support. In that way, Eva’s story is one of incredible success. But she is painfully aware that most people don’t have the resources that she had–a strong and loving family behind her, community support and the spotlight of the media–and what happens to those people without the resources? Well, they end up with a criminal record and their lives destroyed.

There’s still much work to be done, beginning in family court with Eva regaining the sole legal and physical custody of her son that she had before criminal charges were brought against her. Plus she and her family want to go home to Mexico, but for now she still cannot even leave Monterey County with her son, much less travel home to Mexico.

But in the meanwhile, Eva and her family can enjoy the relief of having the nightmare of criminal court behind them. After this enormous victory, Eva, her family and many friends can take satisfaction in what they have all done together. It was no small fete, and it truly took a village to win the dismissal of criminal charges against Eva and clear the name of an innocent woman. It should not be that way.

Valori George
Helen Rose