Kenneth Walter Freitas’ attorney entered a plea of not guilty Monday for his client, who is accused of vehicular manslaughter in the crosswalk death of a 17-year-old Grover Beach girl.
Pretrial motions are set for Oct. 28 at 8:30 a.m.
Freitas, 33, son of San Luis Obispo County tax assessor Frank Freitas, was not present at the brief arraignment. Attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu is representing the younger Freitas.
Superior Court Judge John Trice recused himself from the proceedings following a request from Funke-Bilu, and assigned the case to the courtroom of Judge Dodie Harman.
Asked why Trice was targeted for recusal, Funke-Bilu said, “I don’t like bald guys.”
Asked why his client was not present for the arraignment, Funke-Bilu said, “He doesn’t like bald guys, either.”
Asked if his client was taking the case as lightly as his attorney, Funke-Bilu said, “No. Absolutely not.”
Funke-Bilu declined to give another reason for the disqualification, citing his client’s privacy. Funke-Bilu also said he will ask that the district attorney be prohibited from conducting the prosecution.
In such an event, he added, the case would be returned to the attorney general.
Funke-Bilu said the “whole incident is a tragedy for all involved. A young, beautiful girl perished. We will just have to plod through this.”
Freitas, whose driving record includes 19 traffic violations and two road-rage incidents since 1988, drove through a darkened crosswalk Sept 7, 2002, and struck Sarah Scruggs, who was walking with a friend. Scruggs died four days later in a hospital. The companion was not seriously injured.
In all of Freitas’ previous court appearances, the district attorney handled the prosecution. His road-rage charges were subsequently reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, and he reached a plea-bargain arrangement with prosecutors.
Grover Beach police forwarded their report to the district attorney, but the file sat on the desk of Deputy District Attorney Lee Cogan for six months until Tom and Elizabeth Scruggs pressed their daughter’s case with Cogan’s superiors.
District Attorney Gerald Shea then moved the investigation to the state attorney general, citing a conflict of interest between his office and the Freitas family.
Recently, the attorney general declined to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence.
A public uproar ensued, and 600 to 700 letters were sent to Shea and the SLO County grand jury. Only hours before the statute of limitations expired, Shea filed a single count of vehicular manslaughter after receiving permission from the attorney general to do so.
Funke-Bilu said he had no plans ask for a change of venue despite what he called “a highly political decision” by the district attorney.
“The prosecutor is an elected official, in a political office,” said Funke-Bilu, “and the decision to file was blatantly political.”
“But I can tell you that your [New Times’] articles will be ‘Exhibit A,’” he added.
Deputy District Attorney Jerrett Gran will prosecute the case for the
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Donald Umhofer retired Wednesday, capping a 20-year career on the local bench.
Until the governor—whomever that might be—makes an appointment to replace him, Umhofer will remain on duty in his present courtroom handling civil, probate, and adoption cases. Then he will become a full-time visiting judge, handling overflow cases in courtrooms all over the state.
A former public defender and prosecutor, Umhofer has been in public service for 31 years in this county.
He was the presiding judge in the pair of road-rage cases against Kenneth Freitas.
Umhofer said Wednesday he “enjoyed every minute of it [his tenure on the bench], and I’m looking forward to the travel” his new assignments will carry.
He said the looming Freitas case had “absolutely nothing to do with my decision.”
Umhofer was appointed to the bench in 1983 by then-governor Jerry Brown.
Recall brings changes to polling stations
County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald will keep the San Luis Obispo County Elections Office opened with extended office hours to make absentee voting more convenient for the Oct. 7 statewide special election.
The office will be open on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4-5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to make sure all voters can obtain an absentee ballot. The office is located at 1144 Monterey St. in SLO. In order to be counted, all voted absentee ballots must be returned to the Clerk-Recorder’s office or a polling place within the county by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Because of the shortened timeline to prepare for this election, the number of precincts in the county has been reduced and many of the regular polling places won’t be available for Election Day. The following locations will not be available:
Halcyon: Halcyon Hiawatha Lodge, 3065 Temple St.
Los Osos: Baywood School, 1330 9th St.; First Baptist Church, 1900 Los Osos Valley Road; Sunnyside School, 880 Manzanita Drive.
Nipomo: Lighthouse Christian Church, 726 Tefft St.; Nipomo Recreation Center, 170 South Frontage Road.
Paso Robles: St. James Episcopal Church, 514 14th St.; Virginia Peterson School, 2501 Beechwood Drive; Pat Butler School, 700 Nicklaus St.
San Luis Obispo: San Luis Obispo Recreation Building, 864 Santa Rosa St.; San Luis Obispo City Hall, 990 Palm St.; San Luis Obispo City/County Library, 995 Palm St.; Toyota San Luis Obispo, 12350 Los Osos Valley Road.
Templeton: Templeton Community Center, 601 Main St.
For more information, call 781-5228.
Smoke alarm saves life
A San Luis Obispo resident was alerted Sept. 24 at 7 a.m. by a fire alarm in her duplex on Del Sol Court.
Upon awakening, the woman remembered she forgot to put out the candles that were burning the night before.
She was treated for burns at Sierra Vista Hospital.
Edna Valley Vineyard is working with Enhancement, Inc., a local nonprofit that promotes health and wellness, to host two events to benefit breast cancer survivors and bring attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
On Saturday, Oct. 18, from 5 to 9 p.m., Enhancement, Inc. will present its sixth annual fund-raiser, Autumn Passages-Celebrating Breast Cancer Survivors: featuring live music, auctions, and cuisine from local restaurants and wineries.
On Sunday, Oct. 19, from 1 to 4 p.m., Edna Valley Vineyard will host “Release ’03” with a 2002 vintage wine release kickoff, an art show featuring local artists, food from the county’s popular restaurants, and, to highlight the afternoon, a fashion show at 2 p.m.
Both events will be held at Edna Valley Vineyard, 2585 Biddle Ranch Road. Tickets can be purchased at Edna Valley Vineyard, Boo Boo records in San Luis Obispo and Grover Beach, Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay, or by calling Enhancement Inc. at 771-8640.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife
On Sept. 24, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal government, charging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with maintaining Endangered Species Act protections for the Western snowy plover based on “junk science.”
The PLF filed the notice on behalf of the Surf Ocean Beach Commission (SOBC), which filed a de-listing petition for the plovers in July of 2002.
The PLF is charging the government with sitting on a wealth of scientific information that justifies removing the plover from protected status and lifting unneeded beach-use restrictions. The Foundation argues that data about the plover demonstrates that it is not a distinct population or separate species entitled to its own set of Endangered Species Act protections.
Symposium to be held
The San Luis Obispo County Juvenile Justice Commission is holding a symposium on the county juvenile justice system for peace officers, educators, and others working with at-risk youth.
The event will be held on Monday, Oct. 6, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the
PG&E Community Center,