There was quite a strange sight in Orange County Superior Court on Friday.
Judge Thomas James Borris told the packed courtroom, right off, that “hundreds” of settled cases were being audited because of errors found in the court docket, and then began quizzing 110 defendants and attorneys about things said of them in the official record.
There were discrepancies: Defendants who had not done the recorded time served; forged jail orders that attorneys said they had not requested; attorneys and defendants who did not know each other, contrary to the record.
There were questions by the judge, mostly of defendants. He vacated about a dozen cases on the spot and had one woman arrested. The OC Weekly said she told the judge that, ya, she served three months in a private jail, just like the record said. The court called. She lied.
The Orange County Register said the judge gave defendants three choices if he reversed their settlement. He said they could negotiate with the district attorney now, negotiate with the judge or pay for a lawyer. The D.A. was the most popular choice.
Deals were recut to pay fines and face other penalties.
While Judge Borris worked his way down a long list of cases, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) flagged people inside and outside the courtroom. The feds and Orange County prosecutors are investigating around 600 cases dating back to 2006, according to the Register.
The cases are misdemeanor and traffic offenses. Nearly all of them appear to involve Latino defendants accused of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving without a license.
Early betting is that a single rogue clerk is the perpetrator. That would indicate an employee who is crazy, incompetent or―again, an early frontrunner―corrupt.
While the investigation continues, the judge is expected to be back at it this Friday, and the following Friday, with courtrooms full of new old defendants explaining why they shouldn't have their settlements vacated.