LANCASTER – Outspoken City Council critic, David Grajeda, was admittedly ill-prepared Thursday morning for his first court appearance since choosing to represent himself in the case against him for interfering with or disturbing a public meeting.
“I just got into town last night so I’m kinda winging it today,” said Grajeda before his appearance. “My purpose in this pretrial is to contest the validity of the restraining order.”
Things got off to a rocky start for Grajeda in the courtroom.
During the pretrial hearing, Grajeda was denied his request to challenge the restraining order barring him from City Hall, admonished for subpoenaing City officials to testify at the pretrial hearing, and ordered to have standby counsel present with him on his next court date, set for Feb. 6, 2012.
Grajeda, a frequent speaker and critic at Lancaster City Council meetings, was arrested on Oct. 25 as he attempted to enter a City Council meeting. He was charged with interfering with a public meeting based on his actions at an Oct. 12 Criminal Justice Commission meeting. View video of those actions here. Grajeda’s bail was initially set at $5,000 for the misdemeanor charge, but was later raised to $25,000. Grajeda was jailed for 16 days before bailing out on Nov. 9, and then hit with a restraining order barring him from Lancaster City Hall. On Nov. 16, Grajeda’s case was continued to Jan. 12 for pretrial, and on Nov. 22, Grajeda requested to represent himself going forward.
Appearing before Judge Akemi Arakaki for pretrial Thursday, Grajeda said he was running for Mayor of Lancaster and the restraining order prevented him from filing the necessary paperwork to qualify as a candidate.
“I would like to petition the court to resolve the stay away order,” Grajeda told the judge, adding that the order violated the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Judge Arakaki, acknowledged that Grajeda had been compliant with the restraining order, but denied his request to challenge the order Thursday.
“The limited information that I have is based on the people’s representation that the stay away order is necessary,” Arakaki said. “I’m going to ask that you follow the restrictions of the Sheriff’s Department and City Hall.
Arakaki said Grajeda could go to City Hall to pull and file papers for mayor, but only if accompanied by law enforcement.
Assistant District Attorney Adan Montalban said Grajeda had abused the court’s power in subpoenaing City officials to attend Thursday’s pretrial hearing.
“He subpoenaed 20 people from the City for the hearing today… this is a complete inconvenience,” said Montalban. “I believe this is an abuse of the court’s power.”
Arakaki agreed and admonished Grajeda, saying the subpoenas for pretrial were not appropriate.
“You cannot subpoena people for no reason, technically that can be an abuse of power,” Arakaki said. “The court will not set sanctions… but these need to be necessary witnesses, you cannot be subpoenaing all of City Hall.”
“I only subpoenaed 5 or 6 City officials to challenge the stay away order on its constitutionality and to give testimony on whether I was a threat,” Grajeda countered.
The judge also questioned Grajeda’s ability to represent himself.
“The court, out of an abundance of caution, will recommend standby counsel to be present on the next court date,” Arakaki said.
Grajeda was given a trial date of February 6, 2012.
Despite Thursday’s setbacks, Grajeda appeared undeterred after the pretrial hearing.
“At the last hearing the judge said I would be able to contest the restraining order at today’s hearing, but I found that not to be the case,” he said. “The judge is not being impartial.”
Grajeda said he would accept his standby counsel, but hoped it wouldn’t be a hindrance to his case.
“I really want to defend myself, and I’m doing the best that I can,” said Grajeda.
He said his list of 20 subpoenas for the hearing included City officials as well as residents – among them Deputy City Manager Jason Caudle, City Councilmember Marvin Crist, Public Safety Officer Lee D’Errico, and residents Scott Pelka and Jonathan Ervin.
“I have a right to bring up witnesses in order to get the message out that I am not violent, I am not trying to hurt anyone,” said Grajeda after the hearing. “I’m just trying to speak, that’s it.”
Grajeda said his announcement as a mayoral candidate was valid, and he would be pulling papers and obtaining the appropriate amount of signatures to qualify before Friday’s deadline. He said as mayor he would reduce term limits to two years, open the books to see where the money is going, impose salary caps on the City Manager’s and Deputy City Manager’s salaries, and closely evaluate code ordinances to “get rid of the ones that are unconstitutional and unfairly tax the population.”
Grajeda said he was also running for mayor to have access to speak at City Hall and to send the message “that anybody can run for Mayor.”
He said his candidacy would not affect his ability to defend himself during his trial, come Feb. 6.