Date for Cox trial is now set — in 2025
Judge in case says court log is so backed up, that could change
By ohtadmin | on December 08, 2022
By GREG LITTLE Editor
Mariposa County taxpayers may be forking out a lot of money over the next several years in the case involving local resident Jerry Cox and a federal court case that has been given the green light to proceed.
But proceedings may take a long time, with a trial date set more than two years out in the matter.
A hearing about the case was held last week in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of California and the judge in the case said the matter could take a long time because of its nature and the enormous backlog in the federal court.
And in another twist, the lead judge in the case, Anthony Ishii, has announced he will be retiring next year, meaning another judge will take over the case.
The complicated case has been ongoing for years and involves what Cox’s attorneys call the “rape case,” as well as a receivership case in which Cox’s Bison Creek Ranch was taken from him and sold — all by order of the Mariposa County Superior Court.
Yet both the sexual assault case and the receivership case are closed. The case in federal court is an action by Cox who is suing Mariposa County for an as yet undetermined amount of money, though it could be in the millions of dollars.
Although some of the allegations brought by Cox have been dropped by the court, the meat of the case against the county remains intact and looks headed to trial.
That suit was filed two years ago by Cox, who claims he was unfairly treated by the county in both the rape case and the receivership case, in which he lost his sprawling ranch located on CYA Road in Mt. Bullion near the airport.
The county is represented in the case by Silver & Wright, a legal firm in Irvine who has been on the case since the beginning. Attorney John Fujii represented the law firm during last week’s hearing.
Cox is being represented by the law firm of Geonetta and Foucht, a firm in Oakland that specializes in these types of matters.
Also in the mix is Ashley Harris, the woman in the center of the rape case who attempted to be removed from this matter but that was denied. She was represented last week by attorney Jenna Conwisar of the firm Jenner and Block in Los Angeles.
What might be the most important aspect of last week’s hearing is the fact the case is proceeding in federal court. Mariposa County has tried in vain to get the case dismissed but those efforts failed and last week’s proceedings were focused on the long and arduous process of getting the case to trial.
In the end, a trial date was set — May 2025.
And not even that is set in stone because of the tremendous backlog in the federal court located in Fresno.
In the last ruling handed down by Ishii, he ordered the scheduling conference hearing which happened last week. That hearing was conducted by Judge Barbara McAuliffe but she will not be the judge who handles the trial. In fact, that is yet to be determined with the announcement of the retirement of Ishii next year.
“He’s been on the bench for 40 years and I think he deserves to retire,” said McAuliffe at the start of the hearing.
She also told the parties involved they will be “in line with hundreds of other cases and other criminal defendants that will take priority over anything that takes place in this case.”
She told the attorneys that, at present, if a motion is filed with the court, it takes a year to get a ruling.
With all of that said, the judge then began the process of setting dates that are required in federal civil cases like the one involving Cox, the county and Harris.
One involves disclosures, known as Rule 26 in the federal system.
The judge noted the case is “already old,” and asked if Jan. 30, 2023, was acceptable for the parties to file those disclosures.
Geonetta told the judge they are still working to get records released from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Those records belong to the late attorney Marc Angelucci, who was murdered in his home in that county in July 2020.
Angelucci represented Cox in both the rape case and the receivership case. He first became involved in the rape case as those types of cases were one of his specialties. But once that case was dismissed — another point of contention by Cox — Angelucci stayed on in the receivership case.
He battled against the county and the local court system and when he was murdered, the case hit a roadblock and has taken a lot of time since.
On July 11, 2020, Angelucci was at his home in Cedarpines Park in San Bernardino County when he was murdered by Roy den Hollander, who also murdered the son of a prominent New Jersey federal judge a few days later.
Since that time, attorneys for Cox have been trying to get the records related to his case. Those records were taken in as evidence by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office and apparently are still under lock and key. No charges have ever been filed in the case.
“All of those files are still held up in law enforcement in Southern California,” said lawyer Fred Geonetta. “We don’t have that stuff we need for disclosures.”
Geonetta did accept the date from the judge.
The many dates
The next date was for “fact discovery cutoff,” said the judge. She set that for March 11, 2024. The deadline for expert disclosure was set for May 17, 2024. The supplemental expert disclosure was set for one month later.
Expert discovery cutoff was set for Aug. 16, 2024, and the last day to file dispositive motions was set for Sept. 30, 2024.
The judge also told the attorneys they would not be allowed “oral arguments” in the case because of the workload of the federal court. The only way that would happen, said the judge was if there is a “miracle” and the workload lessens.
She then set the pretrial hearing for March 2025 and the trial to start in May 2025.
As for the length of the trial, Geonetta had requested seven weeks, but the judge said that was not realistic given the workload of the court.
“We’re optimistic to hold the case to its minimum core issues,” said Geonetta. “It is a very substantial and complicated matter.”
He said the case involves “six legal proceedings” and the two core issues: The criminal rape case and the civil receivership case.
“We thought seven weeks was fairly conservative,” said Geonetta, who then suggested five to seven weeks.
The judge set 20-25 court days and again referred to the backlog at the court.
“When you get to the pretrial conference, because we have a judicial emergency here, taking five weeks for one civil case when there could be five criminal cases, you can expect to be bumped,” said McAuliffe.
“I think we can try it in less than that,” said Fujii. “But I understand plaintiff’s position.”
The judge then set the trial date for May 13, 2025, at 8:30 a.m. and set aside 20-25 court days for the case.
The judge then began talking about any possible settlement of the case.
“I am always encouraging of settlement discussions,” said the judge.
She raised the possibility of the case going to mediation, saying, “You would get more time with a mediator than a judicial officer.”
The judge encouraged the parties to begin discussions and “maybe try to schedule one for a year from now and that forces you to do discovery.”
The judge then turned to the “scope” of the proposed discovery process, noting that Cox’s attorneys have indicated they want to conduct 32 depositions. She said under the current federal rules, only 10 depositions are allowed “unless the parties stipulate” they will allow a higher number.
“I understand the case is complex, but that is the case that was brought under the rules,” said McAuliffe.
She also told the lawyers that “regardless” of which district judge handles the case, as a magistrate judge, she will handle “all non-dispositive issues, which generally mean discovery disputes.”
The judge told the lawyers if they “run into a problem” during the course of discovery, rather than bringing a formal motion, they can contact the court deputy and then each side could submit a two-page brief about the dispute. She would then do a conference call in the next few days to settle the dispute.
McAuliffe also told the attorneys about her “two pet peeves.”
One, she said, is during any meet and confer conferences, it is required those involved have at least one person participating by telephone or Zoom. She said she does not want those done via email.
Second, McAulife said, is the fact she will “summarily overrule boilerplate objections to written discovery.”
Near the end of the hearing, Fujii, who represents Mariposa County as well as two sheriff’s deputies named in the lawsuit, asked about possible mediation.
“Once you are ready for a settlement conference, let the court know and I will get one arranged,” said the judge.
Fujii then asked the judge who would be the settlement officer.
She said Judge Stanley Boone “generally” handles those cases for the court.
The judge also floated the possibility of a bankruptcy judge, saying it “might be appropriate” in this case given the receivership aspect of the matter.
At the end of the hearing, Geonetta asked the judge if there was “any prospect” of another district judge being appointed.
“We can dream,” said the judge.
She said it has been since 1979 since the number of judges in the Eastern District of California has been increased and added it would take an act of Congress to expand the number of judges.
The Cox case already dates back seven years and essentially began in October 2015 when Harris contacted Cox via the dating website farmersonly.com. Harris came to Mariposa County and stayed at the Bison Creek Ranch where the two began a relationship, according to court documents in the case.
In November 2015, Cox asked Harris to vacate one of the cabins on the ranch to make room for paying guests.
According to court filings, Harris became upset and consumed “several alcoholic beverages” at a local bar before she went to the California Highway Patrol office in Mariposa to report an alleged rape. She was accompanied by Darlene Windham, who was also staying at the ranch.
Court documents indicate the CHP officer on duty at the time examined the phone of Harris and it showed “normal correspondence” between Cox and Harris. However, since the alleged rape took place in the county, the matter was turned over to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.
Court filings indicate Harris was initially interviewed by Deputy William Atkinson and Detective Wesley Smith, who are both named in the federal lawsuit by Cox.
Harris claimed Cox had locked her inside one of the cabins and raped her against her will between Nov. 11-13, 2015.
On Nov. 13, 2015, Cox was arrested and booked into the Mariposa County Jail for rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, oral copulation, sodomy, intimidating a witness and criminal threats. Cox remained in the jail for two weeks under $500,000 bond.
Two days later, former Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas Cooke brought an 11-count indictment against Cox, which would later be modified to 16 counts, all involving sexual crimes which could have landed Cox in jail for the rest of his life.
In October 2016, the court records indicate the sheriff’s office executed a search warrant on Cox’s property based on 101 code violations alleged by the county. It was March 2017 when the county filed a complaint for abatement and receivership against Cox and the alleged 101 code violations.
On June 2, 2017, Harris testified under oath in a separate worker’s compensation case that she had never been a victim of sexual assault or abuse.
Just 17 days later, on June 19, 2017, the county filed a motion for the appointment of a receiver in connection with the code violations.
The following month, former Mariposa County Superior Court Judge Dana Walton granted the county’s request to put the 436-acre Bison Creek Ranch into a receivership.
Less than a month after that, on Aug. 14, 2017, all criminal charges against Cox were dismissed by Cooke. At the time, Cooke said he did not have the evidence to reasonably expect a conviction in the case. He has said nothing about the case since that time and has been retired for several years.
Cox has claimed from the beginning the county filed the receivership case against him in retaliation for the sex-crimes case being dropped. The county has adamantly denied the cases are related.
In a ruling by Judge Ishii this year, he stated that Harris would be part of the federal case and denied her request to bedismissed.ThejudgedidallowCaliforniaReceivership Group, and its principle, Mark Adams, to be dismissed from the federal case.
Cox did eventually lose his property in the receivership when Walton ordered it sold.
The sale price was around $700,000, which Cox said was more than half of the worth of the land and buildings on the property.