The Bakersfield Californian
Fifth District Court of Appeal pauses criminal proceedings for men accused of killing CDCR counselor
The Fifth District Court of Appeal paused proceedings in the criminal trial for two men accused of gunning down a corrections counselor while The Californian appeals a decision allowing the Kern County Public Defender’s Office to obtain its unpublished notes from a jailhouse interview.
The Californian interviewed co-defendant Sebastian Parra in the Lerdo Justice Facility regarding any role he may have played in the shooting death of Benny Alcala Jr., a beloved figure in Kern County. Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, who represents Robert Roberts, the second man charged in the shooting, then filed a subpoena seeking reporter Ishani Desai’s unpublished notes and questions from the jailhouse interview.
Judge Elizabet Rodriguez denied The Californian’s motion to quash the subpoena and said Blythe could have the notes. However, The Californian appealed this ruling to the Fifth District Court of Appeal. The newspaper was held in contempt for refusing to produce the notes.
The appeals court ordered this week that Blythe may file a response to this newspaper’s request to vacate Rodriguez’s ruling within 30 days. The Californian then has 15 days to respond.
Blythe noted in court Wednesday she is ready for trial, but the appeals court ruling doesn’t allow the trial to move forward. She has previously said the notes are important to her defense and could exonerate her client.
Thomas R. Burke, The Californian’s counsel, noted the First Amendment and California Shield Law offer protections to journalists in their newsgathering, especially when it concerns unpublished information. Producing unpublished materials for defense attorneys makes reporters a tool for them, and mars the journalistic independence necessary to run a news organization free from influence, he has said.
An appeals court judge halted the criminal trial’s proceedings until a ruling is made.
Attorneys involved in the criminal trial will meet June 28 to determine what’s next.