Mom on jury duty asks to be ex­cused, felt bul­lied by judge

The Fresno Bee - - Front Page - BY MACKEN­ZIE MAYS [email protected]­nobee.com

Christa Pehl Evans left jury duty at the Fresno Su­pe­rior Court­house last month feel­ing hu­mil­i­ated by a judge she al­leges had dis­dain for her job as a stay-at-home mom.

Pehl Evans, a mother of three chil­dren un­der the age of 7, who some­times teaches as an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Fresno Pa­cific Univer­sity, raised her hand in court dur­ing jury se­lec­tion on Nov. 20, ask­ing Judge James Petru­celli to ex­cuse her from serv­ing on the case, say­ing she needs to take care of her chil­dren. She breast­feeds her youngest and home­schools the oth­ers.

She said Petru­celli’s re­sponse left her feel­ing bul­lied, and called his line of ques­tion­ing anti-woman and anti-mother.

“He had this at­ti­tude to­ward me that I was some dumb mom, which is a broader prob­lem in this coun­try,” she said. “I have a PhD from Prince­ton, and be­ing a mother is the hard­est job I’ve ever done. I felt like I had to de­fend my­self for moth­er­ing my chil­dren.”

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, when Pehl Evans asked to be ex­cused, Petru­celli asked who was car­ing for her chil­dren at that mo­ment. She replied that her hus­band had stayed home from work.

“What hap­pens when he does not take a day off or if you are sick?” Petru­celli asked.

Pehl Evans replied, “I take care of my kids when I’m sick.”

Petru­celli then asked, “If you got hit by a Mack truck and went to the hos­pi­tal?”

“That would be an is­sue. It has not hap­pened yet,” she replied.

AN­OTHER MOTHER GETS QUES­TIONED

Then Petru­celli ques­tioned an­other mother in the jury box.

That woman was a stay-ath­ome mother of an 18-mon­thold and is preg­nant, and also asked to be ex­cused. Petru­celli asked what her hus­band did for a liv­ing. When the woman replied that he was a doc­tor, Petru­celli said that she could af­ford child care.

“I’m amazed that peo­ple don’t have child care avail­able to them,” Petru­celli said, ac­cord­ing to the tran­script.

That woman could not be reached, but Pehl Evans said Petru­celli’s ques­tions to that mother were off-putting. “For me, I un­der­stood that she was wor­ried about the reg­u­lar­ity of her child’s sched­ule,” Pehl Evans said. “But it was like he just wanted her to suck it up. I found it very of­fen­sive and in­sen­si­tive.”

Pehl Evans was ex­cused from her Novem­ber jury duty for a tem­po­rary hard­ship but or­dered to re­turn to serve in Jan­uary. “I’ll have to go through all of this again,” she said.

She took to Face­book to blast the judge for what she felt was an at­tack on her, the other mother in the jury box and moth­ers ev­ery­where.

“I am more than happy to serve on the jury when my chil­dren are older, but my most im­por­tant duty to this coun­try at this mo­ment is to raise lov­ing hu­man be­ings, a job that con­sumes me all day and many nights...” she wrote. “We can #metoo all we want about sex­ual as­sault, but un­til we re­spect moth­er­ing as a valid and im­por­tant oc­cu­pa­tion, we have a ma­jor sex­ist prob­lem. Paid work is not the only work that mat­ters.”

The Fresno County Su­pe­rior Court opened a wait­ing room in 2009 that pro­vides childcare to any one con­duct­ing busi­ness there, in­clud­ing ju­rors and de­fen­dants.

‘I’M NOT OF­FENDED BY ANY­THING I SAID’

In an in­ter­view in his cham­bers, Petru­celli ini­tially de­nied some of the com­ments Pehl Evans al­leged and said, “As I sit here, I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of the lady that’s com­plain­ing on Face­book.”

But af­ter he re­viewed the court tran­scripts, he stood by his com­ments, say­ing his ques­tions were meant to iden­tify a fi­nan­cial hard­ship.

“It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to ask those ques­tions. I’m not of­fended by any­thing I said,” he said. “But peo­ple have dif­fer­ent sen­si­tiv­i­ties.”

Af­ter first deny­ing the Mack truck com­ment, upon re­view­ing the tran­script, Petru­celli said, “I have said that to peo­ple be­fore, to make a point about what hap­pens if there’s an emer­gency.”

Petru­celli added, “I do have a ten­dency to get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion. There’s no two ways about it.”

He said he had not heard from Pehl Evans since court, and de­nied her al­le­ga­tions that his ques­tions were hate­ful.

“Why wouldn’t some­body call me and have me apol­o­gize if they’re of­fended? It is not my job or thought process to of­fend any­body. I do this ev­ery day. We have thou­sands and thou­sands and thou­sands of ju­rors come through,” he said. “I mean, I have so many peo­ple come up to me away from court and tell me what a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence it was to be in my court­room and so on.”

PETRU­CELLI’S PAST

In 2015, the state ju­di­cial com­mis­sion cen­sured Petru­celli for or­der­ing cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers to re­lease from jail a friend who was fac­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence charges, call­ing his ac­tions “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct.”

In 2007, he was rep­ri­manded by the com­mis­sion for poor be­hav­ior to­ward lawyers and county em­ploy­ees in his court­room and for mak­ing com­ments that are “dis­cour­te­ous, sar­cas­tic or de­mean­ing to those ap­pear­ing be­fore him.”

In 2001 and 2002, Petru­celli re­ceived two ad­vi­sory let­ters rep­ri­mand­ing him for in­fring­ing on at­tor­neys’ rights and rais­ing his voice with county em­ploy­ees.

Then, he told The Bee that he ac­cepted the pub­lic ad­mon­ish­ment and no longer acts that way in the court­room.

Last week when he met for the in­ter­view on this story, Petru­celli ini­tially de­clined to be recorded and said “you’ve chal­lenged me in my of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity.”

Petru­celli was elected as judge in 1998 af­ter work­ing as a Fresno sher­iff’s deputy and civil at­tor­ney. He was last re-elected in Novem­ber 2016, when he ran un­op­posed. He is up for re-elec­tion in 2022.

James Petru­celli

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

With 15-month-old Sylvia on her lap, stay-at-home mom Christa Pehl Evans watches 7-year-old Vi­o­let prac­tice a Christ­mas carol, as Har­vey, 5, ex­plores the keys. Pehl Evans says she was be­rated and hu­mil­i­ated by Fresno Judge James Petru­celli dur­ing jury duty se­lec­tion af­ter she asked to be ex­cused to care for her chil­dren.

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