District, City Attorney offices must share case evidence

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District, City Attorney offices must share case evidence By Quintin Cushner/Staff Writer [color=red][b]Dec. 31, 2003 [/b][/color] The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office can’t forbid the Santa Maria City Attorney’s office from examining evidence in a prostitution case both agencies are investigating, a judge ruled Tuesday. The ruling, issued by Superior Court Judge Rick Brown, came in response to a motion filed Monday by Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Smith. Smith accused City Attorney Art Montandon of improperly intervening in the prostitution case against sisters April and Irene Cummings. She also requested that neither Montandon nor any member of the city attorney’s office have contact with evidence in the case. Brown, in a short verbal ruling, said he had no authority to stop Montandon’s investigation, but took judicial notice of the motion. Smith did not contest Brown’s decision, and wouldn’t comment on the case, which goes to trial Monday. Montandon, perhaps not surprisingly, was pleased at Brown’s verdict. “I believe his ruling is correct,” Montandon said, though he wouldn’t elaborate on how the ongoing investigation he is conducting relates to the Cummings case. <--- anyone else curious about the "ongoing investigation" they keep referring to in these articles? On Tuesday, Montandon also defended his right to remove and examine evidence in the Cummings case. "It is common for my office to have access to evidence kept as part of a criminal case for city investigations and civil-liability defense investigations," Montandon wrote in a letter to Brown. Assistant District Attorney Christie Stanley disagrees. She said she'd never heard of a city attorney behaving as she alleged Montandon has. "You don't give over evidence in a criminal case to a city attorney," she said. In the view of the District Attorney's office, Montandon's inappropriately inserted himself into the criminal case by allegedly offering to drop charges against the Cummings sisters in exchange for a video allegedly depicting former Police Chief John Sterling entering or exiting the women's business. Montandon, by allegedly making this offer even though he was not a representative of the District Attorney's office, could damage a potential conviction against the sisters, Stanley said. The filing of the notice as a public document was a way of protecting the office against being adversely affected by Montandon actions, she said. "Should we get a conviction, we did not want his behavior attributed to us," Stanley said. In Montandon's letter to Brown, he also said he would request that the state Attorney General's office conduct a criminal investigation of the District Attorney's office for "obstructing justice." Montandon said he had not done so as of Tuesday, . "I find that hilarious," Stanley said, indicating Montandon was the one who potentially was obstructing justice. Stanley said that after the notice was disclosed in a public document, the District Attorney's office wanted to push on with the case, and was unlikely to raise the matter again. The Cummings case was filed Aug. 28, 2002, after a two-day undercover investigation into Gentle Hands for Health, a now-closed Santa Maria massage business. During the investigation Santa Maria Police Sgt. Greg Carroll wore a wire tap, posed as a customer and asked the women for an "erotic" massage. According to Carroll's testimony, the woman discussed "sexually releasing" him. Much of the controversy in the matter revolves around a purported 11-second tape of Sterling, which is allegedly owned by public-access show host William Wagener. To date, no one but Wagener and the Cummings sisters have admitted to seeing the tape. Attorney John Holland, who represents Wagener and also has served as counsel for the Cummings sisters, claimed in an interview with Chief District Attorney Investigator David Saunders that Montandon made the offer for the tape because it would serve as ammunition in the city attorney's struggles with the Santa Maria Police Officer's Association, which was upset about Sterling's firing. Carroll, the investigator in the Cummings case, is also president of the Santa Maria Police Officers Association. Montandon would not comment on the details of his conversation with Holland or on his interest in the tape. Carroll and Holland couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. * Staff writer Quintin Cushner can be reached at 739-2217 or by e-mail at qcushner@pulitzer.net. :nav Source: [url=http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/01/01/news/local/news04.txt]http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/20...ocal/news04.txt[/url]

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