News Roundup for Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fairfield Man Gets A Second Chance with Commuted Sentence

A Fairfield man convicted of stealing materials for making methamphetamine from his Vacaville employer over 16 years ago was one of 214 inmates granted a commuted sentence by President Barack Obama Wednesday. “All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,'” White House Counsel Neil Eggelston wrote in a statement.

The 214 commutations granted Wednesday, including for 67 inmates serving life
sentences, were the most by a president in a single day in over 100 years and
bring the total number of commuted sentences Obama has granted to 562, more than
the previous nine presidents combined, White House officials said.

Almost all the commutations Obama has granted have been for inmates serving
lengthy prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Among the offenders
granted a reduced sentence Wednesday was Thomas Raymond Ross, a former hazardous
materials technician for antihistamine manufacturer Alza Corporation in Vacaville.

Ross’s employer grew suspicious of him in 1998, when the company discovered a
drum of waste pseudoephedrine had been stolen. Alza hired a private investigator
who posed as an employee and eventually learned Ross had sold six barrels of
pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine, to meth manufacturers for
$5,000-$7,000 per barrel.

He had sold the barrels to Derrick Williams, a former Alza employee and meth
addict, who eventually pleaded guilty and testified against Ross. According to
Drug Enforcement Administration officials, one barrel of pseudoephedrine could
be used to make 25 to 30 pounds of meth. Ross stood trial on charges of
conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine, conspiring to distribute pseudoephedrine,
and distributing pseudoephedrine, and was eventually convicted by a jury. He argued
unsuccessfully on appeal that he had deficient representation because his
lawyer, Malik Ali Muhammad, had been disbarred before his trial and didn’t
show up for his sentencing hearing.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on April 11, 2001. Since then, Ross
has lived in the Taft Federal Correctional Institution in Kern County. He has
continued to argue for a commuted or vacated sentence. His family submitted 10
letters asking for his release in 2011, including letters of support from his
mother, his wife, two of his five children and his mother-in-law. His youngest
child was 11 in 2011 when they submitted the letters and his oldest already had
a son of his own.

Ross is a graduate of Woodside High School in San Mateo County and a U.S.
Army veteran, according to his family. While they acknowledged his crime, the
family argued that he had served enough time and that his continued absence was
placing an undue hardship on his family, both economically and emotionally.
“We need our son Thomas Raymond around,” his mother, Betty Ross, wrote in a letter
to Judge William Shubb. “We only have one life and would like to live it with our
son and his family. Thomas really is a great person that helped us and the
community in many different ways. He is truly missed by everyone.”

His young son also wrote to the judge, “I really want my dad home. He hasn’t
been home with me ever. He’s been in jail my whole life and my little sister’s.
I don’t know how to do anything such as fish, camp. He’s never been to my school,
football games, basketball games. I just really wish you will let my dad home.”
After losing his job at Alza, Ross started a painting business before he was
incarcerated, his wife, Angela Ross, wrote in her own letter. She moved her family
to Lompoc in 2003 to be closer to the prison but still drives over two hours each
way to visit him three times a month. She said she regularly sends him report
cards, school work and photos of the children.

“I’m sure you know how terrible the economy is, I need him home to work so
he can help support our family. Though I do work 40 hours a week it is not
enough,” she wrote. The family also submitted his own certificates from coursework
he’d completed in prison, such as substance abuse training, a parenting class
and two college courses in psychology.

He got an A on a paper written for a New Testament survey class in 2011 that
was included in the materials arguing for his release. In it, Ross argued that
sin had progressed in our society ever since the days of Adam and Eve, snowballing
until society reached a point that sin was glorified in media. “What must we do
as a society to change our ungodly ways and spread godly living and stop the
worldly snowballing effect?” Ross wrote. “How can we make an effort to give up
sin? First, we must learn who God is and get an understanding how much he loves
us. We must understand the purpose of God sending his only begotten son to Earth
to die for our sins and why Jesus’s death on a cross is so important for our

Ross will be released in September, about five years before the end of his
sentence. With about five months still remaining in his presidency, Obama is
expected to continue commuting prisoners’ sentences, though White House
officials have stressed that individual grants of clemency will never be
sufficient to correct decades of harsh sentencing for non-violent drug
offenders. “That is why action from Congress is so important,” Eggelston
wrote. “While we continue to work to act on as many clemency applications as
possible, only legislation can bring about lasting change to the federal
system. It is critical that both the House and the Senate continue to work on
a bipartisan basis to get a criminal justice reform bill to the President’s

Santa Clara County Superior Court Workers Union Strike Continues

A strike by a union representing more than 300 Santa Clara County Superior
Court employees demanding pay raises they say are long overdue will continue

The Santa Clara County Superior Court Professional Employees Association
will pick up their strike at 7:30 a.m. Thursday outside the Hall of Justice
in San Jose, union officials said. There were 310 union members who showed
up for Wednesday’s action at 7 a.m. Wednesday outside the court on West Hedding
Street after failing to reach a labor contract with the court, union president
Ingrid Stewart said.

The court hasn’t agreed to the union’s request for a pay raise in the second
year of its two-year contract, Stewart said. “I’ve been here for 36 years and
I would have to say this is one of the lowest periods I’ve ever had with the
court,” said Stewart, who currently works as a courtroom clerk for the civil
division at Downtown Superior Court. The union was formed at the beginning of
this year after it split from Services Employees International Union Local 521
representing about 380 workers including courtroom clerks, mediators and janitors,
Stewart said.

The court has offered its “last, best and final offer” of a 5 percent raise
when the contract is ratified and another 5 percent raise six months later, court
spokesman Joe Macaluso said. The court has given the union three proposals to
continue negotiations through mediation, Macaluso said. The strike has resulted
in a slowdown at the county’s 11 court facilities, where the largest impact is
at each clerk’s office that is either closed or providing limited services, he said.

“At this point we have deployed all our staff to where they need
to be,” Macaluso said. The union agreed with the court to provide five employees to
perform “essential functions” that vary from courtroom clerks to information
specialists, he said. Some people summoned for jury duty have been dismissed, while
others are under review to serve on a panel, Macaluso said. The public should
continue to check whether or not they have to report for jury duty through the
instruction provided on their summons, he said.

Hearings are going on as scheduled, but a majority of cases are being
continued to a later date, according to Macaluso. The scaled-back operation
will continue Thursday and for as long as the strike lasts, Macaluso said.
Union members were outside the court Wednesday morning walking in a circle
that extended to the sidewalk while chanting phrases such as “No justice,
no peace,” and cheered when passing cars honked in support. A few of them
were also beating drums and ringing bells.

Many of the members held signs, some of which read, “Respect starts with
our contract,” and “No employees, no public service.”Stewart criticized the
court for not giving union members a pay increase despite spending more than
$200 million on a new Family Justice Center Courthouse in downtown san Jose.

“We need to keep getting raises to keep up with the pace of the economy,”
she said. In the past eight years, the workers have negotiated three prior
contracts without a pay raise, union member Anna Sapp said. Sapp, a drug court
coordinator, is an 18-year employee who plans to eventually retire with her job,
but said she may be forced to find another position elsewhere if she doesn’t
see her wages go up.

Sapp rents a three-bedroom home in Milpitas where she keeps her two teenage
children and grandson in one room and subleases two of the rooms while she
lives in the garage. Sapp wants to stay in Santa Clara County for her job and
children’s education, but said if she doesn’t see a raise, she may be pushed
out of the county.

Multiple lawn chairs were spread out on the grass along with tents and tables
filled with baked goods and other refreshments for the union members. Many of
the items were donated from labor unions supportive of the strike, including the
Santa Clara Government Attorneys’ Association, which represents lawyers with the
county’s district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, and the San Jose
Police Officers’ Association.

SJPOA President Paul Kelly, who dropped off cases of water bottles for the
picketers, said he recognized the public impact the strike would have on law
enforcement. Clerks help process search warrants that need to be signed by a
judge before they can be served, Kelly said. He called on the public to look
at the “big picture” and recognize the difficulties the court workers’ union
has been facing.

(News by Bay City News)