Citizen Rossi vs Judge Sawyer, A Strange Biased Courtroom Drama Plays to a Select AudienceBy John Taft, Investigative Reporter 6-10-01 Ed/Doc
Characters in the following real life play acted out their parts in the fourth courtroom upstairs in the Josephine County Courthouse, on June 5th and 6th, 2001. The names and individuals are real. Their resemblance to anyone else is purely coincidental.
Judge Loren L. Sawyer: A retired judge out of Medford, Oregon now acting as a circuit court rider picking up extra bucks. Sawyers is reported to have run into legal problems when he refused to enforce Measure 11 dealing with mandatory sentencing laws. His wife Sandra is reported to have had an ethics violation filed against her in Jan. 1999 by the state bar, which is on appeal. She was also an Oklahoma judge.
James Rossi: Long time Josephine County resident, businessman, Viet Nam veteran, and supporter of local charitable organizations. Rossiís friends describe him as a man with a heart of gold that will do anything he can to help a friend. Judging from previous encounters. The Josephine County Criminal Justice System appears to have a vendetta against Rossi. Rossi describes himself as "Iím a big bull, and youíre not going to take me down."
Michael Sanchez: A deputy district attorney (DDA) with a 007mission to convict James Rossi. Hawk-faced and thin as a predator looking perpetually hungry, Sanchez had a monocular eye trained on his prey during the trial, while watching for signals from the judge with the other eye. Sanchez, is well known outside the criminal justice system. He prosecuted the Mac Williamsí case (this story was covered by the Oregon Observer) and lost. During the trial he was forced to admit he didnít have the necessary proof to convict Williams. More proof that any DA can get a grand jury to indict "A ham sandwich." Josephine County grand juries are well known for the part they play in indicting ham sandwiches.
Lisa Looney: Bank Manager at U.S. Bank, downtown Grants Pass, Oregon. Looney called the Cops after a stand-off with Rossi over a valid check drawn on US Bank, and thumbprints. Her husband is an exdeputy sheriff. Looney and bank employees have been described as being on an emotional roller coaster over this $165 check.
Pam Hackett: A last minute actor in this emotion packed drama. Hackett is the mother of six children, and she is an outspoken activist critical of perceived excesses in government and the local criminal justice system. She lost a bid for a seat on the Grants Pass City Council, but made a respectable showing. After Rossiís trial she made a statement upon leaving that caused Judge Sawyer to stop her. Hackett was on her way out of the courtroom when Sawyer asked her if she would like to go to jail. She said, "Yes." "Five days" Sawyer ordered. Interestingly, when Rossi was found guilty DDA Sanchez asked for jail time for Rossi, and Sawyer refused. Another woman questioned the judgeís honor (in this story) and walked.
Court House Attorneys: Several in-house courtroom attorneys, acting as spectators, added color to the trial scene. These attorneys included: Pat Wolke, Peter Smith, Dan Simcoe, and chief of the court appointed attorneys, Gary Berlant. Note: The case was of interest to these attorneys and others, but not to the Grants Pass Daily Courier.
Grants Pass, OR Ė "Constipation of the mind and diarrhea of the mouth," were the courtroom words hurled down from the bench by an out of town Judge Loren L. Sawyer at pro per defendant James Rossi. These words adequately describe the relationship between the judge and Rossi.
Rossiís problems started about two years ago when a client paid him with a $165 check and drawn on US Bank. He attempted to cash the check. His valid ID wasnít enough, the bank also wanted a thumbprint, Rossi gave one, but the print wasnít visible, and they wanted another thumbprint. Rossi refused. All he wanted was his check cashed. Bank Manager Lisa Looney was called. She asked Rossi to leave but is reported to have locked the exits. Rossi refused, so she called the cops. A Grants Pass City Cop identified Rossi as being who he claimed to be. His ID was valid! This still wasnít good enough for Looney.
Three judges had recused themselves from hearing the Rossi trial. Rossi filed a motion to remove the fourth judge. Sawyer was the fifth judge and refused to recuse himself from hearing the trial. Rossi and Sawyer had interacted previously, and it was a dark relationship that hung over the entire trial. The trial developed with Rossi and Sawyer acting as antagonists in the ring.
Judge Sawyer and Rossi verbally hammered at each other with the following comments, during the trial:
Judge, "Donít test me, Mr. Rossi."
Judge, "Donít argue with me."
Rossi, "Iím not."
Judge, "You are."
Rossi, "Iím not."
Judge, "Donít push it, donít push it."
Rossi, "You are a disgrace to the bench."
Judge, "I will fine you and have a mistrial, and youíll spend the next 30-days in jail."
Judge, " No more comments, Mr. Rossi, keep your comments to yourself."
Judge, "Stop talking loud."
Judge, "Youíre arguing."
Rossi, "You wonít let me present evidence."
Judge, "Iíve warned you about making those snide remarks. Knock it off."
Judge, "Just ask questions."
Judge, "Mr. Rossi, I suggest you shut your mouth and sit down."
Rossi, "Iím not allowed to do anything.
Judge, "I tried to treat you with respect, Mr. Rossi."
A woman in the audience reacted to a threatening statement by Judge Sawyer, directed at Rossi. She said, "Judge, you are not a judge of honor."
Judge, "Deputy, remove that person."
Woman, "Donít touch me, Iíll remove myself."
Judge Sawyer allowed this women to leave. No jail time was imposed as it was on Pam Hackett.
The jury delivered a guilty verdict on June 6th, and on June 8th sentencing was imposed. DDA Sanchez asked the judge to give Rossi two days jail time. Judge Sawyer did not grant Sanchez this request. He fined Rossi $165, the amount of the bank check Rossi tried to cash, in addition to sentencing him to community service and probation. Rossi has appealed.
Note: Rossi reports that as of Monday June 11, 2001 by judgeís order the imposition of the sentence has been suspended by Judge Sawyer. One estimate is that the trial used up $75,000 dollars worth of court time. The reader may want to ask why was there a trial, when it appears there are no penalties? The next question is, whatís going on in the JoCo District Attorneyís Office?
Rossi told the Judge, "Iím a prizefighter, and youíve been a disappointment."
In conclusion: Regardless of the merit of the charge, the trial itself appears to have been a personal battle fought in the courtroom between Rossi, Judge Sawyer, and DDA Sanchez. Both the judge and Sanchez had the courtroom polish necessary to woo the jury into their bed, while Rossi lacked their suave and polished manner, thus he lost the juryís affection.
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