SANTA CRUZ -- A county judge on Tuesday dismissed charges against three people in the takeover of a former bank and took the unusual step of fining the District Attorney's Office for delays in turning over evidence.
Judge Paul Burdick dismissed charges of felony vandalism and misdemeanor trespassing against Robert Norse, Becky Johnson and Desiree Foster.
Earlier, he dismissed the charge of felony conspiracy against all seven defendants, ruling there was no direct evidence of an agreement to enter the former Wells Fargo building at 75 River St. on Nov. 30, 2011.
Entering the building appeared to be a "spontaneous act," Burdick said. "I'm not seeing anything by which I can infer there was an agreement to trespass."
Four other defendants -- Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, Franklin Alcantara, Cameron Laurendeau and Brent Adams -- were held to answer on a charge of felony vandalism and misdemeanor trespassing. A second trespassing charge was dismissed.
Burdick said his theory for the felony vandalism charge is that vandalism at the building was a "direct and natural consequence" of the trespassing.
Burdick also said he was imposing a $500 sanction against the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office for prosecutor Rebekah Young's failure to comply with discovery motions. Defense attorneys have lodged numerous complaints with the court stating that Young wasn't turning over evidence, including video surveillance footage, in a timely fashion.
Laurendeau's attorney, Alexis Briggs, asked for larger financial sanctions, arguing that the delays in the preliminary hearing have had dire consequences for the defendants. Briggs said at least two defendants have had to live in their cars while the proceedings stumbled along. Johnson was unable to renew her teaching credentials because of the pending charges, Briggs said.
Burdick denied Briggs' request, and said the amount was sufficient.
"I've never imposed a financial sanction against the district attorney in a criminal case before," Burdick said.
The District Attorney's Office must pay the $500 to the court by Feb. 8. It has the right to appeal the sanction.
District Attorney Bob Lee was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Alcantara, Ripley-Phipps and Adams are due back in court Jan. 22 for arraignment. Laurendeau will be arraigned Feb. 1 due to his attorney's scheduling conflicts.
Eleven people initially were charged in connection with the occupation of the building, which lasted about three days before the group left peacefully.
An Occupy Santa Cruz march held on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 2011, eventually made its way to the River Street building, where a group of people managed to gain entrance to the former Coast Commercial Bank building. Several of the group members expressed a desire to turn the building into a community center. The group said it was symbolic due to the number of families across the country who have had their homes foreclosed upon by Wells Fargo, the last tenant of the building.
Last year, Burdick dismissed all charges against Grant Wilson, Bradley Allen, Alex Darocy and Edward Rector. He'd also dismissed charges against Alcantara and Laurendeau, but Young later refiled charges against them.
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