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Officials Getting Creative with Court Renovations Needed for Large Santa Maria Trial

Seven-defendant murder trial in the slaying of Anthony Ibarra requires modifications to Santa Maria Juvenile Court

Darrel Parker had to get creative before to deal with a big court case in Santa Maria.

His creativity is how the Santa Barbara County Superior Court complex in Santa Maria ended up with theater seats, complete with cup holders, purchased off eBay to save money as he oversaw preparations for pop star Michael Jackson’s trial on child molestation charges, the court executive officer recalled.

Parker’s creativity is needed again as Santa Maria court officials are handling the logistics and preparing for the seven-defendant trial in the slaying of Anthony Ibarra last year in Santa Maria

While the Jackson trial was prominent due to one high-profile defendant, this case is complex because of the numbers — at least seven defendants, seven defense attorneys, multiple deputies, a prosecutor, a judge, a court reporter, a clerk and 12 jurors plus alternates for a trial expected to last several months.

Court officials have decided to hold the proceedings in the Santa Maria Valley’s largest court facility — Santa Maria Juvenile Court.

However, since juvenile trials don’t have juries, the courtroom at the Santa Maria Juvenile Hall facility on California Boulevard needs seating for those citizens who will decide the defendants’ guilt or innocence.

Along with seating for 12 jurors, the Superior Court needs room for several alternates, likely four to six people due to the expected length of the trial.

A nearby courtroom conference room has been eyed as the jury deliberation room.

Parker is trying to keep costs down since the expense of these changes comes from the court’s limited local budget, not state funds. He has requested $20,000 to make the needed modifications.

Last year, Parker joined with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department representatives to find a suitable facility for the multiple defendant case. Other options were rejected due to cost and security concerns. 

For instance, a replica courtroom would need to be built inside a Santa Maria Fairpark facility, but would have to be dismantled each weekend since the site is rented out for local quinceañeras and other events. The other option would be renting the building through the weekend, not feasible in this era of tight budgets.

“It’s expensive and I don’t have the money to pay for that,” Parker said.

The old Santa Maria Library building would require a number of improvements and pose security concerns, so that option was also eliminated. 

Parker recalled returning from vacation to see headlines about a court preparing for a massive case.

He recalled thinking, “Well, that’s a nightmare.” But a closer looked revealed it was his court’s “nightmare.”

“It’s really just a logistical challenge administratively,” he said. “It’s all manageable.”

Cutbacks due to financial woes mean some furniture can be relocated from the court facilities to be closed elsewhere in the county, reducing expenses for the trial modifications. 

The large area between the judge’s bench and audience seating is filled with tables positioned in a half circle, a layout that will probably be modified before the trial so attorneys don't have their backs to the jurors. Yet, while making room for all those involved, court officials must keep security matters in mind.

This isn’t the only multi-defendant case the local court has handled recently.

In a Lompoc kidnap-torture case, what began with multiple defendants ended with two — Raymond Daniel Macias and Luis Alfredo Almanza — going to trial after the others accepted plea deals in exchange for testifying.

Court officials have hinted they expect fewer than seven defendants by the time the Ibarra murder trial begins. It is planned for mid-November, the judge repeatedly reminds the attorneys.

With multiple attorneys, the judge has had to wrestle with scheduling conflicts, offering to talk to another judge, for instance, when two attorneys had a conflict with a hearing date due to another criminal trial.

“The judges communicate and it’s very collegial and cooperative,” Parker said.

Once the trial starts with a regular five-day-per-week schedule, Parker will have to account for another full-time courtroom and assign a court clerk, court reporter and other support staff.

State officials already granted Parker’s request for judicial relief due to workloads and vacancies so retired Judge Rick Brown is on temporary loan to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Most retired Superior Court judges would be assigned to hear cases throughout the state on an as-needed basis.

However, it makes sense for Brown to continue to handle the multi-defendant trial since he’s familiar with it after months of presiding over hearings, Parker said.

The seven defendants are accused in the slaying of Ibarra, 28, in a northwest Santa Maria residence. His body was later found in a U-Haul truck parked in Orcutt.

Prosecutors contend Ibarra was killed because he allegedly owed "drug taxes" to the gang.

The defendants are Ramon Maldonado, Reyes Gonzalez, Santos Sauceda, David Maldonado, Anthony Solis, Ramon Maldonado Jr. and Jason Castillo. Four other defendants, Pedro Torres Jr., Carmen Cardenas, Verenisa Aviles and Robert Stan Sosa, accepted pleas in the case.

Meanwhile, another construction project underway at the Juvenile Hall facility entrance is unrelated to the multi-defendant case, Parker said. 

That project involves a weapons screening space with metal detectors and screening equipment. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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