Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 11:14 pm | A Few Clouds 65º


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Criminal Trial for Solvang Animal Rescue Facility Operator Starts Monday

A trial for a Solvang animal rescue operator facing misdemeanor criminal charges will open Monday with selection of 12 jurors and a couple of alternates.

Julia Di Sieno Click to view larger
Julia Di Sieno, operator of Animal Rescue Team in the Santa Ynez Valley, is facing more than a half-dozen criminal charges. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Rigali, who normally presides over civil matters, met with attorneys Friday morning to confirm that the trial for 57-year-old Julia Di Sieno would start Monday.

Rigali ended up with the case after the defense refused to waive time for a speedy trial while the original judge is in the midst of a lengthy homicide trial.

Di Sieno, who operates the Animal Rescue Team at 875 Carriage Drive, just outside Solvang city limits, was first charged with two counts of stalking and making criminal threats against neighbors Mary and Richard Nohr.

Ordered to surrender her firearms in connection with the original case, Di Sieno allegedly failed to do so and landed in trouble again when deputies seized several weapons and ammunition.

Four additional criminal charges — unlawful firearms act violation of a restraining order, possession of a deadly weapon, and two counts of contempt of court for disobeying a court order — were filed against Di Sieno, and those cases were consolidated into one.

Among pre-trial issues handled Friday, Rigali asked why two newer misdemeanor charges — stemming from another incident involving a different neighbor — had not been added to the case.

“It would be too easy, I guess,” he remarked.

The attorneys said the circumstances involving the original eight charges were different from those alleged in the newer case.

Rigali ordered the attorneys to return Monday to explain why the two other misdemeanor charges — assault with a deadly weapon and battery — should not be handled in the same trial.

On other motions, Rigali agreed that photos of Di Sieno’s firearms could be presented but not the actual weapons.

Deputy District Attorney Steven Li said he intended to show the weapons as reasons the Nohrs have feared Di Sieno, who had accused them of poisoning her dogs.

Whether neighbors other than the Nohrs can testify about a statement Di Sieno allegedly made remains up in the air.

Li said he intended to call others who will talk about Di Sieno’s allegations that the Nohrs were poisoning her cats, reportedly prompting the defendant to say in March 2017, “You shouldn’t be afraid of my dog, you should be afraid of my gun.”

But defense attorney Kevin Dubrall contended the information was irrelevant to the case.

Rigali seemed skeptical, and said he would hold a hearing outside the jury’s presence to determine whether that testimony is pertinent.

As Rigali spelled out his planned schedule, the attorneys expressed concern due to their duties in a different courtroom. He told them other attorneys in their offices could fill in the other courtoom Tuesday morning, adding, “Trial takes priority.”

Judges and attorneys at the Santa Maria Superior Court Complex have been wrestling with clogged court calendars, complicated by several lengthy murder trials. To help ease the backlog, another criminal trial has been moved to Santa Barbara.

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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