Record Searchlight – Local News by Jim Schultz, March 7, 2017
A mistrial was averted in the Shasta County jury trial of medical marijuana activist James Benno and his two sons Tuesday after another Superior Court judge took over the case.
Superior Court Judge Dan Flynn assigned himself as the trial judge after Judge Stephen Baker disqualified himself from continuing to preside over the trial due to an apparent conflict.
In his written Friday order, Baker, who did not explain the reasons for his disqualification, said he would declare a mistrial and the case would be sent back to Flynn for reassignment to another judge for re-trial.
But Baker backed away Tuesday from declaring a mistrial, while Flynn, citing legal precedent, said the jury trial would continue on March 14 after a seven-day delay.
Once the trial resumes, it's expected the jury will get the case by March 21.
Flynn is well-versed in the case and has presided over a number of hearings involving it since 2014. Nevertheless, he has a lot of catching up to do.
The trial for James Benno and his sons will continue, despite Tuesday's recusal of the trial's presiding judge. Jim Schultz The trial was nearing its end when Baker disclosed his intent last week to disqualify himself, and Flynn will need to read the trial transcripts and other documents to bring himself up to date.
He is also meeting with the attorneys on Monday to consider and act upon any legal motions that might be filed by them.
Although recusals are common, it's rare when they come so late in a case, especially one that's gone to trial, attorneys said.
Benno trial hits roadblock; mistrial may be declared Flynn, who took the bench after Baker stepped down, agreed.
“This is an unusual circumstance, but not an unprecedented circumstance,” he said.
Although it might never be publicly known why Baker disqualified himself, he wrote in his Friday order that he became aware the day before of information about the case that might warrant his recusal.
After further research and contacting the California Judges' Association for an independent and confidential opinion, Baker said Tuesday he would step down in “the best interest of justice.”
Shasta County Senior Deputy District Attorney Ben Hanna, prosecuting Benno and his sons, Logan and Jacob, said Tuesday he expects he'll rest his case next Tuesday morning after the trial resumes.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Joseph Tully, who represents the elder Benno, said it will take four or five days for the defense to present its side of the case.
James Benno and his sons, charged with marijuana and weapons crimes, have gone through a nearly three-year court process. Wochit The trial, which began nearly three years after the arrests of the now 51-year-old Benno and his sons, Logan, 22, and Jacob, 25, on illegal marijuana and weapon charges, saw opening statements delivered on Feb. 22 after jury selection began around Feb. 8.
Benno and his sons are out of jail custody on bond after being arrested in a May 2014 raid at their 100-plant garden in Happy Valley.
The felony charges involving growing and sales of marijuana have since been reduced to misdemeanors due to the recent passage of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis use.
But that did not affect other charges, including manufacturing a controlled substance, conspiracy, allowing drug sales on the premises and carrying a loaded firearm with intent to commit a felony.
Due to the changes in the law, prosecutor Hanna has said all three are looking at about eight or nine years if convicted of the charges against them.