Saturday, 13 July 2024


LOWER LAKE – Konocti Unified School District's Board of Trustees came another step closer to the point of making a decision on how to cut the district's budget for the coming fiscal year.

Parents, teachers, administrators and community members offered pleas for their schools as well as ideas about how to save money at a board meeting in Lower Lake on Wednesday night.

About 80 people attended the meeting at Lower Lake High School's new gym. Seventeen of them spoke to the board over about a two-hour period. Board member Hank Montgomery was out of town and unable to attend the meeting.

The district is looking at options including possible school closures or school curriculum realignments in an effort to cut $1.2 million out of its 2009-10 budget. The board has hosted a series of meetings around the district to receive community response to the district's budget proposals. Board members said they intend to look at making a final decision at a meeting set for March 11.

By the end of the evening, Superintendent Dr. Bill MacDougall offered his own suggestion to the board.

He said it was his belief that the best course was for the board to close Oak Hill Middle School. That will give them the savings they need to get through the coming fiscal year, he said.

The audience members offered very different viewpoints on what was best for the district.

Carl Stewart, himself a middle school teacher at one time, said he believed the middle school model is a bad one. “I just don't think it works.”

While he taught at a middle school in Southern California, his daughter attended a K-8 school, and he said the difference was “phenomenal.” At a K-8 school, a beloved kindergarten teacher would still be available to older pupils, and the children weren't as likely to misbehave in front of such a teacher.

At the middle school, “Kids had been yanked out at the most fragile point in their lives, been lumped together, and the behavior was atrocious,” he said.

Gina Fortino Dickson, who serves on the Clearlake Planning Commission, suggested moving the Lower Lake Elementary campus to Oak Hill Middle School and utilizing it as a K-8 school. That would allow the elementary campus to be absorbed by Lower Lake High next door, which she said was landlocked and bursting at the seams.

MacDougall asked her for her thoughts on how the move would save the district money. She said it was more an issue of giving them more access to resources now and allowing them space options later.

Some of the evening's most powerful testimony came from parent Jennifer Rodgers, whose children are at Oak Hill.

Rodgers, who had attended a previous community meeting held to take community input on the school closure proposals, said she's heard a lot of bashing of Oak Hill Middle school, and she wanted to share her experience with the staff, who she praised for their compassion, understanding and for “getting” the specific needs of middle schoolers.

She said her children would be considered “problems” by some, as her son has two disorders and her daughter is dyslexic. He son's behavior was so bad at one point that she had to homeschool him.

He's now at Oak Hill. “Many changes are happening in my son's life,” she said.

The boy is mentoring other students, and rather than drawing demons he's drawing hearts. “There's been a total 180.”

Rodgers added, “I believe with all of my heart that it has everything to to do with the staff at Oak Hill Middle School.”

A lot of bad things happen at schools, and Rodgers said she believed the ultimate responsibility lies at home with parents.

She said her daughter also is passing regular classes. Rodgers said she feels like she's in a partnership with teachers, and she wanted to thank them for helping her son reach his full potential.

“I know that a decision has to be made but I just hope that stories like that get heard, too, that Oak Hill makes a difference,” said Rodgers, adding she hoped they would find a different option than closing the schools.

During the hearing, Board Clerk Anita Gordon told the audience that they wouldn't be having the hearings about closing schools if it weren't for the decisions being made by legislators in Sacramento.

She asked people to write legislators to let them know what they're doing to communities. “At some point in time they'll have to listen to us,” said Gordon. “We're mad as heck and we're not going to take it anymore, but they don't know that.”

Johnnie Hathcock suggested cutting the district's nine principals – which she said cost the district $950,000 a year – down to five in order to save $400,000 annually. She also suggested they look at encouraging early retirements.

“The district has a reserve and we should use these monies before closing the schools,” she said.

Lower Lake Elementary teacher Peggy Ustick was concerned that by closing Oak Hill the other schools would be overcrowded, and portable buildings would be necessary. She said pushing so many additional students into current schools would cause issues both for discipline and safety.

Parent Cindy Crandell, who also attended a previous meeting at Pomo, said her daughter attends Pomo Elementary, which she wants to stay as a K-8 school, and not see it go to grades fourth through eighth.

She said he was glad to hear Rodgers' story about Oak Hill. “I wish we heard more heroic stories about Oak Hill, because we know there are some phenomenal teachers at Oak Hill.”

Parent Cheryl Barnes said her son is an interdistrict transfer, and she asked if the changes in the district could affect him. MacDougall said it could, that interdistrict transfers might not get priority when it comes to school placement.

He added, “I can't tell you it would happen for certain.”

Barnes suggested fundraising ideas and having people pay for more of the components of their child's education, or at least donate time to help the schools.

MacDougall noted during the public comment period that the reasons the board was there asking for public input was the $1.2 million cut looming in the fiscal year ahead. Keeping the status quo wouldn't help the district make that big cut.

“It always comes down to reduction in staff,” he said. “That's the hardest part of the decision ahead of us.”

Lacy Christensen, whose daughter is in the eighth grade at East Lake Elementary, thanked the board for being fiscally responsible.

She said the plan she could support was closing Oak Hill and making the rest of the elementary schools K-8. Christensen said it was the best plan from a business perspective. She added that Oak Hill is in a bad location and has structural problems, and that the district could sell the facility.

Assistant Prinicipal Gavin Huffmaster said if they close a school, other schools will be very full. Considering the community's growth, Huffmaster guessed that would only be a stopgap measure, and that schools eventually would need to expand.

Carle High School teacher Angela Siegel, also a former middle school teacher, suggested various ways to save money – about $500,000 in all.

She was concerned that the proposal to close at least one school wasn't about the budget.

“This is about a complete reconfiguration of the school district, and we're doing it on a very, very tight deadline,” she said.

She questioned closing Oak Hill Middle School just to reopen it elsewhere or in some other form. If the closure is programmatic, not fiscal, the district needs to say so, she said. They need to make cuts that won't directly affect the classroom, Siegel added.

“This is going so fast and it's going to have such a scattershot effect on every school in the district,” she said.

John Roddy suggested that the district needed to seek the advice of Lake County's chief administrative officer, Kelly Cox, who he said has worked to keep the county in the black for 27 years. MacDougall said Cox was on a consolidation committee.

Roddy went on to suggest that MacDougall should be the first one to take a pay cut.

MacDougall told Roddy that the Konocti Unified School District has always stayed in the black, and as long as he's superintendent it will stay that way.

Kristyn Leigh-Freeman, co-principal of Oak Hill Middle School, said she needed to start thinking about the changes to programs that would come from the board's ultimate decision. She urged them to keep to a timeline in order for changes to be made, including the logistics of moving school facilities.

Superintendent offers his perspective

Following the close of public comment, MacDougall recounted the months of meetings – beginning last September – that he and other administrators have taken part in as they've looked for solutions to meet the coming budget cuts.

He said he'd given the topic his best thinking and a lot of time.

“Financially, we only have one option,” he said, estimating it will take three to five years for the budget picture to recover.

While he agreed that Oak Hill has great teachers, he felt closing the school was the district's best option.

The district has estimated that closing Oak Hill Middle School and changing Pomo, Burns Valley and Lower Lake Elementary schools into K-8 would save between $400,000 to $968,000, while closing Oak Hill and establishing grade separation in two schools would save between $540,000 and $1 million.

MacDougall encouraged the board to keep class size reduction measures in place, which is a priority for schools and administrators. He added, “The parents want it and I desperately want it.”

Keeping class size reductions in place, which MacDougall told Lake County News on Tuesday that the state is financially supporting for this year and the next, will save the jobs of 15 teachers.

Board Chair Mary Silva thanked the public for taking part in the process.

“It was clear to me at all these meetings that people love their schools,” she said, recounting offers of parents to help and noting that many district staff members are doing additional work for free.

“We're all trying to pull together for our kids,” she said. Silva said she was proud to be part of such a community.

“We're all hurting in this,” Silva added. “Nobody wants to see a school close.”

Later in the meeting, the board voted to hand out 52 layoff notices to teachers, a large number that is meant to cover all budget options at this point. The district plans to rehire many of those teachers.

Because of the uncertainty of the situation ahead, the board also voted to give notices to several administrators that they may be released at the end of the school year from any position requiring an administrative or supervisory credential.

Those named were Oak Hill co-principals Maria de los Angeles Friedrich and Kristyn Leigh-Freeman; Ed Zander, Carle High School's new principal; Burns Valley Elementary Principal Troy Sherman; Pomo Elementary Principal April Leiferman; and Debra Sorenson Malley, principal of East Lake Elementary.

“We have some of the finest administrators in California,” said MacDougall, emphasizing the action was a formality, similar to that taken to lay off teachers.

He said the district's administrators give a lot, from their hearts to their Saturdays, to work in the best interests of children. “They love children all the way down to their toes.”

He added, “We will rectify this situation as soon as we possibly can,” and said he hoped they would remain with the district until it can ensure the action isn't needed.

At the end of the meeting, all of the named administrators came forward to receive their notices and sign for them. MacDougall and board members told the administrators they regretted having to take the action.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LUCERNE – Beth Minor’s heart was racing. Her hands were shaking to the point that the 29-year-old could not hold a pencil.

She began taking the oral contraceptive YAZ, also known as Yasmin (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol), a product of Bayer Corp., in Oct. 2007. She took the pill for two months.

“I started experiencing tremors in my hands in November,” she said. “The tremors moved from my hands to my arms and legs. I'm told by my spouse that I tremble at night in my sleep.

“The symptoms continued to add up: tremors, fatigue, insomnia, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, excessive perspiration, light periods, irritability and insatiable hunger. I thought I was losing my mind,” Minor said.

Her symptoms began after taking the pill for six weeks.

Minor went to her doctor who diagnosed her with Graves' disease (hyperthyroidism). Her thyroid levels are three to four times what they're supposed to be.

Another side effect of Graves' disease is difficulty getting pregnant. She took YAZ to “jump-start” her reproductive system, in order to become pregnant following the advice of her physician.

She reported her disease to MedWatch, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) reporting site, Minor said.

Though her symptoms matched with listed possible side effects of YAZ, there is no medical evidence that Graves Disease is connected to the use of the drug.

“I never had any of these symptoms prior to taking the drug YAZ. It is painfully frustrating how my life has been impacted; there are days I cannot lift my toddler,” Minor said.

Minor discovered she wasn’t alone. She found a discussion forum online and received the following e-mail.

“My name is Erin Brockovich and I am in receipt of your e-mail forwarded onto me from Alex. I see that you are experiencing some health problems and have been on the pill YAZ,” the e-mail stated.

According to a Feb. 9 press release from Attorney General Jerry Brown, Bayer is required to launch a $20 million ad campaign to correct misleading information about YAZ.

Brown announced an agreement requiring Bayer Corp. to stop a “deceptive ad campaign” and publicly correct misleading assertions about the product.

“Bayer's deceptive ad campaign led young women to believe that its oral contraceptive would cure symptoms for which it was not approved for use,” Brown said. “This judgment modification forces the company to stop making those claims and spend $20 million correcting misleading assertions about the


Bayer claimed the drug could treat symptoms related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and acne, in addition to anxiety, tension, irritability, moodiness, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. None of those claims were approved by the FDA.

The press release states, “The Attorney General's Office contends that the advertisements for YAZ violated a 2007 agreement with Bayer after the company failed to adequately disclose safety risks associated with the use of Baycol, a drug used to lower cholesterol, which was pulled from the market in August 2001. The agreement required future marketing, sale, and promotion of pharmaceutical and biological products to comply with all legal requirements, and prohibited Bayer from making false or misleading claims relating to any products sold in the United States.”

The states joining California's agreement are Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Minor is participating in a class-action lawsuit as a result of her experiences with YAZ. She wants to make others aware of her symptoms to shed some light on the possibility that others may be suffering the same health problems.

“The lawsuit includes the heart and lung problems that are being reported too,” Minor said.

According to YAZ Web site at the most frequent side effects, listed in descending order, reported with the use of the contraception in clinical trials, include upper respiratory infection, headache, breast pain, vaginal moniliasis, leukorrhea, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, vaginitis, abdominal pain, flu syndrome, dysmenorrhea, moniliasis, allergic reaction, urinary tract infection, accidental injury, cystitis, tooth disorder, sore throat, infection, fever, surgery, sinusitis, back pain, emotional lability, migraine, suspicious Papanicolaou smear, dyspepsia, rhinitis, acne, gastroenteritis, bronchitis, pharyngitis, skin disorder, intermenstrual bleeding, decreased libido, weight gain, pain, depression, increased cough, dizziness, menstrual disorder, pain in extremity, pelvic pain and asthenia.

E-mail Mandy Feder at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Editor's note: This story contains graphic information that some readers may find disturbing.





LAKEPORT – An attorney who formerly represented juveniles in criminal and civil cases in the Lake County court system has been sentenced to a year on home detention and three years of formal probation for felony possession of child pornography.


Robert Wayne Wiley, 75, was sentenced on Friday before retired Fresno County Superior Court Judge Harry N. Papadakis, who heard Wiley's case because the rest of the county's judges had recused themselves.


Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg said Wiley received 120 days in county jail and three years of formal, supervised probation.


Wiley's defense attorney, J. David Markham, declined comment on the case.


Borg said Papadakis directed that Wiley be allowed to serve his jail sentence in home detention. Wiley also must register as a sex offender, will not be allowed Internet access and will be subject to search and seizure under the terms of his probation.


For many years Wiley acted as a defense attorney for juveniles offenders, holding a contract with Lake Legal Defense Services, as well as holding a contract with Lake County Superior Court to represent juveniles in civil cases, as Lake County News has reported. Both of those contracts were terminated when Wiley was arrested in September of 2007.


Because of his previous contact with the juvenile justice system, which was managed by Lake County Probation, that agency recused itself from doing a probation report for Wiley's case. Borg said the Mendocino County Probation Department stepped in and completed the report, which suggested the 120 days in jail.


Borg said Papadakis was concerned that Wiley's age and his previous work as a public defender would make Wiley a challenge to house safely in the Lake County Jail, thus the order that he serve his sentence at home.


Wiley previously had been charged with four felony counts of possessing child pornography, but the judge reduced that to two after a preliminary hearing last fall.


In January, Wiley reached an agreement with the District Attorney's Office and pleaded guilty to one felony count of possessing child pornography.


His case came to the attention of investigators in February of 2007, when he left a thumb drive – a small portable device that stores data – in the Department A courtroom, where juvenile matter are heard.


That thumb drive allegedly contained pornographic images, which were discovered when a bailiff opened the drive in an attempt to identify its owner.


In all, investigators would find pornographic materials on several other devices as well, including a thumb drive Wiley was wearing when he was arrested, the computer from his Lakeport office and his home, where they also located several hard drives.


“He was wearing the stuff to court and he had it at his office and he had it at his home,” said Borg.


Borg said he didn't have a total when it came to counting up all the pornographic images and materials, but he said he himself reviewed several hundred of them.


Not all of the materials they found in the investigation were contraband, he said. Some were nudist films; there also were videos of young boys taking part in wrestling tournaments, which were themselves innocent but were strange in the context of being found with the other materials.


Then there were the “very disturbing” materials that investigators found, showing very young children in pornographic situations, said Borg.


None of the images were of children that Wiley knew or represented, according to a previous statement by Borg.


Borg was required to notify the State Bar of California about Wiley's case. He wasn't sure of what action the association will take.


Donald Steedman, State Bar of California supervising trial council, said when they get a complaint about an attorney convicted of a felony they take action.


“The State Bar Court will automatically suspend the attorney from practice,” Steedman said.


Steedman said the State Bar Court must then hold a hearing to decide what discipline is to be imposed.


He said he believed they have already requested certified copies of Wiley's records from the Lake County Superior Court for the purposes of the State Bar Court proceedings.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



CLEARLAKE OAKS – Law enforcement continues to look for a man who pulled a handgun on another man and eventually was the focus of a lengthy pursuit on Tuesday.

Lake County Sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol pursued William Cressey on land and from the air – specifically, with the help of a CHP helicopter – on Tuesday, as Lake County News has reported.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said that Forestville resident Philip Wheeler drove up to a work site on top of Round Mountain and happened upon two males at his storage trailer.

When Wheeler pulled up, one of the men ran off and the other – who officials believe was Cressey – got in his black Ford Explorer and drove toward Wheeler, Bauman said.

Wheeler tried to block Cressey's path but he drove around him and Wheeler followed him down the mountain until Cressey reportedly pulled out a handgun and pointed it at him, Bauman said.

Bauman said Wheeler then backed off, called 911 on his cell phone, and followed the Explorer at a distance until it turned onto Red Rock Road. Wheeler waited there for law enforcement.

A sheriff's deputy and a CHP officer met Wheeler and as they started up a dirt road to look for the Explorer, a dirt bike came down the road towards them, said Bauman. The rider matched the description of the driver of the Explorer so they turned and pursued the bike.

The dirt bike was able to evade sheriff's and CHP cruisers, said Bauman. During the subsequent search of the area, one of the deputies determined Cressey had been staying at a residence on Red Rock Road and apparently switched from the Explorer to a dirt bike he had at the house which he used to get away.

Bauman said deputies eventually found the dirt bike but never located Cressey, who they determined had a warrant for parole violation out of Colorado.

CHP ground units and one of their aircraft assisted in the search, which lasted from about 1:30 p.m. to about 6 p.m., Bauman said.

Cressey is described as a white male, blonde hair and blue eyes, 5 feet 7 inches in height with a thin build.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call the Lake County Sheriff's Office, 262-4200.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – Sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol officers spent several hours involved in the pursuit of an armed suspect on Tuesday afternoon.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said that shortly before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday a man called to report that a male subject in a green Ford Explorer had pulled a handgun on him near Morine Ranch Road in Clearlake Oaks.

The case was unfolding all afternoon, as officials tried to determine if what occurred was a road rage incident or a basic case of brandishing a weapon.

Both sheriff's deputies and CHP officers responded to the scene only to find the suspect had fled into the west entrance of the Clearlake Cinder Chip Co.'s quarry, said Bauman.

The sheriff's office received information that the suspect in question was 22-year-old William Cressey, with whom the agency has had previous contacts, Bauman said. Cressey also appeared to have an out-of-state warrant for his arrest.

Deputies and officers found the green Explorer with no weapon inside, said Bauman. The suspect was believed to be on foot from that time forward, although one deputy was reported to be in pursuit of a dirt bike. Later the bike also was found abandoned.

Bauman said five deputies were on scene, with CHP Officer Steve Tanguay reporting that five CHP units also were assisting.

Shortly before 2 p.m. the CHP requested air support. At that point the place was mostly surrounded, said Bauman.

Bauman said before the close of business on Tuesday that he didn't know the severity of the initial crime.

The search was later called off, apparently without an arrest of a subject. There was no information on the status of the case at day's end.

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MIDDLETOWN – An Elk Creek man died Saturday as the result of a motorcycle collision.

Tracy Griffin, 35, was the victim of the fatal crash, which occurred at 3 p.m. Saturday on Butts Canyon Road, according to CHP Officer Steve Tanguay.

Griffin was riding his 2003 Suzuki GSXR1000 motorcycle behind a small group of motorcycle riders on Butts Canyon Road heading toward Middletown from the Napa-Lake County line when he failed to negotiate a left curve and went off of the roadway, Tanguay reported.

Tanguay said Griffin's motorcycle struck the guard rail, which caused Griffin to be thrown from the motorcycle.

Griffin sustained fatal injuries as a result of this collision and was pronounced deceased at the scene, Tanguay said.

When Griffin didn't show up at the meeting point with the group of motorcyclists, they went back to look for him. Tanguay said they found Griffin where the collision occurred.

Tanguay said that CHP Officer Rob Hearn is investigating the collision.


LAKEPORT – The Lake County Sheriff's Office issued a report on Wednesday morning outlining a preliminary cause of death for a man found murdered this past weekend.

Eric James Joaquin, 37, was found murdered on the morning of Feb. 28 in the Clear Lake Riviera home that he shared with roommates including John Robert Gray, 43, who was arrested later that same day and charged with murder.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported that an autopsy was performed on Joaquin on Tuesday at the Napa County Coroner's Office.

While the final autopsy report is pending and will not be completed for several weeks, Bauman said a preliminary cause of death has been determined to be multiple blunt force trauma.

No other patterns of injury, including gunshot wounds, were identified, Bauman added.

Bauman said it's not known why initial reports speculated that Joaquin “may have been shot” but there is no evidence at this point that a firearm was involved in the homicide.

The sheriff's office said the men had an altercation on Feb. 26.

Gray made his first court appearance on Tuesday, as Lake County News has reported. He remains in the Lake County Jail on $500,000 bail.

The case remains pending further investigation and no other information on the case is available at this time, Bauman said.


LAKE COUNTY – A man on death row for the 1980 murder of his wife has sent officials a letter offering up the location of another woman's body, which he says is an attempt to resolve the missing woman's case once and for all.

Gerald Stanley, 64, has been on death row for 25 years, sent there for the August 1980 murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers, who he shot to death at her father's resort in Nice. He was tried in Butte County due to pre-trial publicity in Lake County.

Stanley, who worked as a hunting guide, had a violent history with women before the Rogers murder.

He served four and a half years in prison for murdering Kathleen Rhiley, his first wife, in 1975, and was believed to be involved in the murder of Sheryl Ranee Wright, 19, of Redding, last seen the day before Cynthia Rogers was shot.

But there is another woman linked to Stanley whose ultimate whereabouts have been a mystery for decades: Diana Lynn Ramel.

In a phone conversation with Lake County News late last month, Stanley stated that he intended to turn over to law enforcement officials and the Tehama County Grand Jury the location of Ramel's body. Ramel went missing on Feb. 14, 1980.

“It's time to resolve this,” he said of Ramel's case.

For years, Stanley has promised to reveal Ramel's location, saying he only wanted to be granted an execution date in return.

Previously, he hasn't given up the information. But he appears to have followed through this time.

On Monday, Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen confirmed to Lake County News that he had received a letter from Stanley the same day, outlining the location of Ramel's body.

Ramel and Stanley lived together in Manton, a small community in northeastern Tehama County, on the border with Shasta County.

Stanley maintains that he did not kill Ramel, but he says he did help dispose of her body.

Cohen said he's had a chance to review the handwritten letter, and he intends to meet with the local Department of Justice (DOJ) Crime Lab on Tuesday to discuss the feasibility of conducting a search.

There was a prior search for Ramel's body, said Cohen, although he doesn't know exactly when it took place, or where it was conducted.

Jack Leavitt, a Hayward attorney who has previously been sanctioned by the courts for attempting to help Stanley stop the appeals process in his death penalty case, said he found references in court records to a previous search, but he also didn't know the time frame. He believes it took place close to the area Stanley has identified in the recent letter.

That original search, Leavitt said, failed because it didn't go far enough, and the information Stanley offered didn't appear to pinpoint the location properly.

In the letter outlining the location, a copy of which Leavitt provided to Lake County News, Stanley writes that Ramel put chloral hydrate – a sedative used to induce sleep – in her wine, which killed her, “and I panicked the next morning.”

That led he and another man to bury her body in a creekbed, the letter states.

“I ask that Mr. Leavitt and I be allowed to explain federal attorneys are a fraud and delaying my case deliberately,” he said.

Stanley told Lake County News that he realizes he's not going to get an execution date, and that he's likely to die of a heart attack instead. Natural causes is reported to be the most common cause of death for death row inmates in California due to the lengthy appeals process.

Complaints over handling of death row case

Cohen said he believes Stanley offered the information because he wants to discuss with the world his anger with the Federal Defender's Office because of the repeated attempts to delay an execution.

“In the past it's always been that he would just like to end his life,” said Cohen.

That's been a consistent refrain with Stanley over the years, although some officials have doubted Stanley's sincerity.

Then, last March, came another wrinkle – a federal court judge ruled that juror misconduct and a breach of due process during the competency phase of Stanley's trial, which took place in late 1983 and early 1984 in Oroville, meant that the court needed to reexamine whether or not Stanley had been mentally competent to stand trial.

While Stanley's guilt was upheld in previous rulings, the March 2008 ruling by Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. could mean that Stanley's sentence is changed from death to life imprisonment.

The retroactive competency hearing is back in the Butte County Superior Court, where the original trial took place.

Stanley has complained that his court-appointed attorney, Dennis Hoptowit, represents the wishes of the Federal Defender's Office, not his own. However, Stanley turned down an opportunity for Leavitt to represent him last year, instead choosing to stay with Hoptowit.

Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he'll return to Butte County Superior Court on May 21 to set a date for a hearing on whether or not it's feasible, a quarter century later, to attempt to determine if Stanley was competent at the time of trial.

The proceedings have been put over as Hopkins attempts to locate the original trial transcripts, which he said weren't with the Butte County Superior Court. He said he has people looking through the court's storage, and also has transcript copies of his own and from the California Supreme Court to submit in case the original can't be found.

Leavitt said Stanley has indicated he intends to request that the court allow him to represent himself, an action which Leavitt said Stanley hasn't taken formally before.

Also making the possibility of an execution for Stanley unlikely is a current moratorium on executions in California, established following a February 2006 ruling in which a judge ordered the state to review its death penalty procedures over concerns about suffering of inmates and cruel and unusual punishment. The last execution in the state took place late in 2005.

Cohen said the Ramel matter is “an entirely separate matter” from Stanley's death row case, which doesn't necessitate the involvement of the Federal Defender's Office.

Stanley has stated in previous interviews that he had told the attorneys involved with his federal defense of Ramel's burial site, and they had visited and videotaped it.

Cohen said he didn't yet know how he was going to proceed in the matter, and that the weather conditions and the location – specifically, if it appears to be different from the original search area – would be factors.

“It's going to be dependent, too, on what DOJ's suggestion is going to be. I don't want to speculate what they're going to say,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Before I return to my discussion of the Alternative Minimum Tax, a couple of important notes.

There is a scam email being sent to individuals targeting those who either did not receive a stimulus payment or felt they deserved a larger payment. This email, which looks official, urges taxpayers to respond by downloading information that will allow them to receive additional money. The IRS simply does not send out emails. So if you receive such an email, it is bogus.

The stimulus rebate received last year, which were based on 2007 income was actually advance refunds of amounts from one's 2008 return. If you didn’t get the full rebate of $600 or $300 for those with lower income or dependents, the IRS will calculate the rebate again based on 2008 data. If the recalculated rebate is larger than what was received last year, you will receive the difference. If the recalculated rebate is the same as last year's, or less, you do not have to pay it back. On most tax software there is a place to report what you actually received as a stimulus rebate.

In addition, while many people were getting ready for the holidays last December, there was a bill passed that effects the tax return preparation for the 2009 tax year.

The Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 was approved on Dec. 11, 2008. This act deals primarily with pensions, however under this act there is an important section that deals with retired individuals receiving Required Minimum Distributions (RMD). These are amounts which, in general, must be withdrawn from certain qualified pension plans once a taxpayer reaches the age of 70 ½ years of age.

In general, the penalty or excise tax applied when the RMD has not been taken has been eliminated for the tax year 2009, thus the RMD need not be withdrawn in 2009. This may benefit those who are taking withdrawals from their retirement account by not forcing withdrawals of retirement accounts that are dropping in value. By allowing the principal to remain in the account longer, it is hoped that a recovery will increase the value to the account.

In the last article I mentioned how new legislation could make one's 2009 tax return potentially painful; well I was speaking of what was happening at the time. Both the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have since announced that they are working on new tax legislation. These new potential laws will most likely add a layer of complexity to the existing law. The Senate promises $275 billion and the house promises $30 billion worth of change. These implied promises sound very good, but what will the reality bring?

When judging tax legislation, one must remember that there will be a heck of a lot of speeches and posturing until we really see the reality. So far, none of the analysis of the proposals seems exciting or likely to bring large tax refunds. There will most likely be a continuation of promises and a lot of politics before we actually see workable proposals.

Many of the proposals made will never see the light of day; one such proposal is the “Rangel Rule,” named after the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. This powerful congressional committee is where all income tax bills get their start, as well as most governmental spending begins. Other committees may propose changes, but all the changes come from this committee. Lake County should be proud that our congressional representative Mike Thompson is a member of this committee.

This rule states that the IRS cannot charge interest or penalties on the collection of past income tax owed. It turns out that the honorable Mr. Rangel paid $5,000 in past taxes he owed but refused to pay any interest or penalties on those taxes. While this is one of my favorite proposals, I seriously doubt that it will see the light of day.

This process makes it crucial that we all be aware of the upcoming changes and determine what, if any, these changes will have on our tax or financial position. This does not mean shifting through all the politics and reports, just that when the final bill is signed that you know the important elements and that you decide if you need to adjust your strategy.

It appears that the Alternative Minimum Tax will not be ignored and will be patched as usual instead of being permanently corrected. The patch, in this case, is a temporarily increase in the exemption level. This tact was probably taken because had it not been proposed, then 20-30 million taxpayers hit with an increase in their tax bill would create a protest too big to ignore.

This of course means that one should have a strategy. As I mentioned in my last article, the days when one could just ignore their tax and financial position has ended. We must be aware how changes in law and finances affect our position.

Of course, a detailed strategy in regard to the AMT must be individualized, but in general, it means, to review your tax return after it has been filed and projecting or estimating what will happen this year and over the next few years.

If you are expecting major changes such as retirement or having children or if there is a potential for higher taxes due to the AMT or less deductions or just more income, then measures should be taken to reverse these effects. This can mean a variety of strategies that in general involve the timing of receiving or paying income and expenses. There may be other tactics that can be taken. The time to act is now, while there is time to plan.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in the future and at this time, it may not be possible. However, once we get into the habit of planning and doing periodic reviews, then when you spot a change, action can be taken before a huge tax bill comes your way.

Jon Meyer is a local tax accountant and enrolled agent with more than 25 years experience in tax preparation. The office of Jon the “Tax Man Meyer “also offers retirement planning and insurance options. Questions regarding this article can be made by calling 928-5200.


LOWER LAKE – On Wednesday night, the Konocti Unified School District will hold another public hearing on a series of proposals that include closing some district schools and realigning the grades of others in preparation for a looming budget cut.

The meeting will begin at 6:15 p.m. at the Lower Lake High School gym, 9430 A Lake St. in Lower Lake.

At a meeting last month, the KUSD Board of Trustees hosted presentations by two committees formed late last year – one that looked at improving district revenues and the other that explored consolidating services and cutting costs.

The services consolidation committee made four recommendations that variously proposed closing Oak Hill Middle School and East Lake Elementary, and changing many of the other elementary and middle schools to serve kindergarten through eighth grade, as Lake County News has reported.

Konocti school board members made clear they didn't take any of the suggestions lightly.

President Mary Silva, Clerk Anita Gordon and board members Carolynn Jarrett, Herb Gura and Hank Montgomery also emphasized to community members that they didn't pretend to know the answers to how Konocti Unified would cut its budget in the coming fiscal year.

Over the last few weeks, KUSD officials have been holding public meetings throughout the district to find out the priorities of parents, students and the community at large.

“The biggest thing we've found is that people really love their schools and that they would prefer that nothing be done,” District Superintendent Bill MacDougall told Lake County News on Tuesday.

However, doing nothing isn't an option, said MacDougall. “We need to prepare for next year.”

While the district isn't expecting a big cut for the rest of this budget year, they're facing a staggering $1.2 million cut in the 2009-10 budget, MacDougall said.

At Wednesday's meeting, the board will offer the community another chance to give input in what is expected to be a much bigger meeting, said MacDougall. As a result, the meeting will move from the normal venue of the district office to the high school gym.

During the meeting, MacDougall said the district also will be formally giving out pink slips to teachers. Districts must give the notices by March 15.

In all, the district will give the layoff notices to 52 teachers, said MacDougall.

MacDougall said he expects that the vast majority of those teachers will be rehired once the board makes it budget decisions for the coming year. Once a decision is made regarding school consolidation, they can rescind some of those notices.

They want to be able to rescind those notices to teachers as soon as possible, said MacDougall. “We understand that it is disruptive to their lives.”

One decision that would be fairly easy to make at this point is we want to continue with class size reduction in the K-3 grades, he said.

The district recently received information that the state will fund class size reduction for this year and the next in the recently adopted state budget.

“It's a priority of our board so that is something I think they will choose to approve,” he said.

That school size funding will allow the district to keep 15 teachers they might otherwise lose, according to MacDougall.

The board is expected to discuss the budget situation again at a March 11 meeting. MacDougall said it's ultimately up to the board when a final budget decision will be made.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Eddie Money will return to Konocti Harbor for a Saturday show. Courtesy photo.




KELSEYVILLE – This Friday, Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa hosts the rock legend Eddie Money with Jesse Money of MTV's “Rock The Cradle” and special guests Lake County rising stars, The Lost Boys.

Eddie Money’s career spans more than four decades. He was a fixture in the San Francisco rock scene for several years.

Much like the members of The Lost Boys, Money began singing in rock bands while still in high school.

Edward Joseph Mahoney was born in 1949. He was going to be a New York City cop. That was before he had two tickets to paradise. He took on a new name, a new persona and became Eddie Money.

After leaving the police academy in New York, Money relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue a music career. It was there that he joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin's backup band, after her death in 1970.

Money became involved with Bay Area concert promoter Bill Graham's management company. Graham became a mentor to Money, helping him negotiate a recording contract with Columbia Records.

Money's raspy, raw sound captured audiences immediately. The first two singles from Money's first record, “Baby, Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise,” reached No. 11 and No. 22, respectively, on the 1978 charts.

A notable duet with Ronnie Spector in 1986, “Take Me Home Tonight,” combined Money’s trademark sound complemented by Spector’s incredible range and bad girl spirit. The song reached the top 10 on the Billboard Music Charts.

He became the first artist to sign with Graham's surviving namesake management company, Wolfgang Records, in 1995.

Money’s music remains a solid staple as seemingly timeless lyrics and tunes fill the libraries of generations of fans. He’s had many comebacks, but he never really went away.

Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa is located at 8727 Soda Bay Road in Kelseyville.

For information call toll free: 800-660-LAKE or visit

E-mail Mandy Feder at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


John Gray was arrested on Saturday for homicide. He's being held in connection with the death of Eric Joaquin. Lake County Jail photo.



KELSEYVILLE – A Kelseyville man is in custody for allegedly murdering his roommate.

John Robert Gray, 43, was arrested at 4:30 p.m. Saturday by sheriff's officials, who had begun looking for him earlier in the day.

The murder victim is 37-year-old Eric Joaquin, who was reportedly beaten to death, according to one neighbor who spoke with sheriff's deputies.

Lake County Sheriff's officials did not respond to weekend calls or e-mail regarding the incident.

Several neighbors spoke with Lake County News, but asked not to be identified for reasons that included fear of retaliation from some of the subjects who had frequented the home.

On Saturday morning at 9:42 a.m. sheriff's dispatch put out a call to sheriff's deputies about an incident at Gray's home at 10163 Del Monte Way in the Clear Lake Riviera, based on a 911 call that appeared to have been made from the address. The original report indicated the victim may have been shot, according to radio reports.

There, law enforcement reportedly found Joaquin's body inside the house. The street was then cordoned off as deputies began interviewing neighbors.

One of the neighbors, who called the situation “a nightmare,” added, “Whoever did this is a scary person.”

All of the neighbors said sheriff's officials confirmed to them that a homicide had taken place. One man said he was told Gray was the suspect and Joaquin the victim, and that they believed Joaquin had died sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Joaquin had moved into the house with Gray within the last three to four months, according to one neighbor. That man also reported seeing Gray and Joaquin working together on a project car at the house.

The neighbors reported not hearing anything on Friday night, and one man said he had not seen Gray in several days, a circumstance he called “kind of weird.”

“In the last few days it's been kind of quiet over there,” the man said.

Gray was not arrested at his home, the man added.

One of the neighbors reported sharing hellos and occasional friendly waves with Gray and Joaquin, but he had been concerned about constant comings and goings of others who had been visiting the house at all hours, raising concerns about possible drug activity.

Over the last month and a half the house had been visited by the sheriff's office four times, said a neighbor, including once on Feb. 22, according to a sheriff's log entry. One of the neighbors said he guessed they must have had a scanner in the house; shortly before sheriff's deputies arrived on the Feb. 22 visit, several people came running outside and appeared to be hiding things.

Sheriff's deputies were called back to the Del Monte Way address on Sunday on the report of people taking property out of the home.

Gray, whose booking sheet lists him as being self-employed, is being held in the Lake County Jail on $500,000 bail. Jail records indicate that he's due to appear in court on Tuesday in Department 2.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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