Bay City News–An Alameda County judge found a veteran defense lawyer in contempt of court today, Monday, for giving a higher priority to a murder case in Solano County than to an Alameda County case involving an Alameda man charged with two counts of murder.
Judge Carrie Panetta sentenced Tim Pori, who has offices in San Francisco and Vallejo, to five days in jail and fined him $2,500.
Pori is representing Andrew Toon Wong, 23, the former assistant night manager of an Alameda Safeway store who is charged with two counts of murder plus the special circumstance of committing multiple murder for allegedly killing two men to whom he owed money for gambling debts more than three years ago.
Pori told Panetta, "I'm prepared to do jail time" but he asked that he be allowed time to explain his situation to his family, including his two young children. Panetta agreed to a short delay but ordered Pori to return to court on Friday to begin serving his time then.
Daniel Russo, a Vallejo attorney who represented Pori at his hearing Monday, called Panetta's contempt finding against Pori "grotesquely unfair" and said Pori is only trying to act in the best interest of both his clients.
Russo, who said he can't remember a similar ruling against an attorney in his 35 years as a lawyer, said he will file a writ on Pori's behalf asking for the state Court of Appeal to issue a stay that would keep Pori out of jail.
The charges against Wong stem from the July 31, 2008, shooting death of cookie deliveryman David Wells, 62, of Oakdale, and the April 3, 2009, shooting death of Quang "John" Quach, 36.
Wong was the assistant night manager at the Safeway store at South Shore (then called Alameda Town Centre), where Quach worked the overnight shift as a stocker in the frozen-foods section. Quach was shot inside his home in the 600 block of Foothill Boulevard in Oakland.
Wells, who delivered cookies to the Safeway store in Alameda, was found slain in a parking lot near Oakland International Airport.
Wong is accused of shooting both men in the head.
Oakland police said when Wong was arrested that he owed money to both of his alleged victims and decided to kill them instead of repaying them. Police said officers recovered approximately three dozen guns when they arrested Wong and searched the home on Shannon Circle in Alameda where he lived with his parents.
Wong's case was scheduled to be assigned to a trial courtroom Monday but Pori said he is giving priority to representing Jesus Vidrio, who is one of three men charged with murder for the alleged gang-related fatal shooting of 17-year-old Vacaville High School student Humberto Padilla and attempted murder of a 15-year-old boy in March 2010. The trial of Vidrio and the other two defendants is scheduled to begin in Solano County Superior Court on April 30.
Panetta said Pori should give priority to Wong's case because it's an older case than Vidrio's case, but he has refused to be ready to go to trial "without good cause or substantial justification and in disobedience of a court order."
Panetta said Pori should be ready for Wong's trial to begin because he has been representing Wong for 16 months and represented him in his first trial last year, which ended on Sept. 13 when a judge declared a mistrial because prosecutors found new evidence in the case.
Prosecutor Autrey James said he is ready for the new trial for Wong and Panetta said a courtroom was available Monday.
Russo, a past president of the Solano County Bar Association who taught at John F. Kennedy School of Law for more than 20 years, said he thinks Panetta chose to "punish Mr. Pori for disrespecting Alameda County" for giving a higher priority to the Solano County case.
Russo, who described himself as a friend of Pori, said, "I'm heartsick."
Wong is scheduled to return to court on June 18, at which time his trial is now expected to begin.
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