Monday, September 15, 2014


Annie Oakley, circa 1903-Wikimedea Public Domain
Early this morning I was culling my research materials and came upon a file entitled "Guns".  It contained an analysis of state and federal gun control law, some clippings from newspapers relating to gun shows, and a receipt for the  firearm we purchased for our son-in-law as a personal wedding present. He was a law enforcement officer: a large screened television just did not seem right.  Then I saw a  legal form I did not immediately recognize until I began to read it.  It was an application for a concealed weapons permit from the mid-1980's in handwriting that was mine.  I had almost forgotten how it had come back to me without action having been taken, with a note attached from the under sheriff thanking me for withdrawing my application. I had,of course, done no such thing.  It seems I was not on the list of those entitled to carry guns. I was not a convicted felon, or even a misdemeanant.  I was a sworn Deputy District Attorney.

Had I been less politically naive, I might have seen it coming.  The philosophy in the District Attorney's Office when I joined it was clearly segued to Lakers' fans who had graduated from USC or UCLA, were unabashedly masculine, and had confused  Annie Oakley for Betty Hutton, who played her in the movie and probably never shot a live round in her lifetime; nor, I suspect,  had they. I did not learn until I  hired in that the office was operating under a consent decree; increasing the number of  women lawyers was a mandate.  That did not mean the idea was universally popular, or so I was eventually informed by my own supervisor who indicated he was not accustomed to the idea of women in the courtroom.

The term politically correct was not yet in use. Hillary Clinton would have been appalled to know there was an unwritten prohibition against women lawyers wearing pantsuits  in court. In applying for a CCW I had performed an action flagrantly in violation of the image the administration had of what a new female deputy might do. Said the DA when he finally called to scold me personally, the way for a deputy TO assure his or her own personal safety was to be a tougher prosecutor. Yet, I never  knew a lawyer whose trial stats did the job of a Kevlar vest.  And there was reason behind my request.

At the time I applied for my CCW, I was making the circuit run to outlying courts from our residence in Apple Valley. Home base at the time was either Victorville, which serviced Big Bear and Trona, or Barstow, which handled the new municipal court in Morongo and the Justice Court in Needles. For those of you unfamiliar with those locations, it helps to know that San Bernardino County is the largest political subdivision in the U.S. that is not a state, and  its population is clustered along the windward side of the San Bernardino mountains in the cities of  Redlands, San Bernardino, Colton, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga.  Everything west is either Los Angeles or Orange Counties, where there are such things as libraries and fashion malls with Nordstom and Neiman Marcus.  Everything on  'the backside of the mountain' (Big Bear) and to the east is termed 'up the hill', and  once you pass through Victorville on the I-15, the landscape is similar to what Neil Armstrong saw when he landed on the moon. If you doubt me, take a road trip to Trona, a community built near the spur of the Santa Fe railroad line that served the chemical plant of Kerr-McGee at Searles Lake. It is very much a company town. Look at a map of Highway 395 and find a place called Red Mountain and you will get a general idea of where the Trona cut off is located.

These were the roads I drove regularly and alone in a country car, an Opel that barely made it up the back side of Big Bear in second gear. During my second  year in the district attorney's office, I tried twenty-three Driving Under the Influence cases and drove  25,000 miles.  By year four I was trying felonies, and since  we had no Superior Court in Joshua Tree, I took my felonies to trial in Barstow, 96 miles each way from home on desolate roads shared with outlaw bikers who over all were more considerate of me than  I had anticipated. They did what they did, and I did what I did.  It was the families of the burglars and child molesters I was prosecuting who tried to run me off the road.  And in those days, those of us assigned to Morongo no longer had the luxury of a County car. We took our private vehicles. And once assigned there, we had three months to find a residence. That was the rule  in 1984 when I was transferred to the Morongo Basin. My Lt.D. was the most conspicuous target  traveling the 247 into Lucerne . The sheriffs at the Morongo station shared my husband's concern that riding so desolate a road could be dangerous, and I began firearms practice and bought a PPK from a law enforcement officer who was moving into Glocks.  However, a gun was apt to do me little good in a lock box in the trunk of my Lt.D. At the suggestion of the guys at the  Morongo Sheriff's station, I filled out an application for a CCW.   And the proverbial caca hit the rotary blades of a fan located downtown in an office on Mountain View in San Bernardino. No one had apparently told me when I took my oath of office that I was surrendering my second amendment rights. The attitude of the administration was: D.A.s were not law enforcement officers and we did not wear badges and we did not carry guns. Our strength came with our law degrees. Generally I can accept the philosophy, but not when traveling after dark from Barstow to Joshua Tree on back roads.

The next country wide office meeting was in Victorville.  Our chief deputy called to make sure  I was coming from Morongo.  Suddenly my attendance was mandated, when two weeks earlier we had been told to save the gas and stay in the Morongo Basin. When I walked into the meeting, most of the people I recognized were hypnotized by the pattern of the floor tiles. I do not remember much of the agenda--something about a Desert Division D.A. picnic that never quite came off, and then, the henchman for the D.A.  gave a little speech about gunslingers and rule breakers. Then the chief investigator, a friend of mine who was obviously uncomfortable in the task,  announced that one of our number had transgressed and applied for a permit to--God forbid (since the Constitution did not)--carry a firearm.  Most of the audience sought out the biggest, toughest and meanest of the new D.A.'s and glared until he shrugged his shoulders and mouthed 'Not me.'  No names were mentioned, but the audience of lawyers was smart enough to figure it out. Soon enough, I was targeted by twenty-five pairs of eyeballs. And on the following Monday  the application I shredded this morning came in interoffice mail with a note thanking me for withdrawing it. It seems there had been some sort of gentleman's agreement between someone high in the sheriff's department and someone in the district attorney's office to stonewall my app. Assuming I would recognize the error in my ways, someone saved me the trouble of withdrawing the application by doing it in my name. Disposing it in that manner saved the sheriff's personnel the formality of rejecting it.  Hence, the 'thank you' note.

I am happy to report that the next elected D.A. Dennis Stout and the one presently holding the office, an aggressive  prosecutor and inspired leader Mike Ramos, were of a different ilk. Mike is complimented by high quality leadership in the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department under the past and current direction of retired Sheriff Gary Penrod and current Sheriff  John McMahon. In 1994, Deputy District Attorney's were distributed badges. Both of mine--the one identifying me as a line prosecutor and the one I was given when I became a supervisor- retired when I did in 2004. They are proudly displayed in a shadow box in the  room where I am writing this post. I never once flashed mine other than to identify myself to the senior volunteers of the Citizen's Patrol who guarded the perimeter at homicide scenes.
 Morongo survivors DDA Lara, B of I Tech Becky, me, DDA Camile, Judge Vicki and Laura-.DDA Riverside 

I never attempted to renew the CCW. The politicos down the hill had spoken, and my chief deputy who retired as ADA last year had supported their position. Since 1994, applications placed by my colleagues were routinely granted. When I stopped riding the circuit, the personal issue was moot, but the principle was not. For some obscure reason I kept the app. Today I shredded it, but the entire affair still bothers me. At least two criminal defendants attempted to put contracts out on my life during my years of murder prosecutions.  I was told of the first by the defendant's attorney when he petitioned the court to be substituted off the case and asked my help in getting him an armed escort to the county line.  I learned of the second from an inmate in Tehachapi  who I had convicted but who believed I had done it fair and square. For better or worse, almost thirty years later I am still here,but so was the CCW application until I disposed of it this morning.  

In 1993, the last year of the administration in power when I hired on, it was suggested by a top-ranking attorney in the administration that I run against our local sitting judge, who was considered unfriendly to law enforcement. My ego was stroked, but my husband convinced me not to attack an elected official even if we had opposing views on doctrines like Miranda: My husband pointed out he had been the people's choice and the community had faith in him even if our office did not. He still sits locally as a retired judge on special assignment. We may not agree on rules of search and seizure, but we stand together on issues of  accountability and ethics.I  consider him a valued friend.

That same winter San Bernardino courts were expanding and I sought an appointment to  the bench. Without going through the arcane procedure of judicial appointments, it sounds impartial but in truth, it is highly political and it often is not the governor who calls the shots. Those of us who are shot down know very well who fired the bullets. Mine came from my own office, the same people who encouraged me to launch an expensive political campaign against someone they wanted removed. Criminal defense attorneys rated me highly qualified and called me' tough, but fair'.One of my own supervisors called me a 'loose cannon.' I got to see the entire body of remarks verbatim. The comments are anonymous, but they are not edited to protect the identities of the writers. Within a year the guy who had called me a loose cannon was ragging on the friend he had supported.My chief deputy apologized  for an undeserved comment in a work evaluation when it was too late to matter.

Actually, I should kiss the men who shot me down, because my best years as a trial deputy were yet to come. And by the time I tried the case that defined the rest of my years as a prosecutor, there had been positive changes in the way business was handled in the district attorney's office. There also had been growth in my little corner of the desert. We had a three department Superior Court in Morongo where I live and I was no longer taking my show on the road.  Assignments to Morongo, previously avoided  like the pox, had become highly desirable. Recruits realized it was only a half hour drive from the Movie Star Enclave in Palm Springs and all those world class golf resorts of the Coachella Valley. My circuit days were over. I got to cook dinners for my husband and my sons. I was promoted. I was able to retire at the top of my game.  That was ten years ago.

I am too old to let the rejected CCW application vex me. I love the life I led then and I love the life I lead now. Writing novels is less painful because my victims are imaginary. It does bother my son Russ and his lovely wife 'Cio  that anyone with a computer can search my name and Google Map their way to my residence.  And yes, that happens. With two giant arctic dogs with horrific barks, each weighing over 150 lbs, I do not get many visitors at the front door so I probably do not need the 9 mm. parabellum or the PPK or the mythical Uzi I joke about having mounted on the roof.  Nevertheless, when I found the application today, it rekindled my sense of outrage for having been denied the right to carry one of them concealed on my person or in my car back in the days when I was younger and more vulnerable. There was no law then or now that prohibits me from carrying one on a hip holster on my walks should I ever feel the need.

I have not forgotten  my attempt to exercise a Second Amendment Right in a legally permissible fashion resulted in my having been treated as if I were a crook. No matter what our individual attitudes toward firearms and gun control may be, the Second Amendment is not the only Constitutional Right subject to attack.I am exercising a First Amendment right as I prepare this post.

If the rights of citizens are not respected by the agencies mandated to serve and protect, and if those agencies are overseen by a government with an agenda which defies definition,  in our present political climate Americans may soon realize just how fragile our liberties can become. 

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