Arrest Warrant Issued For District Attorney Involved In DEA's California Wiretap Warrant Mill

from the DEA-DOA dept

Former Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach is in trouble, as Brad Heath and Brett Kelman report for The Desert Sun.

A judge issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for former Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach after he failed to appear at a court hearing to answer questions about an eavesdropping operation so vast it once accounted for nearly a fifth of all U.S. wiretaps.


“He should have been there,” said Jan Ronis, the attorney who subpoenaed Zellerbach. “But he just blew us off. We could have had court today.”

It’s not uncommon for Zellerbach to go missing when people need him. When Zellerbach ran the DA’s office, he was rarely there. The DEA found his office to be just as accommodating, with or without him, though. Although the DEA was supposed to run its wiretap warrant requests through federal judges and have them signed by the district attorney himself, it often found it easier to obtain a signature from whoever happened to be at the office and run them by Riverside County judge Helios Hernandez, who approved five times as many wiretap applications as any other judge in the US.

The wiretap applications’ reach frequently exceeded their jurisdictional grasp, traveling far outside of Riverside County, California, to be deployed against suspects as far away as North Carolina. But that was only one issue with the warrants applications approved by Zellerbach’s office.

The DOJ’s lawyers didn’t like the DEA’s skirting of federal rules for wiretap applications.

“It was made very clear to the agents that if you’re going to go the state route, then best wishes, good luck and all that, but that case isn’t coming to federal court,” a former Justice Department lawyer said.

“They’d want to bring these cases into the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the feds would tell them no (expletive) way,” a former Justice Department official said.

California’s wiretap laws weren’t being followed either, thanks to Zellerbach holding office in absentia.

Riverside County’s former district attorney, Paul Zellerbach, has acknowledged that he allowed lower-level lawyers to do that job, saying he could not recall ever having reviewed a wiretap application himself. Four of the wiretaps in the Kentucky case were approved by one of Zellerbach’s assistants, and one was approved by an assistant to his successor.

Now, the DEA’s toxic and possibly illegal wiretap warrants are being challenged, now that defense lawyers know exactly how much — and how often — state and federal requirements were being skirted by the drug warriors. That’s what has led to Zellerbach’s arrest warrant.

The first challenge, filed in Kentucky, led a federal judge to say that Riverside had issued so many wiretaps “that constitutional requirements cannot have been met.” The second challenge, filed locally, led to the warrant being issued for Zellerbach.

Zellerbach was subpoenaed to appear in the case of Christian Agraz, 33, an accused drug trafficker who was allegedly caught on a wiretap selling bricks of heroin in 2014.

The former DA did not appear at the hearing in the Agraz case on Tuesday morning, so Judge Michele Levine issued a bench warrant and assigned a bail of $1,500.

The constitutional requirements say Zellerbach was supposed to sign each wiretap application personally. Paul Zellerbach can’t recall approving a single one of the hundreds that flowed through his office over the years.

The DEA’s Riverside County-centric drug war looks like it’s going to result in several cases being tossed out. Fortunately, the DEA still can keep everything it’s claimed via civil asset forfeiture, which makes good busts out of bad ones and makes obtaining convictions entirely optional.

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Comments on “Arrest Warrant Issued For District Attorney Involved In DEA's California Wiretap Warrant Mill”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

More of the same

Given he seemed to consider the legal requirement that he personally sign and approve all wire-tap requests more of a suggestion that could be ignored I suppose it’s not too surprising that he similarly felt that the legal requirement to show up in court was also more along the lines of a ‘guideline’ that he could ignore.

Hopefully the judge in the case takes the gloves off and treats him no different(if not harsher given his previous position) than any other individual who ignored a subpoena and did a no-show in court, rather that just chalking it up to a ‘harmless mistake’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: More of the same

Probably, I’m guessing it is a mistake rather than deliberate action to not show up, but his past actions in displaying blatant indifference towards legal requirements does have me thinking that he probably didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the requirement that he show up, not seeing it as that big of a deal.

My bigger issue is what may or may not be special treatment due to his past position. If it’s standard practice to issue an arrest warrant but not actually send it out to be enforced unless someone pulls a no-show twice then fine, I don’t have much of a problem with the judge holding back here. If it’s not however, if someone else didn’t show and the arrest warrant was not only issued it was sent out to be enforced immediately then yeah, I’ve got a huge problem with how he’s being treated here, as in that case he’d be given a pass a regular person wouldn’t, and I can’t stand double-standards under the law like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: More of the same

I’m no expert, but this is my brief experience from when I was a process server. The one time I was in court when cases where being called, there were two no-shows. For the first one, the lawyer said his client was sick and asked that the bench warrant be stayed, and the judge agreed and set a new date (which the guy showed up for, and I was able to serve him.) For the second one, the same lawyer pretty much said he had no idea where his client was and asked that this one also be stayed, and the judge almost agreed to stay it anyway – in fact, he did agree to it for a couple of seconds and then changed his mind. It seemed like it was just decided on a case by case basis on the whim of the judge, and that it didn’t take a lot. But, of course, that’s a ridiculously small sample size in a totally different jurisdiction.

In general, when people didn’t show up for things like debtor’s hearings, often they would get an “order to show cause” served on them, where they’d have to show up to a hearing to justify why they should not be held in contempt for missing the previous hearing. So I can’t say it’s favorable treatment that he’s not in jail already… but he’d better be able to justify his absence.

Anonymous Coward says:

for once, a SWAT team invasion would be appealing

It would indeed be nice if Paul Zellerbach’s arrest warrant was delivered to his home by a police SWAT team in the middle of the night — the kind that would gladly turn him into smoking hamburger meat if he fails to get out of bed and “assume the position” fast enough.

While it’s nice to dream that any government official would get the same brutal taste of law-enforcement as all the rest of us, that will simply never happen to the privileged class.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

"almost five times as many wiretaps as any other judge" Hunh?

I have no idea what that figure means. Any judge?

Here’s a better, more telling statistic:
“…A county court in Riverside, Calif last year signed off on almost half as many wiretaps as the total of the next twenty-nine jurisdictions with the most wiretaps in the United States.”

That’s effed.

Anonymous Coward says:

i find it so strange that the DoJ didn’t like what was going on here, presumably because it was illegal and yet in their next breath, they do whatever they can think of, legal or otherwise, just to please their Lords and Masters in Hollywood, the RIAA, the MPAA, the MAFIAA and others when going after Dotcom! how double standard is that??

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

i find it so strange that the DoJ didn’t like what was going on here, presumably because it was illegal

Oh their objection wasn’t due to the legality itself, not really, they only cared because dodgy legality meant the cases would be weaker, making convictions(one of the very few things they do care about) less likely. However since no conviction is required to steal the stuff of the accused, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Justme says:

Re: Makes Worse Busts Out of Bad Ones

Not sarcasm!

Strange as it seems inanimate object’s can be charged with a crime, the constitution say citizens can not be deprived of property with out due process so they just flip the script!

The War on Drug was born of insanity but it provides jobs for people who seem completely committed to the destruction of all the principle’s in our constitution, because you know, terrorism, drugs, fear, misinformation and mainly because it puts money in their pockets.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Apologies to your sanity, which is about to take a beating

If by sarcasm you mean the ‘fortunately’ part, then yeah, I imagine that was absolutely sarcastic. If by sarcasm you meant that a conviction is entirely optional… prepare to be disappointed and/or horrified.

The idea that a conviction should be a requirement for taking someone’s stuff is one that’s only applicable in some states(and it should be noted that it’s a requirement that is typically heavily objected to by law enforcement in those areas), with the ‘standard’ generally being that you can absolutely steal someone’s stuff at badge-point simply by accusing the property of being involved in an illegal act.

I’ll repeat that again in case your brain blocked it the first time to save itself: The accusation is leveled against the property, not the person.

Once the accusation against the property has been made, it’s up to the previous owner of said property to demonstrate how it wasn’t linked to a crime, in a complete reversal of ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, and more often than not those that stand to benefit generously from the theft of the property make reclaiming it as difficult and expensive as possible a process as they can, in order to convince people to not even try and/or punish them for attempting to get their stuff back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Apologies to your sanity, which is about to take a beating

In other words, they have declared an unofficial tax to be collected by their personnel whenever they find money or property that they can take. If I were Thiel, I would finance taking down this loophole that allows theft by the police without due process and not rest until every cent has been returned, every car, phone, house or computer has been returned and interest has been paid to compensate for this unjust pillaging. Bankrupt the corrupt departments that have been perpetrating and benefiting from this program and disbar every lawyer who prevented citizens from being given the basic rights that we are entitled too.

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