A nationally known human resources consultant from Murphys likely will be sentenced to 180 days in jail after a Calaveras County Superior Court judge denied a defense motion on Friday afternoon that had challenged a probation report designating her ineligible for an electronic home monitoring program.
“I need to understand what’s going on,” Beth De Lima said, growing more agitated and disquieted during the hour-long hearing on what Judge Timothy Healy characterized as the “benefit of the bargain motion.”
De Lima previously had entered a no-contest plea agreement to felony driving under the influence of alcohol with a special enhancement of causing great bodily injury to a Bret Harte High School administrator, Heath Lane.
According to the plea agreement, De Lima was to serve 90 days in county jail followed by 90 days in an alternative work or electronic monitoring program and five years of formal probation, but the subsequent probation report on the terms and conditions of her sentence indicated that she was ineligible for the electronic home monitoring program because of the violent nature of the offense.
Healy ultimately noted the terms of the agreement stipulated that De Lima had agreed to 180 days of detention, and a probation recommendation on the terms and conditions of her sentencing would likely take precedence over her expectation for the electronic home monitoring program.
But De Lima still had options, he added. She was open to file an appeal to the probation report, or even withdraw her no contest plea to reinitiate court proceedings.
“It is difficult to ignore the inherent truth of what happens in this courtroom every day,” he said. “If you don’t qualify, you don’t.”
De Lima originally was charged with two counts of felony driving under the influence with the special enhancement of great bodily injury. According to the eventual plea agreement, one of the counts and a special enhancement were dismissed.
De Lima emerged from jail holding Friday with less alacrity than two weeks ago when the court heard a victim’s statement from Heath Lane. During the victim statement, Lane described his physical and emotional recovery since being severely injured in a March 15, 2017, collision between his 2015 Dodge and a 2012 Audi driven by De Lima, who was charged with operating the vehicle at nearly twice the DUI legal limit
Lane was not present at the motion hearing on Friday.
De Lima’s attorney, Ken Foley, of San Andreas, said that the defense had been discomforted by Healy’s description of Lane’s statement as “heartbreaking,” and asserted that a collective bias in the courtroom was working against a judgement allowing her alternative work release.
“He made, to me, the most dramatic argument for your client and I think your client ought to recognize that,” Healy responded. “The victim in this case has chosen to forgive her.”
During his Jan. 26 statement, Lane said that the accident had wrought not only physical damage on his body, but had also subjected him to emotional strain.
During the law enforcement response to the accident, emergency personnel were required to use the Jaws of Life to free Lane from his vehicle.
He sustained facial, hip and tibia fractures, and was bound to a wheelchair for three months following the collision. In his statement, Lane said he had undergone many months of physical rehabilitation, but still had not fully recovered. He faces an ankle fusion surgery later this year, he said.
Foley additionally accused the probation department of “taking advantage of adverse publicity” from media coverage of De Lima as their motivation to deny her the alternative work program.
“They just can’t change it at this hour. It’s not fair,” he said, indicating that De Lima had already begun serving her jail sentence.
As of Friday, De Lima had served 19 days in county jail.
Healy was emphatic in his response to Foley that he had not followed any media coverage of her De Lima’s case and was “close to feeling offended” by Foley’s claim that the court proceedings had been tainted by bias.
Deputy District Attorney Dana Pfeil also referred to Foley as “disingenuous” for the claim that he had received no cooperation in determining an equitable solution to the confusion over De Lima’s sentencing, and argued that the plea agreement had always been tentative pending a report from the probation department.
“I would like to see her sentenced today on behalf of the victim,” Pfeil said.
Healy expressed an openness to compromise and accommodate De Lima’s circumstances when Foley indicated that she had been scheduled to appear as an expert witness throughout the country in the months following her 90 day sentence, which would likely be reduced 45 days time served in jail.
Referring to the hearing as an “interesting dilemma” and then abruptly apologizing to the court when laughter made him realize his unintended pun, Healy still cautioned De Lima that her foremost responsibility would be the serve her time before seeking to perform other obligations.
“You have to consider the possibility that you wouldn’t be able to get that,” he said.
If De Lima were to serve the full 180 day sentence in jail, Foley countered, she would request the opportunity to serve the sentence in three increments dispersed throughout 2019 when she did not have any scheduled business appointments.
Healy referred to the request as “inappropriate” and “pretty far out there,” but added he would make considerations about the jail terms during De Lima’s sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday Feb. 16 at 8:30 a.m.
“Well, I’m going to put an ending date on my current time,” De Lima said out loud, and she was cautioned by Healy, who noted that because she had not yet been sentenced, she did not have a definitive “out date” yet.
Until her sentencing hearing, he said, Foley could still file an appeal to the probation report or withdraw her plea to restart the entire litigation process.
“I don’t want to make that decision today,” Foley said.
Following the conclusion of the hearing, De Lima continued to emphasize to Foley her obligations to testifying as an expert witness later in the year. Foley said that he would have more success proposing the jail time with less than three increments.
De Lima said she was interested in serving her time as quickly as possible, and also added that she was having difficulty receiving her needed medical care while in jail.
After a 10 minute discussion, she nodded toward a man leaning against the dividing wall between them, and she returned to the custody of the Calaveras County Jail.