A Sonora-area nurse accused as an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter in a 2016 head-on collision in La Grange fired the attorney who represented her for two years on Wednesday in the Tuolumne County Superior Court.
Diane Anderson, 67, cited irreconcilable differences with Kirk McAllister, a criminal defense attorney from Modesto, just two weeks before her trial was scheduled to begin.
“You want Mr. McAllister to be relieved?” asked Judge Kevin M. Seibert.
Anderson, dressed in a gray suit and with her hair tied back in a ponytail, nodded.
Flanked by Anderson and her family outside of the North Washington Street courtroom after the hearing, McAllister said attorney-client privilege barred him from sharing the details of the irreconcilable differences.
Diane Anderson’s current lack of representation and two pending motions — to disqualify her husband’s trial judge, Donald Segerstrom, and to change her trial venue — forced Seibert to delay her trial from May 8.
Seibert set a new trial date for Aug. 14 in Department 1 of the Tuolumne County Superior Court, but noted the location and date could be changed if Segerstrom was disqualified.
Anderson’s trial date has been postponed three times from Dec. 5, Feb. 6 and April 10. She is charged with one count of felony hit-and-run resulting in death or serious injury of six involved parties in the accident, an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
She has pleaded not guilty.
Anderson’s decision to relieve McAllister was predicated on the expectation she could hire her husband’s attorney, Roger Nuttall of Fresno. Nuttall represented Sonora doctor Danny Anderson, convicted in July 2018 of three counts of vehicular manslaughter for his role in causing the 2016 triple-fatal La Grange collision, during a new trial motion and with his pending appeal in the California Fifth District Appellate Court.
According to a continuance motion discussed in court, Nuttall said he was not available for Diane Anderson’s trial until October, but Seibert said he was unwilling to postpone the trial for six months.
“I’m unclear as to how this irreconcilable difference could be so recently discovered,” Seibert said. “There’s really nothing that’s changed in months, if not more.”
Nathan Nutting, a Sonora attorney, appeared on Wednesday as a special appearance for Nuttall. Nutting argued the October date was appropriate to give Nuttall adequate time to prepare for trial while he handled other cases.
While family members of the victims looked on, Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Kreig said she was opposed to any continuance.
“The people find it hard to believe an irreconcilable difference has arisen when they’ve been working with each other for two years,” she said.
McAllister, seated to the left of Diane Anderson in the court jury box, declined to add anything to the record.
Nutting mentioned during the hearing the irreconcilable differences arose from the intended defense strategy during the trial, but declined after the hearing to give specifics.
Seibert said it was unreasonable to expect Nuttall might need six months to prepare for Diane Anderson’s case if Nuttall reviewed Danny Anderson’s entire trial for the appeal and new trial motion.
“The justice system isn’t going to come to a halt to accommodate a busy attorney,” Seibert said. “What’s plan B?”
Nutting referred in whisper with Diane Anderson and said neither of them could speak to Nuttall’s availability before October.
“If for some reason if Mr. Nuttall could not perform or be part of this action, she would be looking for other counsel,” Nutting said.
The status of Diane Anderson’s pending motions are temporarily stalled until she selects a new attorney. Seibert noted the new attorney could pursue the same motions or decide they were unnecessary.
Seibert said the disqualification motion was filed recently and prompted his decision to grant the continuance.The scheduled trial date of May 8 could not proceed until the motion was decided, he said.
The disqualification motion alleged bias on behalf of Segerstrom, who also filed an official response to the disqualification motion which said he believed the trial could be held in his courtroom without bias, Krieg said.
Seibert said Krieg and Diane Anderson’s attorney could decide on a judge to hear the motion or the Judicial Council of California could select a judge, but the status of the trial would be uncertain until a decision was made.
Seibert set a trial readiness conference on May 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 4 to check on Diane Anderson’s status for finding a new attorney and hear the status of any pending motions.
Nutting said he would tentatively act as Diane Anderson’s attorney pending a final decision from her.
Diane and Danny Anderson were arrested in April 2017 when they voluntarily surrendered on warrants to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
Diane Anderson and her husband were initially set as co-defendants, but their trial was split after Segerstrom said certain evidence applicable in the Danny Anderson trial would be prejudicial against Diane.
Diane Anderson was seated in the passenger seat of a white Acura MDX when her husband crossed over the double yellow lines on northbound J-59 in La Grange and caused a head on vehicle collision between a southbound 2002 Lexus RX300 and a northbound 2009 Toyota Camry.
The collision resulted in the death of Tina Hoffman, 51, and her daughter, Trista Hoffman, 16, in the Lexus, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, in the Camry. Lexus passengers Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Camry driver Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
Witnesses in the Danny Anderson trial testified that Danny and Diane Anderson were contacted by California Highway Patrol officers at the scene, but neither said they were involved. Diane and Danny Anderson later sold the Acura MDX while California Highway Patrol investigators sought the identities of the vehicle owners.
Danny Anderson was found guilty of three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving, hit and run, and the misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police investigation.
He was acquitted on the charge of concealing evidence and the special allegations of fleeing the scene of an accident, which were attached to the manslaughter charges.
He was sentenced by Segerstrom to five years and four months in state prison in January.
Danny Anderson is incarcerated at the California Institution for Men in Chino after being admitted to the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy on Jan. 29.
According to the California Fifth District Appellate Court website, a bail motion pending the conclusion of Anderson’s appeal was denied last week.