Defense attorneys representing Sonora nurse Diane Anderson filed a petition with the California Fifth District Court of Appeals on Friday to intervene in a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge’s refusal to reschedule her trial to a later date.
A decision from the appeals court is expected Tuesday, one day before Diane Anderson’s trial in the San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton to determine if she was an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter.
Roger Nuttall and Mark Coleman, Anderson’s attorneys Diane Anderson, also filed a motion on Monday to disqualify Judge Kevin Seibert from hearing the trial. Seibert struck the motion because he said it did not contain the proper grounds for disqualification.
The disqualification motion alleged many of the same grievances Diane Anderson’s defense attorneys presented during the motion for a continuance of her trial on Aug. 7, that the court was revealing prejudice toward her through decisions on scheduling and by making rulings opposite to their requests.
Seibert called the petition and the disqualification motion “virtually identical.”
Seibert said the disqualification motion alleged “defects in the process” related to his decision to set the continuance motion hearing on Aug. 7, instead of on Aug. 12 as was requested by the defense because of Nuttall’s availability.
Seibert said the motion was “inaccurate” in its claim that he deliberately “advanced dates” for the hearing.
“The court never authorized a hearing on a motion to continue on Aug. 12,” he said.
Seibert said holding a continuance motion two days before the trial was set to proceed was not timely considering the court process.
Seibert also addressed Nuttall’s unavailability due to a DUI trial in Kings County. At the previous hearing, Seibert had questioned the validity of Nuttall’s schedule because he received a signed document from Nuttall on Aug. 6 indicating he was in Fresno, not Kings County. Seibert said he later received word that Nuttall had signed the document in Fresno before embarking on the trip to Kings County for the trial.
“Inquiring is not accusing. It’s inquiring,” Siebert said. “The court accepts that explanation.”
Seibert also said it was “baseless” the court was not protecting Diane Anderson’s rights when refusing community surveys of the potential jury pool in San Joaquin County.
Siebert said the motion indicated “the defense was offended” by his reference to a “daisy chain of serial venue arguments” which could delay the trial indefinitely.
Siebert read the definition of a “daisy chain,” indicated it was a metaphor and said it contained “nothing derogatory or nothing that reflects bias.”
Siebert said he decided to change the venue of the trial to Stockton in San Joaquin County in July (despite the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office requesting Stanislaus County and the defense requesting Sacramento County) because they have a new court house which could accommodate the trial and amount to a “a huge cost saving for this court” compared to other sites.
He said the court had to provide a judge, clerk and bailiff to the trial and paying for two additional hours of travel as well as lodging “makes no sense.”
Siebert told the defense they could file a petition with the Fifth District Court of Appeals to evaluate his decision to strike the disqualification motion as well.
“We’ll wait and see what happens,” Siebert said at the conclusion of the four-hour hearing on Monday.
The defense was successful in having Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom disqualified from Diane Anderson’s trial after a Butte County Superior Court Judge expressed “concern” in June that Segerstrom made statements during Danny Anderson’s sentencing which may lead a person to believe he was not impartial.
Siebert said he intended to proceed as if the trial was happening Wednesday barring any notification from the appeals court. He plans to travel to Stockton on Tuesday to evaluate the court and prepare for the trial.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Diane Anderson was a passenger in a white Acura MDX in October 2016 when her husband, Danny Anderson, crossed double-yellow lines on northbound J-59 near La Grange to pass two vehicles in front of him.
Danny Anderson was found to be responsible for the subsequent triple-fatal accident and Diane Anderson is accused as an accessory after the fact.
Diane Anderson has pleaded not guilty to one count of felony hit-and-run resulting in death or serious injury of six involved parties, an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
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.
Siebert also ruled on over 30 motions filed by the defense and prosecution regarding what information and statements would be admissible during the trial.
For the defense, he notably granted a motion to have the prosecution refer to the involved parties by name and not as victims.
Also discussed were CHP Officer Joelle McChesney’s (who investigated the triple-fatal Oct. 2016 collision) previous misdemeanor convictions and the rights of Diane and Danny Anderson to use certain privileges in testimony.
During the hearing, District Attorney Laura Krieg said she intended to call Danny Anderson to testify.
Danny Anderson was sentenced to five years and four months in state prison on the three counts of vehicular manslaughter, in addition to hit-and-run and obstructing an investigation. He is in custody at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
Danny Anderson has appealed his case in the California Court Fifth Appellate District. His opening brief in the appeal is due to the court on Aug. 27.