2021-2022 San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury Release Report on Lathrop-Manteca Fire District

Stockton, CA — On June 23, 2022, the 2021-2022 San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released its report investigating the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District (LMFD) in San Joaquin County. The Civil Grand Jury’s duty is to address citizens’ concerns regarding the operation of local government entities.

The LMFD became the focus of public scrutiny following media reports alleging misconduct at a training retreat held in Napa in February of 2021. These media reports detailed instances of inappropriate behavior and the improper use of the district’s credit card for personal services and items prohibited under the district’s credit card policy. When the LMFD Board of Directors learned of these issues, a third party was employed to investigate complaints and personnel issues related to the off-site retreat. The Fire Chief, as Chief Executive Officer of the LMFD, retired from the district at the conclusion of the third party’s investigation and an interim Fire Chief was appointed. The Grand Jury decided to open an investigation after receiving a written complaint and reviewing subsequent media reports of questionable expenditures by LMFD management.

In its investigation, the Grand Jury conducted interviews with key district leadership figures, reviewed the district’s governing rules and regulations, and analyzed staff complaints to determine the depth and accuracy of the allegations against the LMFD. The Grand Jury found the Board of Directors lacked training in government oversight and district polices, inadvertently, granting the former Fire Chief near autonomous authority over the district without including a system of checks and balances or an oversight function by the Board. This lack of Board oversight contributed to a hostile work environment and exposed the LMFD to potential liability including financial penalties.

The Grand Jury’s report details the complete findings of the investigation into allegations of misconduct in the LMFD under the former Fire Chief and provides the Board of Director’s with the framework to conduct the search and screening process for hiring the permanent Fire Chief. The LMFD improvement process is a work in progress but, with a committed Board of Director’s, an opportunity exists to restore trust following the turmoil and upheaval created under previous management.
The public is encouraged to read the complete report by visiting the Grand Jury’s website.


2021-2022 San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury Releases Report on Cyber Security in San Joaquin County

Stockton, CA —  On June 20, 2022, the San Joaquin County 2021-2022 Civil Grand Jury released its report investigating cybersecurity in San Joaquin County.  Cities and local  governments store sensitive information digitally making them vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches that can be disruptive to essential service systems.

In its investigation, the Grand Jury sought to understand the cybersecurity landscape and local governments’ management of their cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. Through research of relevant materials and guidance from information system experts, the Grand Jury was able to provide a framework for evaluating the current state of security and disaster preparedness of the Information Technology systems of San Joaquin County and the seven incorporated cities within the county.

The Grand Jury surveyed San Joaquin County IT department heads and the City Manager or City Administrator of each of the seven cities in the county, and interviewed several  other recognized IT experts, to develop nine defined expectations for adequate cybersecurity ranging from organizational charts to cyber event insurance and ransomware policies. Each agency was then evaluated and the results were tabulated to indicate whether an agency met, did not meet, or was in the process of meeting the nine defined expectations.

In this investigation, the Grand Jury found San Joaquin County to be a model agency in the realm of information technology and maintenance of cybersecurity and learned from cybersecurity experts that three key elements lead to maximum agency cybersecurity:

•    A dedicated information security position within each organization.

•    A “seat at the table” with other agency department heads in regular meetings.

•    A rigorous employee education and training program in cybersecurity matters.

The public is encouraged to read the complete report by visiting the Grand Jury’s website.


2021-2022 San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury Releases Report on SUSD: A Failing Grade in Public Trust

Stockton, CA — The 2021-2022 Grand Jury received complaints alleging the Stockton Unified School District’s (SUSD) management and Board of Trustees were not adhering to policies and procedures regarding financial transactions and funds were not being used in the best interest of students, families, staff, and district. An investigation into these allegations was opened and the Grand Jury’s report was released on June 17, 2022.

The Grand Jury focused the scope of its investigation on SUSD’s financial management, Board transparency, and Board duty of care. To gain an understanding of the issues presented in the allegations against SUSD, the Grand Jury conducted more than 30 interviews, attended virtual Board meetings, and reviewed relevant documents, websites, and newspaper articles.

Stockton Unified School District has served students and families since 1852 and is the 15th largest school district in California. The Business Services Department (BSD) is directly responsible for all financial management of the district including accounting, budgeting, investments, and compliance with State and Federal reporting requirements. Due to the retirement and separation of numerous long-term employees in the past year, the BSD was not staffed to operational levels necessary to insure proper fiscal management. Deficiencies in training, experience, and knowledge of the requirements for financial reporting resulted in missed opportunities to secure grant funding, inconsistent implementation of the district’s financial policies and procedures, and a projected budget deficit by fiscal year 2024-25, if not sooner.

The Board of Trustees often made crucial decisions with minimal data, knowledge, and consideration and showed consistent disregard for Board Bylaws. The Grand Jury found a lack of transparency and apparent conflicts of interest exist that undermine the Board’s credibility, thereby, reducing public trust and confidence in the district. These failures by senior leadership and the Board of Trustees in SUSD has put the district’s future solvency at risk and drastic changes will need to be implemented to avoid financial catastrophe.

The public is encouraged to read the complete report by visiting the Grand Jury’s website.


Public Notice: Beware of Telephone Scams

There have been numerous telephone scams over the past year involving individuals identifying themselves as representatives of the Superior Court or other public agency. In these scams, citizens are contacted by phone by someone claiming to be with the court, sheriff, or other affiliated public agency. The person is either told they are late paying a court fine, have an open warrant, have failed to report for jury duty, or something else related to the court system. Victims are being told that if they do not pay the caller (via credit card, Apple iTunes cards, or bank routing number, etc.) they will have additional penalties added or go to jail. Calls sometimes come from various 800 numbers that when used appear to duplicate a public agency’s phone system in order to give the impression of credibility.

Please note that these calls are fraudulent and have no connection to the Superior Court. Court personnel will never ask for personal information over the phone such as social security numbers, credit card accounts, or bank routing numbers. If you receive a phone call from someone making these claims and asking for personal or financial information, hang up and immediately report the situation to local law enforcement.

Additional information related to telephone and email fraudulent activity is available on the FBI’s public website at https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes

If you get such a call, report it to your local law enforcement agency and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/


Collaborative Courts to Hold Graduation Ceremony

WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2022—4:00 P.M.

Bob Hope Theater, 242. E. Main Street, Stockton, CA

Stockton, CA — Over 170 participants of the Collaborative Courts have successfully completed one of the court rehabilitation programs at the Superior Court of California, County of San Joaquin over the past year. On Wednesday, May 4, 2022, we will celebrate this achievement with a commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. at the Bob Hope Theater, 242 E. Main Street, Stockton, CA.

Collaborative Courts is a division of the Superior Court, which combines judicial supervision with monitoring and rehabilitation to reduce recidivism by addressing issues that contribute to criminal behavior. With the goal of improving public safety and client outcomes, these courts also are known as problem-solving courts. Collaborative Courts focuses on utilizing data-driven, evidence-based practices, comprehensive evaluation and assessment plans to improve the quality of the lives of the people we serve.

“San Joaquin Superior Collaborative Court is honored to host our annual graduation ceremony for our well-deserved participants.  It’s an opportunity to celebrate people from our community working to reach their next level of success.  Our participants worked hard to meet court dates and to complete service needs. The completion of this one-year program is no easy feat; however, the commitment was substantial, knowing failure was not an option.  We believe that positive opportunities like this are an essential step toward the success of our community”- Kelly Placeres, Director of Collaborative Courts.

The graduation program will feature:

Key Note Speaker – Dennis Gaxiola. Dennis Gaxiola is one of America’s funniest clean comedians. The Air Force veteran and preacher’s son has appeared on Comedy Central, stars, NBC and has a dry bar comedy special that has garnered over 150,000,000 views.

Graduate Speaker – David Batton. David Batton came to Compliance Court homeless, broken and unsure of the Court’s unusual approach to assisting his needs. He had been living behind a dumpster, and once told the Judge that he wanted to die an addict. However, despite his despondence he continued to make his court appearances. David was placed in a sober living home and received outpatient treatment. Once David embraced the process of recovery, he started counting the days he was clean and sober, sharing the incremental milestones with pride. David completed his treatment program and attained full-time employment. He continues to frequent support groups. He shared his goal with the court team that he wants to be a peer mentor to other Collaborative Court participants, and has initiated that process. We are all very proud of David Batton as he moves towards a very independent, positive and productive life. 

Collaborative Courts, a division fully supported by grants, includes Drug Court (Track 1 and 2), Dependency Drug Court (PROP 1 and 2), DUI Court, Parole Reentry Court,      Veterans Court, three AB109 reentry courts – Compliance Court, Monitoring Court, Mandatory Supervision Court, and the “Choices and Consequences” prevention program, which are school presentations that aim to deter middle school and high school students from using drugs and alcohol.

For more information, please contact Kelly Placeres at 992-5225.


Department L-2 to Close

Effective Monday, April 18, 2022, Department L-2 and one of the Clerk’s Offices at the Lodi Branch Court will close. Department L-2 is located at 315 W. Elm Street, Lodi, CA 95240.

With the closure of Department L-2, all small claims, unlawful detainer (landlord-tenant), name changes, limited civil, civil harassment and traffic cases, and Fish and Game and City Ordnance matters will be heard at the main Stockton Courthouse located at 180 E. Weber Avenue, Stockton, CA 95202. Criminal matters currently scheduled in Department L-2 will be heard in Department L-1. Parties to cases with hearings scheduled in Department L-2 for dates on or after April 18, 2022, will receive notice of their new court date and department at the Stockton courthouse. All related filings are to be filed at the Stockton courthouse. There is no estimate on when Department L-2 will reopen.

Department L-1 and the other Clerk’s Office located at 217 W. Elm Street, Lodi, CA 95240 will remain open to hear criminal cases.

San Joaquin Superior Court Seeking Applicants to Serve on the 2022-2023 Civil Grand Jury

Stockton, CA — The San Joaquin County Superior Court is seeking applicants to serve on the fiscal year 2022-2023 San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury.  The deadline for application submission is April 8, 2022.

Applications can be obtained by calling (209) 992-5290.   Applications can also be found on the court’s website at:  http://www.sjcourts.org/general-info/civil-grand-jury

Members of the 2022-2023 Civil Grand Jury will begin serving July 1, 2022. The Grand Jury is comprised of nineteen citizens whose names are randomly selected from  applicants nominated by the Judges of the Superior Court.  The Civil Grand Jury inquires into and investigates the functions and operations of governmental bodies, agencies and public officials within San Joaquin County, as well as investigates complaints received from the public.  Past reports have focused on juvenile group homes, community college and school districts, jail operations, special districts and housing authorities.

Comments from recent past grand jurors regarding their involvement and their    experiences include, “A strong desire to serve our citizens and making sure all governmental agencies are doing their job.”  “I love the fact that jurors have vast knowledge in the field they have worked in, which give first-hand experience to topics   discussed . . .” and, “Meeting a wide variety of community members and working together.”

Due to COVID-19, applicants must be able to work via telephonic or video appearance (a smart phone and internet access are required). 

A Grand Juror must be at least 18 years of age, a United States citizen who has    resided in San Joaquin County for at least one year, possess sufficient knowledge of the English language, and is not now serving as a trial juror or elected public official.  Qualified applicants may be interviewed by a Superior Court Judge.  The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office will conduct background investigations, which includes a record check from law enforcement agencies.


New Presiding Judge and Assistant Presiding Judge, 2022-2023


FOR 2022 AND 2023

Stockton, CA — Judge Michael D. Coughlan is the new Presiding Judge and Gus C. Barrera, II is the new Assistant Presiding Judge. Their terms commenced January 1, 2022 and run through December 31, 2023.

Judge Coughlan served as the former Assistant Presiding Judge in 2020 – 2021 and replace outgoing Presiding Judge Xapuri B. Villapudua. Judge Coughlan earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the Pacific and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Judge Coughlan began his legal career in private practice, which included practicing as a managing lead attorney with the California State Auto Association. He then entered into civil litigation as a solo practitioner, where he specialized in insurance coverage, personal injury, commercial litigation, mediation, and arbitration. Judge Coughlan was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005.

Judge Barrera earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Brigham Young University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He was a partner and attorney at the Law Offices of Allan Jose and Gus Barrera II from 2005 to 2010. Judge Barrera served as a deputy district attorney at the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office from 1998 to 2005 and was an associate at David   Allen and Associates from 1997 to 1998. He had been a sole practitioner since 2011 when he was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 2016.  In addition to serving as the Assistant Presiding Judge, Judge Barrera will continue to sit as the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court.

The Presiding Judge, with the assistance of the Court Executive Officer, is responsible for leading the court, establishing policies, and allocating resources in a manner that   promotes equal access to justice, maximizes the use of judicial and other resources, increases efficiency in court operations, and enhances service to the public. The Assistant Presiding Judge shall act in the absence of the Presiding Judge and will then assume the role of the Presiding Judge when the two-year term as Assistant expires.


Public Notice: Clerk’s Office and Self Help Center Hours

Beginning Monday, January 3, 2022, the Clerk’s offices at all locations will be open        8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding    holidays.  Clerk’s Offices can also be contacted as follows:

· By Telephone: To contact the Court by telephone, please visit the Court’s website at www.sjcourts.org for current hours and contact information. 

· Support On-line: Questions can be submitted via the support link on the Court’s website at  https://www.sjcourts.org/online-services/support/.

There are drop boxes outside of the Stockton and Lodi Courthouse. For the Manteca Branch and the Juvenile Justice Center, a drop box is located within the buildings.  eFiling is available for Civil, Family Law, Criminal Motions and Probate. Please visit https://appfile.sjcourts.org/ for information.

The Court’s Records Management Division, where copies of court records can be  obtained, will continue to assist the public by way of appointments. To request an appointment,     visit www.sjcourts.org and go to Divisions — Records Management —Appointments or click this link https://www.sjcourts.org/online-services/records-request/.  You may also call 209-992-5697, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., for more information on how to request an appointment.

The Self-Help Center will be open to the public for in-person assistance from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, excluding holidays.  The center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for in-person assistance on Wednesdays.  Online workshop assistance is available at www.sjcourts.org/self-help/ (response time is three to five days), telephonic assistance by calling (209) 992-5283      between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and via email at  selfhelp@sjcourts.org.   For updates about hours of operation, workshops and other available self-help online services, visit the Court’s website at www.sjcourts.org.


Public Notice: Mandatory Masking Beginning Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The health and safety of court users, judicial officers and our employees is our top priority. Pursuant to California Department of Public Health guidelines, effective Wednesday, December 15, 2021, all persons must wear a face covering to enter any courthouse and at all times while inside regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.