Lawyers allege jury misconduct in Dan De Vaul case

Lawyers for Dan De Vaul, the San Luis Obispo rancher charged with violating building and safety codes, want him to get a new trial because of alleged gross juror misconduct.

Specifically, the attorneys allege in a motion filed in Superior Court that two jurors harassed and bullied another juror into changing her mind about the verdict.

De Vaul’s lawyers — Jeffrey D. Stulberg and Neil S. Tardiff — are seeking a new trial on charges that led to two guilty verdicts relating to De Vaul’s use of his ranch on Los Osos Valley Road.

The guilty verdicts were for violating state fire codes and creating a safety hazard by converting a barn into living quarters, and for illegally storing mobile homes and vehicles on the property.

The jury acquitted De Vaul on two other charges, and it deadlocked on five counts relating to the use of his ranch.

De Vaul provides shelter for the homeless and offers substance abuse assistance through his Sunny Acres program.

He was investigated and brought to trial in September after allegedly ignoring warnings to follow county code.

Because of a gag order issued by Superior Court Judge John Trice, The Tribune could not interview the prosecution and defense attorneys.

In the 39-page motion, De Vaul’s lawyers say a male juror, referred to as Juror 2, told other jurors that De Vaul was guilty. Juror 2 cited his law enforcement status as part of the basis for his opinion.

“Juror 2 committed serious jury misconduct by announcing to all the jurors that because of his position in law enforcement and his wife’s position as senior probation officer, he had more information than the rest of the jurors and that no matter what the evidence showed or did not show, the defendant was guilty,” De Vaul’s lawyers said.

The defense attorneys cite a declaration submitted by the female juror, referred to as Juror 5 in the motion, about the alleged misconduct.

Juror 5 alleges that Juror 2 proceeded to bully and harass her into changing her verdict vote of not guilty on all nine counts to a vote of guilty.

The motion states another juror, Juror 12, a woman, joined in the harassment by calling Juror 5 “stupid.”

It also claims that Juror 12 said she was from a family of law enforcement officials and that “in her experience government officials have no reason to not tell the truth.”

Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen has until Nov. 6 to submit his response to the defense attorneys’ motion, according to the court docket.

Misconduct alleged against judge, as well

De Vaul’s lawyers also claim judicial misconduct against Judge Trice, saying he unlawfully singled out Juror 5 to question her about her willingness to deliberate with the other jurors, and thus manipulated the process of arriving at a fair verdict.

The jury forewoman wrote in a note to the judge during the course of deliberations that one of the jurors did not believe any of the witnesses or physical evidence presented by the prosecution and would vote not guilty regardless of any discussions.

Trice told the forewoman to identify the juror, and then Trice spoke with Juror 5 alone to determine if she was willing to deliberate.

During her meeting with the judge, Juror 5 asked why others who disagreed with her, and weren’t budging, weren’t singled out for questioning.

She expressed her concern in the second of two discussions Trice had with her after a lunch recess.

“Juror Number 5 thought things could not get worse until the bailiff came out in to the hallway and once again singled out Juror Number 5 in front of the remaining jurors and summoned her back to the principal’s office,” the defense motion states. “Juror Number 5 felt like she had been through enough embarrassment and humiliation.”

When the jury reconvened and Juror 5 realized Trice wasn’t questioning Jurors 2 or 12, she became “upset, changed her vote and refused to deliberate further.”

“It was incumbent on the (judge) to not in any way intrude on the deliberative process,” the lawyers wrote. “Instead, the court did the opposite.”

De Vaul is to be sentenced on the two guilty counts, but no date has been set for that hearing, according to the docket. Lawyers who receive unfavorable verdicts have the option to file motions for new trials, and frequently do so, according to numerous court records in other cases.