We have an interesting story here about Luba Pekisheva, a young local woman who seems to have been railroaded by our county court system. Learning the story has not been easy and it looks like this article may be the first of several. As I continue to look into it, I am open to discovering that my concerns are just misunderstandings. But after poking around at this for five months, I am becoming convinced that our local judges, court clerks, public defenders and the prosecutor’s office have all worked together to criminalize an innocent person.
It started back in 2009 when a good ol' boy from the county came by Luba’s house north of Kendall and started cutting down trees. She thought he was cutting trees on her property - and she may well have been right - but that is not the issue. She was digging in her yard at the time, saw him, and went down the path to block his entrance. He brushed by her despite her demands that he get off her property. At some point, he set down his chainsaw and she grabbed it, hiding it behind her home. She promptly called the sheriff.
A deputy came. He asked her to give him the saw, but she wanted an assurance it would not just be given back to the guy so he could continue cutting trees. The deputy said he could not say that and insisted she give him the saw. She gave it to him and he promptly arrested her for theft of the saw. The tree cutter then told the deputy that Luba had hit him with her shovel. So the deputy also charged her with assault, and off she went to jail.
At this point our legal system kicked in and Luba was prosecuted and convicted of two gross demeanors - theft and assault - by Judge Elich. The victim - the guy with the chainsaw - admitted under questioning that he was unhurt and had no injuries; Luba denied hitting him. It was “he said/she said” with no witnesses or evidence. But Luba was found guilty; guilty of stealing the chain saw - even though she was trying to protect her property, even though she was the one who called the sheriff, even though she returned the saw. She now has a criminal misdemeanor on her record for life. Unless an appeal would overturn it.
So, in early 2010 she started an appeal in Superior Court to the District Court decision and process. For the past three years she has been given the run around by court clerks, judges and prosecutors: her files have been lost; it has taken over a year for files to be transmitted from the 4th floor District Court to the 3rd floor Superior Court. It appears Judge Elich has effectively controlled which files the District Court clerk would transmit to the Superior Court. And three years later, Luba is still trying to make her appeal.
A couple months ago, I went with Luba to the District Court Clerk office and heard the clerk say that “the judge” was still reviewing which files from her case would be transferred to Superior Court for her appeal. The clerk was waiting for his “instructions” on which files to transfer and which to hold. So I have a question for you legal readers: Is it normal for a judge to review and control which files may be used in the appeal of a decision by the same judge?
Luba Pekisheva has represented herself throughout this process. She was assigned a public defender in the beginning but she felt he was of no use as he tried to prevent her from entering evidence in defense of herself. She had him put on standby. No local attorney would take Luba's case. My opinion of her is that she is very smart, and determined to get the facts of her case considered by an impartial judge. She is not interested in being casually criminalized by our local county good old boy system of justice.
On Thursday, May 23, Luba received notice in the mail that oral arguments for her appeal of the District Court conviction was scheduled for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 29, in Superior Court. But Luba's final reply brief was not due in Superior Court until Tuesday, May 28. So the court system was allowing her one day between filing her brief and appearing in court. The law requires she must be allowed a minimum of 7 days.
I went to the prosecutor’s office on Thursday, May 23, to learn more. I had three questions: Is it normal to schedule orals a day after the brief deadline? Is a one-week notice normal? And why is this suddenly happening so fast?
They did not want to tell me anything. Who are you? I gave my name. Why do you want to know? I'm a citizen and am curious about this case. I was told there was no one available to talk with me. They had more prying questions. Someone will call you - but previous experience told me no one would ever call. I insisted on waiting. A clerk came out and kept trying to tell me they were busy, that Luba was responsible for all this delaying, that there was a meeting going on right then about Luba. And when I kept coming back to my three questions, I was told how under staffed the office was. I said I was not interested in their problems - merely the three questions. Again - who was I? I was told I was rude. No, not rude - just asking three simple questions. If they cannot answer them, then they can read about it on NWCitizen in a couple days. Boom. The clerk told me everything she’d said was off the record. And so, no name here. She promptly left, again saying I was rude and that she was not authorized to answer my questions. (So why did she come out?)
I asked the receptionist who else could answer the questions. Well, Cathy Walker had set the dates but she was in the meeting about Luba. I would wait. They again offered a phone call. I declined. After a while the first clerk came back. This time she tried to answer my questions. She cited the dates of the mailings and said Luba was already days late with her reply brief - and was in error about it being due May 28. We discussed - with me assuring them repeatedly that I had no desire to argue and was only seeking the answers to those three questions. It got technical and they provided dates to show they were within the law on their scheduling. I never did learn what was normal.
Next, I phoned and informed Luba about what I had learned. I suggested perhaps she was wrong and was late with her reply brief. And, voila. Luba had kept the postmarked envelopes with her notices. The postmarked dates were days after the mailing dates the prosecutor’s office had given me. In truth, Luba's brief was due the 28th. The soonest the oral arguments could be heard, by law, would be June 5.
Let me note that the prosecutor's office was acting on false information - their own information was wrong. They were sure of themselves but they were dead wrong about the facts. Luba says this has happened repeatedly over the years - and until I stepped in she had been ignored and forced to live with the violations of due process by the prosecutor’s office, by the court clerks and by the judges. I give credence to her based on my experience with them. They were confused and arrogant. And they were wrong. Perhaps Luba has been railroaded into her conviction when actually, she is innocent.
On Friday, May 24, Luba received notice her oral argument date had been cancelled and would be rescheduled for a later date. They have now set her oral argument date for June 18. She credits my visit for that concession, repeating that she has been bounced around for three years. And after watching their confusion during my visit, I'm inclined to believe her.
So this is the first of what may be several articles on this case. I have videos of court hearings. I have access to court records. But mostly, I'm curious about how the court system has handled Luba's case. Have our courts casually criminalized an innocent woman, one who has no connections and little money, simply because she dared to assert her innocence and refused to go quietly? Why have we spent thousands of our tax dollars to criminalize this person? Is it because she stood up to one of our county good ol' boys?
Judge Elich convicted her and Judge Uhrig is deep into this confusion. It appears that Judges Mura and Snyder have become involved in this mess. So this article is a start. Let's reveal the full story of this four-year process. My personal experience, and the records and evidence I have seen are enough to justify this first article. I plan to attend the court hearings and look into the records. I will talk to people. I will keep you posted.