First posted at 7:51 am. See 6 pm update half way down.
In 2011, Luba Pekisheva was convicted in Whatcom County District Court by judge Elich of assault and theft. In truth, she probably committed neither. But Pekisheva had defied a good ol’ boy from the county and our Whatcom County justice system - judges, prosecutors and public defenders - seems to have shown extra zeal in convicting Pekisheva and making it stick.
I’ve been trying to follow this crazy case for several years now, and it appears the county justice system has wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars just to harass and prove to one young woman that she is helpless in the face of local prosecutors. Such zeal should be for real crimes - not someone standing their ground on their own residential property.
It started when county resident Chris Hatch came to cut trees on her property in the Paradise area back in November 2009. Because of some unclear county property filings, there was supposedly an 8 foot wide public green strip next to her property - and he was cutting trees on that public green strip. Legally the green strip probably belongs to her. Pekisheva tried to keep him from cutting the trees and somehow quickly found herself arrested and in jail. Hatch proceeded to cut the trees - but she certainly did not assault or steal from him. And he cut at least one fine tree that was clearly on her property. See photo.
Now, after five years of court proceedings, a lot of taxpayer money has been spent to keep Pekisheva convicted. She was sentenced five years ago and served her sentence. In her effort to clear her name and get the conviction reversed, she has represented herself these five years and appealed through the county courts and up to the state Supreme Court - which rejected her appeal this May.
And so it was a surprise when the prosecutor’s office sent her notice of a hearing for an “Imposition of Sentence” for Thursday, June 25. A couple weeks ago, Pekisheva went to ask the court clerks and the prosecutor if there was an error. It seemed like she was being sentenced a second time. Two of us went with her as witnesses. The short answer is, no one would tell her a thing. The prosecutor of her case, Warren Page, was in his office but would not see her - sending out cryptic messages via a clerk that he had nothing to tell her. The court clerks also would not tell her anything.
It seemed to me they were enjoying making her nervous and scared. She does not know if she will be put in handcuffs and led to jail on June 25. When asked what they intended to say, she was told they did not know what she would say, so they would not tell her what the prosecutor intended to say. To this adult, it appeared to be teenage game-playing. Someone could have either admitted the notice was worded wrongly or could have explained to Pekisheva what was about to happen. No one would.
So here is where we are now. I’ve asked around and it seems the courts need to have a hearing in order to close the legal process for her now that her appeals have been denied. This is not a sentencing hearing and the notice is mistakenly labeled that way - either to make her nervous or as a result of some incompetent prosecuting attorney handling it.
It should have been labeled a “Post Mandate Review” or similar. Not an imposition of sentence.
I’ll be at the hearing. If the court says the notice was worded incorrectly by mistake it will be a lie. The court and prosecutor were made fully aware of this wording two weeks ago. Pekisheva spent a couple hours in the courthouse going from office to office seeking clarification. No one would tell her anything and all knew of the wording.
Yes, I’ll follow up this article after the hearing. And perhaps we will look further into Pekisheva’s case. It appears our prosecutor, Dave McEachran, enjoys making innocent people suffer. And suffer for years. At a huge waste of our tax dollars for an incident that inconvenienced a good ol’ boy from the rural county who went around looking for trees that would be easy to cut and sell. She did not want him to cut her trees.
Oh, and that theft conviction. She grabbed the guy’s chain saw and hid it - and then called the sheriff’s office. When the deputy showed up, she gave it to him - and he promptly arrested her for theft.
Update - 6 pm
At Luba Pekisheva’s hearing this afternoon, Judge Elich called her to the front of the courtroom just as the prosecuting attorney handed her an order to sign. This order was to vacate the guilty verdict and to dismiss the charges. The judge immediately pressured her to sign. When she started to ask a question, he sharply and loudly cut her off. He said she could not say anything. Nothing. She could sign the order or not - but he was done with her.
The order seems good on the surface - but we need some legal advice on what it might mean. Pekisheva wants to clear her name and her conviction. While this order seems to dismiss her case, it may also prevent her from seeking a full reversal of her record. She may still face problems flying or traveling to another country. Legally she may now be prevented from suing for malice of prosecution. The judge did not give her time nor help. It was an ambush by district court judge Elich.
Warren Page, assistant chief criminal deputy prosecutor for the county, wrote the order but he was not in court and had a young attorney present it. It says, “Ordered, adjudged and decreed, that the Jury’s guilty verdict in the above referenced matter is vacated, a not guilty plea is entered and the charges dismissed.”
It appears our local justice system is saying to her, “You are innocent and we are declaring our six years of prosecution and harassment of you to be for nothing.” The Whatcom County prosecutor, Dave McEachran, the district courts and the superior courts have all maintained for six years that Pekisheva was guilty and put her through every legal torture they could. Now that the legal process is exhausted, they tell her she is innocent. They no doubt wasted tens of thousands of our tax dollars and cost her five years of her life - all for nothing. All for original charges where no one was even slightly hurt and nothing was stolen.
To this observer, it was clear the court had no respect for Pekisheva. I understand they are tired of her. She refused to go quietly in the night with their trumped up charges and the unfair court case against her. She dared to challenge the august men in their chambers. She was to be taught a lesson.
The prosecutor could have, and should have, provided Pekisheva with a copy of the order weeks ago. She could have sought legal help on it or researched its implications. She could have come to court prepared. But it was obvious that Judge Elich wanted this hearing to last about one minute and did not want Pekisheva to say a word - not a word. She could sign or not - and suffer the consequences of whichever she choose - with no time to read and consider. It was not a fair process. It was official bullying.
After a half hour consideration outside the courtroom, Luba signed the order - but also wrote in her protest of the language and process on the face of the order. We shall see if Elich signs it.
Perhaps some readers can add perspective. This is citizen journalism - which means we can all contribute our expertise toward explaining issues. I’m not an attorney - but have been to several of these hearings with Pekisheva. My concern is a justice system that maliciously trashes the lives of innocent people and we may have that here in Whatcom County.
If anyone wants to look up the case, it is State of Washington vs Lyubov Pekisheva. PA11761