Catalina Island, located about 23 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to a tiny, 1-room courthouse. The building is only open on alternating Fridays to hear misdemeanor cases that arise on and around the island.
We've been the #1 firm serving Catalina Island for about 10 years now. In that time, the most common charges we've seen include things like drunk in public, battery, shoplifting, possession of drugs & drug paraphernalia, domestic violence, DUI (including a lot of golf cart DUIs), and of course, every fishing violation in the book.
Gascon Changed Everything...
Since the voters of Los Angeles County elected George Gascon as District Attorney in 2020, law enforcement priorities have changed noticeably. As a "progressive DA", Gascon immediately directed his prosecutors to ignore most low-level "quality of life" offenses that disproportionately affected the homeless and low-income Angelinos. Suddenly, prosecutors were forbidden from filing charges in many non-violent misdemeanor situations. The kinds of offenses that used to earn a year of probation and a little community service are now completely ignored by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
Gascon justified his lenient new policies as necessary to end the cycle of poverty that keeps low-income offenders on the streets and prevents them from finding steady employment and housing. He argued that harsh police practices had historically bred distrust between minority communities and law-enforcement. The only way to restore that trust, he concluded, was to simply ignore most crimes.
Ironically, Gascon's "hands-off" approach to law enforcement has had the most glaring impact in the affluent enclave of Avalon, where an 800 square-foot bungalow can sell for nearly a million dollars. Catalina does not have a homeless population, but the DA still forbids his deputies from pursuing charges in most low-level offenses that arise on the island. There are plenty of exceptions, but the total number of cases filed in Catalina has taken a nose-dive since the new DA took office.
One notable area that has not been affected by Gascon's directive is fishing violations. Wardens from the Department of Fish & Wildlife continue to aggressively patrol the waters around Catalina, and the DA still pursues these cases with vigor.
The region is popular with both commercial and recreational anglers, and the California Code of Regulations can be a minefield for the uninitiated. The island's coastline is a checkerboard of "marine life protected areas", where fishing is strictly prohibited. The areas are not marked by any signs or buoys; it is the angler's responsibility to use a reliable map and GPS system and to avoid accidentally drifting into one of these traps. Wardens also regularly board vessels to inspect catches, licenses and logbooks. They're not in the business of giving warnings.
If you are cited for some misdemeanor fishing violation near the island, wardens will assign you a court date at the Avalon Courthouse. You must personally appear in court on that date, unless you are represented by a private attorney. Private counsel can appear on behalf of our clients in most cases.
The first court appearance is called the "arraignment". This is the stage where the prosecutor formally notifies the defendant of the charge. The defense attorney receives a copy of the warden's report and any evidence that was collected during the investigation. The attorney enters a "not guilty" plea on behalf of the defendant, and further court appearances are scheduled.
Between the first and second appearances, the attorney will meet with the client to review the report, the evidence, and a defense strategy. At the next court appearance, the attorney should be prepared to sit down with the prosecutor and to discuss the case, including some proposed disposition (e.g., "This case is weak and should be dismissed", or "OK, I see what you have here. My client is willing to pay a small fine", etc.).
We Can Help
No law firm has more experience than us when it comes to defending cases on Catalina Island. Other lawyers advertise that they cover Catalina, but they usually hire me to make their appearances for them. We know how things work on the island and we know how to get the best results possible for our clients.
If you or a loved one has been cited or arrested on Catalina Island, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John.
Thanks for reading.