It’s not very often that someone can say, “I fought the law, and I won.” However, 66-year-old James Roberts can rightfully say those words. Roberts was charged with one count of reckless driving and two counts of recklessly endangering another person. The charges were for allegedly endangering U.S. Forest Service (USFS) employees Sean Thomas and Donald Ross. Each charge carried a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
Facing a three-year sentence if convicted, Roberts was offered 18 months’ bench probation, no jail time, a three-month license suspension and some fines and fees if he entered a guilty plea and sold out to the criminal justice system.
Claiming the USFS employees lied, Roberts hired a defense attorney and started preparing for trial. After his first attorney “did absolutely nothing,” he fired her and contacted the US~Observer. Roberts later described contacting the US~Observer as “pivotal in my defense, I was going down if I hadn’t contacted them.” Roberts ended up retaining defense attorney Nathan Wente.
Describing to the jury his first encounter with Roberts at mile post 4, Thomas said he considered Roberts to be a “serious, serious threat to public safety.” Thomas continued to testify how Roberts would swerve into his lane, cut off his vehicle, slam on his brakes and attempt to run Thomas’ vehicle off the road. Thomas, having conducted “thousands of stops” during his 19.5 years in law enforcement, said that “this was the most significant stop” he had ever made. After explaining these serious allegations to the jury, Thomas informed the court that he didn’t pull Roberts over until “30 yards before mile post 18.” Nearly 14 miles would pass after Thomas “witnessed” Roberts’ “serious threat to public safety” before he pulled over Roberts.
Next, Thomas was asked why he waited nearly 60 seconds prior to stopping Roberts before activating his dashboard camera. Thomas replied, “It just slipped my mind.” Thomas, with his partner Ross by his side, conveniently forgot to turn on their video camera for nearly 14 miles — the only way to gather factual evidence.
The only character witness for the Defense was retired undersheriff Don Fasching. He had many problems with Thomas throughout his career and “didn’t trust Thomas.”
While the jurors were excluded from court proceedings, District Attorney Stephen Campbell was present in court, conversing with Prosecutor Esther Smith. Judge Lindi Baker could see that Campbell didn’t want Fasching to testify.
The prosecution objected to permitting Fasching’s testimony, and Baker sustained, disallowing Fasching to testify. This was a clear violation of law (ORS 40.350).
On May 9, Roberts was found not guilty by an impartial jury and stuck it to corrupt government. The conduct of USFS employees, as well as the district attorney and judge, absolutely verified the opening statement for the defense, “The devil is in the details.”