The judge in the case of a man charged with fatally shooting Anthony "Tony" San Juan on March 4 outside an Orcutt bar admonished the defense attorney for missing yet another hearing in court Friday.
At his last court date, Jonathan David Highley, 35, charged with murder and two special gun enhancements, was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Friday. In fact, the entire day was set aside for the case in Judge Gustavo Lavayen's courtroom.
On Friday, Highley's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Mark Owens, was absent. Colleague Ronald Bobo appeared with the defendant instead.
The judge acknowledged he received a continuance request from Owens that morning but still took the opportunity to admonish Owens.
Lavayen said despite Owens' impacted trial schedule, it should take precedence, and highlighted that the case had been filed eight months ago.
“I guess the bigger question is, Mr. Bobo, what is Mr. Owens’ schedule?” the judge asked. “He’s not here. The case was filed in March. The people are ready. The court is ready. Everybody’s waiting. The alleged victim family is waiting, and Mr. Owens is unavailable.”
He continued: “As I understand it, he’s starting another trial the following week? Is he going to be available on [Dec. 8]?”
All attorneys ultimately agreed to postpone the case to Dec. 8.
Throughout the proceedings since charges were filed early spring, Owens has missed multiple hearings in Santa Maria, including his client's arraignment, when he had another colleague enter pleas on behalf of Highley.
“I contacted him this morning, Your Honor, and I understand your frustration,” Bobo said. “I’m as frustrated as you are. He said that [Dec. 8], which is a good date for [Anne] Nudson, he’d be here. I said he had to be here and interrupt his trial if he has one.”
The judge reminded Bobo that “interrupting trial is one thing,” but getting a judge to give him permission to be released to attend his case in Santa Maria is another.
“So far, [Owens] has been in trial on cases that shouldn’t have the same priority down in Santa Barbara as this case,” the judge admonished.
He also asked Bobo to consider reassigning Highley's case to another attorney in the Public Defender's Office, and further noted that he would speak to another judge in Santa Barbara about releasing Owens from his trial to make it to the rescheduled preliminary hearing.
“Now, I’m not sure if that’ll happen, but I want some assurance Mr. Owens will be ready," Lavayen said.
“I’m available on that date Your Honor, but I also share the court’s frustrations,” said Deputy District Attorney Anne Nudson. “Mr. Owens appears that he’s being pulled in a lot of directions, and this case isn’t receiving the priority that it frankly deserves and requires.”
Due to Friday’s postponement, Highley again waived time for a speedy preliminary hearing, this time through the month of December. The time estimate for the Dec. 8 preliminary hearing will be about four hours, according to the prosecution.
San Juan was shot and killed early March 4 behind Elmer’s bar in the 100 block of East Clark Avenue in Orcutt. The incident occurred at about 1:30 a.m. when officers responded to a report of a man with a gun at the bar.
Highley’s wife, Mayra Perez, who was sentenced earlier this year to probation after pleading to being an accessory to the murder after the fact, was in Merced at the time of the incident, and returned home after Highley reportedly called her while drunk.
The couple were taken into custody shortly after 9 a.m. March 4 as they were leaving their home with their four children.