California Victim Compensation Board
Open Meeting Minutes
May 18, 2023, Board Meeting
The California Victim Compensation Board (Board) convened its meeting in open session upon the call of the Chair, Gabriel Ravel, General Counsel of the Government Operations Agency, acting for, and in the absence of Amy Tong, Secretary of the Government Operations Agency, at 400 R Street, Room 330, Sacramento, California, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, at 11:01 a.m. Also present was Member Evan Johnson, acting for, and in the absence of, Malia Cohen, Controller. Appearing via Zoom was Member Diana Becton, District Attorney.
Executive Officer Lynda Gledhill, and Chief Counsel Kim Gauthier, attended in person at 400 R Street, Sacramento, California. Board Liaison, Andrea Burrell, was also present and recorded the meeting.
Item 1. Approval of the Minutes of the March 16, 2023, Board Meeting
Member Becton moved approval of the Minutes for the March 16, 2023, Board Meeting. The motion was seconded by Member Johnson. By a unanimous vote of the Board, the motion passed.
Item 2. Approval of the Minutes of the April 12, 2023, Board Meeting
Member Becton moved approval of the Minutes for the April 12, 2023, Board Meeting. The motion was seconded by Member Johnson. By a unanimous vote of the Board, the motion passed.
Item 3. Public Comment
The Board opened the meeting for public comment and Ms. Burrell reminded everyone that, consistent with the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, items not on the agenda may not be discussed at this time but may be put on a future agenda. (Gov. Code, § 11125.7.)
Margaret Petros appeared via Zoom. Ms. Petros stated the Program requires verifications from the IRS and FTB when victims/applicants apply for wage and support losses and CalVCB requires it for the previous year before the crime, the year of the crime, and recently she came across a claim that required verification and requested verification from FTB the year after the crime, which makes absolutely no sense to her. She feels the Board is over-reaching their powers and violating victims’ privacy when really, they have no business to know why and how much the victim was making after the crime. She further opined that the records are not required under Government Code section 13952(c)(3), which says the Board shall not require an applicant to submit documentation from the Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board. She did note, however, that the statute goes on to state that the Board may require and use documentation from these entities to verify the amount of compensation for income or support loss. Ms. Petros expressed her opinion that this was done by the legislators for a reason with the intent that if there are other ways to verify the income and support loss it should be used, such as pay stubs, a declaration from the employer, and bank statements. She stated victims are not always able to file their taxes, and if the Board is going to require it, she’s asked in the past for the Board not to deny claims because tax records are not available, or the victim has delayed the tax filing. Ms. Petros expressed her preference that the income loss bill be deemed unverified, so that the victim may come back at some point in the future after they have filed their taxes and submit them to the Board. Ms. Petros indicated that when the bill is recommended for denial, it goes before the Board and a final denial is issued. Thereafter, she believes the only other option is to file a writ in the superior court within 60 days. She’s been told that the Board can reconsider denials, however, she thinks that is wrong. She would prefer that rather than the bill has going through the system for a final denial, that it be processed as unverified. Ms. Petros explained that these are issues she sees in her work with victims, and she believes an important benefit is being denied, which is devastating to victims.
Ms. Petros thanked the Board.
Chair Ravel thanked Ms. Petros for her commentary. He also recognized that the Board could not talk about it because it was not agendized, but he asked Chief Counsel Gauthier if she had a comment on the item.
Chief Counsell Gauthier reminded the Board that in January she asked the Board for the authority to file the rulemaking calendar with the Office of Administrative Law to start the process for amending some of the existing CalVCB regulations. Ms. Gauthier explained that one of the regulations being considered for amendment is the one dealing with income loss verification documentation as CalVCB recognizes some victims may not meet the criteria for having to file tax returns; however, if they do file tax returns, it is important that the Board get that information. Ms. Gauthier went on to explain to the Board that the statutes governing CalVCB’s ability to request tax returns permits CalVCB ask for any information necessary to verify the claim. There are some instances where claimants will apply to the Program and claim that they are not employed, yet CalVCB obtains evidence that indicates otherwise, so there may be some instances where we do request tax returns to verify that information post-crime. The regulation does currently require tax returns as part of the income verification requirement, and that is something CalVCB is looking at as we recognize some of our victims may not meet the threshold to have to file tax returns.
Chair Ravel thanked Chief Counsel Gauthier.
Kenneth Martin joined telephonically. He stated he is one of the victims that applied for compensation in September 2020. In August of 2020, he was in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident that left him with multiple injuries, and he is permanently disabled. His process has been very extreme. He’s had many surgeries and when he can schedule it, he will have his fifth surgery. He’s been applying for compensation and has been denied multiple times. He states he was approved, and the Board paid him, but then told him because he had another source of income, he was not eligible for benefits.
Mr. Martin stated he never received any type of income for approximately nine months after his accident, so he was homeless, couch-surfing, and he lost everything. He requested the documents from the Program, which were the disability statements, and medical records. He submitted those documents and his surgeons, doctors, and physicians have answered the questions that the Program asked. He has been constantly looking for housing and he has not gotten physical help because there are so many people hurt and injured out there, he cannot even get physical therapy, which puts him 10 months behind, and he has to have another surgery. The surgery will consist of doctors moving a muscle from his arm to his leg just for him to be able to live, and he does not know how will be able to do that without any help. He explained that he is 30 years old, and this is not what he wanted for his life. He was working earning almost $30/hour in 2020. He stated he is constantly fighting for help. He feels that everything the Program needs for him to prove his injuries were related to the crime, the Program has.
Mr. Martin concluded by stating he is devasted that he cannot get help from the Program for housing, his disability, and even his doctors and surgeons. He just really wants help to move his life forward.
Chair Ravel thanked Mr. Martin and apologized to him for his accident.
Item 4. Executive Officer Statement
Executive Officer Gledhill updated the Board on several items:
To start, Ms. Gledhill reminded the Board that last year’s budget included money for a pilot program for regional trauma recovery centers (TRC)’s; one in Northern California and one in the Central Valley. CalVCB issued a Notice of Funds Available (NOFA) for both last fall and initially received an application for the Northern TRC. That contract was approved by the Board at its November meeting and was with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office (DA).
CalVCB had been working to execute that contract when CalVCB received word that the DA’s office wished to delay implementation. Alameda County has a new DA as of January, and she stated that she wanted to focus on their existing TRC. Therefore, the DA’s office declined the grant award for the regional pilot TRC.
CalVCB has reissued the NOFA and will have more information for the Board at the July meeting. Ms. Gledhill noted, only existing TRC’s are eligible to run the pilot program.
Ms. Gledhill continued, stating that the Governor released his revised budget last week and traditionally that results in a change to the TRC contracts that the Board approved in March for the upcoming year. Ms. Gledhill noted this year there is only a marginal change in the Prop 47 allocation to the TRCs; however, for the first time money for the TRCs that was allocated last year but unspent can be rolled over. CalVCB will monitor how much the TRCs have spent and will not know the final allocations until the end of the fiscal year. The Board will continue to be updated as CalVCB works through the process.
Finally, Ms. Gledhill reported that April was Crime Victims’ Rights Week and Denim Day. CalVCB collected nearly 100 pairs of jeans and other denim items to donate to a local nonprofit helping victims of sexual assault. She attended several local events honoring crime victims and explained it was an opportunity to talk to victims that have benefited from CalVCB services. Ms. Gledhill expressed her pleasure at being able to go out into the community and let victims know about CalVCB services.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Gledhill for the updates. He also expressed his disappointment about the Alameda County Regional TRC, stating there is a great need in that area. He hopes another TRC will be able to perform the services.
Board Member Johnson asked about the timeline for the new NOFA.
Ms. Gledhill responded the responses are due in early June and she is hopeful staff will be able to score them and prepare them for consideration and approval at the July Board meeting.
Item 5. Legislative Update
The Legislative Update was presented by Executive Officer Lynda Gledhill.
Ms. Gledhill noted that the Appropriations Committees in each house will be hearing bills on the Suspense File. The hearings will determine whether bills will move forward or be held for the next session.
In addition to the bills that are noted in the legislative report, Ms. Gledhill discussed AB 1551 by Assembly Member Gipson, which would increase the maximum support loss that may be paid to children of victims that have been killed by drunk drivers. That bill has also been added to the suspense hearing that is being held today.
Ms. Gledhill concluded by noting since the legislative report was printed, AB 1187 by Assembly Member Quirk-Silva, which would authorize CalVCB to reimburse services provided by Child Life Specialists, had passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and was ordered to the Assembly Floor.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Gledhill for the updates.
Item 6. Contract Update
The Contract Update was presented by Executive Officer Lynda Gledhill.
Ms. Gledhill stated that the Contract Report included only informational items and all the items were for information technology goods and/or services necessary to the ongoing business of CalVCB.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Gledhill
Item 7. PC 4900 Claim No. 21-ECO-09, Johnny Choinski
This presentation was given by Chief Counsel, Kim Gauthier. Ms. Gauthier gave a summary of the Penal Code section 4900 claim filed by Johnny Choinski.
On May 12, 2021, Johnny Choinski filed an application as an erroneously convicted felon with the California Victim Compensation Board. That application is based on his 2002 still valid convictions for assault with a firearm, assault with a firearm upon a peace officer, criminal threats, corporal injury, and discharging a firearm.
The claim seeks $949,200, which represents payment for 6,780 days of imprisonment. The Attorney General objected to the claim, arguing the evidence fails to prove Mr. Choinski’s innocence by a preponderance.
The claim is recommended for denial as the Hearing Officer agrees that Mr. Choinski has failed to meet his burden to prove by a preponderance of evidence that it is more likely than not that he is innocent of the alleged crimes.
Throughout these proceedings, Mr. Choinski has represented himself. The Attorney General’s Office was represented by Deputy Attorney General Dina Petrushenko.
Chair Ravel confirmed that Mr. Choinski did not appear for the Board meeting.
Chairperson Ravel, then requested to hear from Ms. Petrushenko from the Attorney General’s Office.
Ms. Petrushenko confirmed that she and the Board received an email that Mr. Choinski would appear. She indicated she was not sure what happened regarding his appearance.
Ms. Petrushenko agreed that the burden of proof falls on Mr. Choinski. She noted his seven violent felony convictions remain valid even after two decades of litigation in state and federal courts. Ms. Petrushenko argued that the evidence that Mr. Choinski has presented is unpersuasive, unreliable, and does not meet his burden to prove that he is innocent of the crimes. She submitted the matter to the Board and suggested that the Proposed Decision be adopted.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Petrushenko for appearing before the Board.
Member Becton moved to adopt the Hearing Officer’s Proposed Decision in the Penal Code section 4900 matter of Johnny Choinski. The motion was seconded by Member Johnson. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board and the Proposed Decision was adopted.
Chair Ravel acknowledged that we had missed a member of the public who intended to make a public comment on an item that is not on the agenda. Therefore, before the Board considered Item 8, Ms. Loretelli addressed the Board.
Ms. Loretelli started by saying the Board was reconsidering her wage and disability claim. She has spent the last several weeks working with a representative from Senator Eggman’s office trying to figure out what records were needed to properly reconsider. Her past medical providers, past employer, and past and present therapists were able to send in what was needed.
Ms. Loretelli wanted to convey what life is like after leaving a relationship involving domestic violence. She explained that if you have children that have also been abused, you must go to the family courts, regardless of police involvement or EPOs (Emergency Protective Orders), and this is dangerous to do without an attorney. Most abused victims realize that they too were abused as children because they were conditioned to accept abuse and never taught about what it looked like, and the worst parts are the hidden parts that do not leave bruises or broken bones.
She spoke about the generational trauma and abuse and how victims want that to stop with them and their children. She described how victims notice in their children the signs of behavioral and developmental issues, such as ADHD like symptoms, self-harm, and suicidal ideations and mental health disorders. As the parents, you must cover it up for family court because if the judge thinks the protective parent is weak, you are no longer qualified to care for your children, and they are given to the abuser. In her experience the children do not get protected for long, and eventually this causes a breakdown or slowdown. She wants to be clear; victims of long-time domestic abuse are not healed in six months of therapy, especially when they are court-ordered to have contact with their abuser. She contended doctors are not writing certain things in the chart because they are the abuser’s doctor also and that would be harmful to the abuser, so they often put the victim off work for something else. The doctors do not want to get involved. The victims are told that their child is having PTSD but that they still need to visit the abuser, or the judge will get mad. The victim must coordinate visits with their abuser and rapist. Maybe a custody evaluation should be ordered with the abuser. These are just some things she has been told and personally experienced. She could not work because finding programs for her children, dealing with schools and 504s was a full-time job.
She started a part-time business in 2021, while managing her own illnesses from chronic stress and managing her children’s healing at the same time.
Finally, she thanked the Board for the help she has received to date and wanted to advocate for reform to all state-run programs for victims. The processes at times are re-victimizing and traumatizing. The victims want to be believed and helped.
Chair Ravel thanked Ms. Loretelli for her comments and her perspective and apologized for the traumas that she has experienced.
Item 8. PC 4900 Claim No. 20-ECO-14, Jeannette Turner
This presentation was given by Chief Counsel, Kim Gauthier. Ms. Gauthier gave a summary of the Penal Code section 4900 claim filed by Jeannette Turner.
On June 22, 2020, Jeannette Turner filed an application as an erroneously convicted felon with the California Victim Compensation Board. That application was based on her 1997, felony conviction for perjury, which was vacated in 2006.
Ms. Gauthier noted that this matter includes a long procedural history, which was detailed in the Proposed Decision. The Office of the Attorney General in its response to the claim recommended that the claim be granted.
As there was no objection from the Office of the Attorney General, compensation is automatic under Penal Code section 4900, subsection (b). Accordingly, the Proposed Decision recommends compensation in the amount of $80,920, which represents $140 per day for the 578 days Ms. Turner was wrongfully imprisoned.
Throughout the proceedings, Ms. Turner was represented by Phillip Cooke of the Law Office of Cooke and Marshall. The Attorney General’s Office was represented by Deputy Attorney General Heather Gimle.
Chairperson Ravel asked that counsel for Ms. Turner address the Board first.
Phillip Cooke of the Law Office of Cooke & Marshall, and Ms. Turner, appeared via Zoom. Mr. Cooke stated he and Ms. Turner are present today and prepared to answer any questions the Board may have and noted that they concur with the Proposed Decision from the hearing officer.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Mr. Cooke for his comments. The Chair asked Ms. Turner if she would like to address the Board.
Ms. Turner simply stated that compensation has been a long time coming and she hopes this is the end.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Turner for her appearance and comments.
Chairperson Ravel, then requested to hear from Ms. Gimle from the Attorney General’s Office.
Ms. Gimle, who appeared via Zoom, stated she is prepared to submit the matter based on the Proposed Decision before the Board.
Chairperson Ravel thanked Ms. Gimle for appearing before the Board.
Member Becton moved to adopt the Hearing Officer’s Proposed Decision in the Penal Code section 4900 matter of Jeannette Turner. The motion was seconded by Member Johnson. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board and the Proposed Decision was adopted.
Item 9. PC 4900 Claim No. 22ECO-38, Patrick Willis
This presentation was given by Chief Counsel, Kim Gauthier. Ms. Gauthier gave a summary of the Penal Code section 4900 claim filed by Patrick Willis.
On December 12, 2022, Patrick Willis filed a Penal Code section 4900 application as an erroneously convicted felon with the California Victim Compensation Board. That application was based on his 2013 convictions for two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. Those convictions were vacated by a Writ of Habeas Corpus in 2019 and then dismissed in 2021 after the jury was unable to reach a verdict upon retrial. As there was no objection filed by the Office of the Attorney General, compensation is automatic under Penal Code section 4900, subsection (b).
The proposed decision recommends compensation in the amount of $441,840, which represents $140 per day for each of the 3,156 days Mr. Willis was wrongfully imprisoned.
Mr. Willis was represented in these proceedings by Lindsay Battles of McLane, Bednarski & Litt. The Attorney General’s Office was represented by Deputy Attorney General Sharon Loughner.
Chairperson Ravel asked that counsel for Mr. Willis address the Board first.
Ms. Battles of McLane, Bednarski & Litt appeared via Zoom. She thanked the Attorney General’s Office and the Board for the prompt consideration and approval of Mr. Willis’ claim. She indicated that he has suffered immensely for the conviction of two murders that he did not commit and for the nearly nine years he was incarcerated as an innocent person. The compensation that is being approved today will enable him to take the first steps in rebuilding his life after this tragic ordeal.
Ms. Battles also acknowledged that there has still been no justice for the two murder victims in this case.
Member Becton moved to adopt the Hearing Officer’s Proposed Decision in the Penal Code section 4900 matter of Patrick Willis. The motion was seconded by Member Johnson. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board and the Proposed Decision was adopted.
The Board adjourned into Closed Session with the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Counsel at 10:57 a.m. pursuant to Government Code section 11126, subdivision (c)(3) to deliberate on proposed decision numbers 1 through 129 of the Victim Compensation Program.
The Board reconvened in Open Session pursuant to Government Code section 11126, subdivision (c)(3) at 11:17 a.m.
Chair Ravel announced that item 14 would be pulled from the Victim Compensation Program agenda.
Member Becton moved to approve items 1 through 129 except for item number 14 of the Victim Compensation Program. Member Johnson seconded the motion. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board and the proposed decisions were adopted.
Member Becton moved the adjournment of the March Board meeting. Member Johnson seconded the motion. The motion was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board and the meeting was adjourned at 11:19 a.m.
Next Board Meeting
The next Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 20, 2023.