The county’s justice system didn’t appear well-designed to handle Dan DeVaul on June 24.
DeVaul was compelled to come to court to answer nine misdemeanor charges related to alleged code violations on his Sunny Acres “sober living facilty,” where dozens of homeless and drug-and-alcohol-addicted people live and attend programs on DeVaul’s 72-acre ranch outside SLO.
About two dozen people came to show support for DeVaul, but a court process that could have taken minutes instead took hours.
Here’s what happened: DeVaul and his entourage first showed up in the courtroom of Judge Dodie Harmon, but immediately upon calling DeVaul’s case Harmon said she couldn’t hear it; she didn’t offer an explanation.
So DeVaul, with the group following, shuffled down the hall to the courtroom of Judge Jac Crawford who, after a 90-minute delay—during which the judge had dispatched a number of drug-and-alcohol-related cases—called DeVaul up and explained to him that he might have a conflict hearing the case because he’d worked as a county counsel and may have had involvement with DeVaul’s issues in the past. Crawford told DeVaul he could object to his presiding over the case if wanted to; DeVaul didn’t immediately object.
Then DeVaul told the judge he intended to act as his own attorney and Crawford called him to the bench to discuss the matter. Later, Crawford said he’d allow it, gave the rancher a stack of documents outlining the case, and had DeVaul enter pleas to the charges.
DeVaul pled not guilty to all of them.
Later, the rancher flipped through the inch-thick stack and, noting that much of it was made up of pictures of his ranch—there were close-ups of allegedly faulty wiring in a garage and electrical outlets with missing plates—quipped “Good, it’s all pictures: they made this with me in mind.”
DeVaul was told to reappear in court on July 24. He also has a nuisance abatement hearing before the Board of Supervisors on July 22.
Longtime neighbor and DeVaul ranch critic Christine Mulholland, a SLO City Councilmember, didn’t observe the proceeding but said she’s anxious that DeVaul’s case be resolved.
“This has been 15 years of working to get this guy to comply with land use regulations.”
She said she hopes the process ends in DeVaul’s operation being monitored by officials for the long term.
“I don’t need to see Dan in jail,” Mulholland said, “I don’t think that’s going to help anything.”