Judges Issue Order Denying Villagomez and Santos's Request for Release

April 22, 2010

Former Lt. Governor Timothy Villagomez was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison for his involvement in the Rydlyme corruption scandal. His sister, Joaquina Santos and her husband, James Santos were sentenced to six years and six months in prison each for their involvement in defrauding CUC and the federal government.

Their first motion for release pending appeal failed, so they filed a second motion based on the claim that their Sixth Amendment rights were denied.

Visiting Federal Judge Mark W. Bennett from the District Court of Northern Iowa issued an Order denying Timothy Villagomez, James Santos and Joaquina Santos release from custody while they appeal their case.

The order begins with the quote by Alan Lewis, "If at first you don't succeed get a bigger hammer."

The 45-page order is articulate and contains photographs of the courtroom taken during the trial. Villagomez and the Santos couple objected to seating arrangements during their trial, claiming that because some seating was reserved and unused they were denied their Sixth Amendment rights to a public trial.

The order notes that in July 2009 the defendants filed a motion for bail pending appeal based on juror misconduct. The request was denied in an order that stated the defendants had not been sentenced so the motion was premature.

In September 2009 the defendants again filed a motion requesting release on bail during their appeal stating juror misconduct. In October 2009 Judge Alex Munson issued an order denying the request finding "that the defendants did not present a substantial question of law or fact on appeal, adopting and incorporating his ruling denying the defendants’ motion for a new trial."

In March 2009 the defendants filed a new motion requesting release during pending their appeal. This time they claimed that they were denied their Sixth Amendment rights for a public trial because the judge did not release reserved seats in the courtroom for the public.

Oral arguments were heard on April 14, 2010 by visiting judge Bennett.

In his order the judge stated that their claims that the trial judge's refusal to release unoccupied reserve seating for use by the general public was a "closure" of the courtroom "lacks any other support." From the order:
Upon the foregoing, I find that the defendants have failed to identify a “substantial question”—i.e., a “fairly debatable” issue—concerning a violation of their Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, that, if decided in their favor, would likely result in reversal, a new trial, or a substantially lower sentence. See 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b)(1). If any court were to adopt the defendants’ position that a trial judge must consider alternatives to excluding members of the general public from any unoccupied reserved seat in the courtroom, it would result in a wholesale reversal or rejection of decades of Supreme Court and lower federal court precedent on the meaning of “closure” of a trial. It would also expand the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial far beyond any existing federal court holding. It is one thing for a party to argue a novel question, but another thing entirely to stretch a constitutional provision so far beyond its scope under existing precedent. To find a “substantial” or a “fairly debatable” question on this record would entice defendants in the future to do a legal “reach for the stars” on the theory that the more extreme the argument, the greater their claim that it is “novel,” thus warranting release pending appeal. The defendants here are not entitled to release pending appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b)(1) based on their novel, but unsupported and overreaching arguments about the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial and the meaning of Presley.
The judge also stated, "The defendants’ assertion that a trial judge has an obligation to consider alternatives to denying the public access to any particular seat in the gallery, even on a seat-by-seat basis, in the absence of a “closure” of the courtroom, would turn the trial judge into an usher or, at least, require the trial judge to devote undue attention to
managing the gallery rather than managing the trial."

The motion appeared to be a desperate stretch made because the first motion alleging juror misconduct failed.

Former Lt. Governor, Timothy Villagomez, remains incarcerated in the United States Penitentiary in Tuscon, Arizona until December 17, 2015. That is a high security facility. He was initially assigned to the Federal Corrections Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

Joaquina Santos will spend the next six years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, which is a low security facility for female prisoners. Their web-site says the facility is located 20 miles southeast of Oakland on the Camp Parks Army Reserve Forces Training Area Military Base.

James Santos, husband of Joaquina Santos, was originally assigned to Victorville Federal Penitentiary in Adelanto, California, then was confined at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is now at the Atwater, California Federal Penitentiary.


Anonymous said...

Why is Tim in a high security prison? He's not a violent criminal.

Don't you think that the punishment far exceeds the crime?

Anonymous said...

nobody knows what happened en route until the time that he was sent to a final detention facility. Could it be possible that Tim "flip out" and caused some problem with his greater than thou attitude and arrogance? His family has been silent except to complain occasionally that did nothing wrong and shouldn't be in jail."everybody does it" syndrone.

Anonymous said...

Tucson is min/max. Tim could be in the minimum security camp. And no, his punishment doesn't exceed his crime. In fact, he was sentenced very leniently by Judge Munson. If he is re-sentenced after the government's appeal, he could get another three to four years.

Wendy said...

I looked this up again. It is a maximum security prison with a ""satellite" minimum facility. He is most likely in the minimum security facility.

I don't think the punishment far exceeds the crime at all. I thought it was light considering that he stole from public to enrich himself. That is extremely low and disgusting for an elected official.

Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to read the opinion of a judge with such a clear, logical, and yet engaging writing style.

This sort of ability is sorely lacking on the local bench.

Saipan Writer said...

I tend to disagree with the judges' decision in this--both Judge Munson and Judge Bennett.

I just don't see that reserving seats for students is a priority that should mean members of the public who wanted to watch the trial couldn't. I can see reserving a bench for the press--they help preserve 1st amendment rights and bring the news to those who can't be there. I can see reserving a portion for jury venire in the start of the trial, for witnesses, for legal assistants, for anyone necessary for the trial process. I could see having a section especially available to handicapped persons who had special needs to be accommodated. But I don't see any legal justification for setting aside seats for a "special" segment of the potential audience that has no recognized legal rights for additional accommodation than anyone else.

I certainly don't want to have this case retried. I think the verdict is just. I just don't want to also set a precedent that leaves a big gaping hope for future abuse by judges who want to "control" their courtroom.

What if it was a case about trafficking Chinese to Guam and we had a special section set aside for fisherman? Or a case about money laundering and we had a section set aside for wannabe novelists? Well, on and on...

just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...


You probably weren't present for any of the trials in Superior or District court when politicians were allowed to glare at the jurors in attempts at intimidation. Remember the little Concepcion girl, shot to death by reckless drunks at the Lt. Gov's family picnic? Remember how they were all acquitted, even of the illegal possession of the gun? As long as some of the public are allowed to attend, it's a public trial. There's no legal requirement that every member of the public gets to attend at once, and certainly no right of the defendant or the public to sit in a seat that allows them to make constant eye contact with jurors.

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? Timmy's family had the courtroom packed with family, friends and supporters every day.