Hoping to end nearly six years of delays, a judge Thursday scheduled a March 12 criminal trial for former Madera County Supervisor Harry Baker, who is accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl in a Fresno motel room.
In making his ruling, Judge Jonathan Conklin noted the 87-year-old Baker was charged with felony in 2009 and his case has dragged on long enough.
His ruling frustrated prosecutor Becky Gong, who told the judge she could be busy with another criminal case. Attorney Roger Nuttall, who is defending Baker, also said he may be busy with other criminal cases.
Conklin, however, told them to clear their calendars.
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“This case should trump other cases,” Conklin said in Fresno County Superior Court.
And if Gong can’t do it, Conklin told her another prosecutor had better be ready to take over the case for the March 12 trial.
A criminal complaint accuses Baker, president of Sierra Telephone Co. in Oakhurst, of committing lewd acts on the girl in 2007.
Court records say the girl secretly video-recorded Baker as he allegedly fondled and kissed her breasts and touched her vaginal area. Baker later went to authorities with a copy of the video, contending he was ensnared in a blackmail scheme by the girl’s family, whom his lawyer has described as a “band of gypsies” who tricked him into touching the teen.
If convicted on the molestation charge, he could face up to eight years in prison.
Since his arrest in October 2009, his trial has been delayed several times because of his health. He has undergone open-heart surgery and had a tracheotomy. He also has been the subject of at least three bizarre twists:
• In June 2013, Baker fired a gun inside a motel room in Merced.
• In September of that year he was reported to be kidnapped — a claim later debunked by authorities.
• In March 2012, Baker attended one of his court hearings looking beaten up. He said he had been mugged.
Over the years, Baker was free on $50,000 bail while Judge Houry Sanderson presided over his case. When Conklin took over the case in August last year, he immediately let both sides know he wouldn’t put up with unnecessary delays.
In fact, Conklin threw Baker in jail in September for skipping a court hearing and missing appointments with two court-hired psychologists who were tasked with determining whether Baker was competent to stand trial. Baker remains behind bars.
Thursday, a haggard Baker appeared in court wearing a red jail jumpsuit and chained to his wheelchair. He has a long, gray beard and wore a hearing device.
Though Nuttall contends Baker is frail, hard of hearing and suffers from dementia and other ailments that prevent him from assisting in his defense, a jury last month found Baker competent to stand trial.
During the hearing, Gong told Conklin it wasn’t her fault the case has been delayed. She said Nuttall and Baker’s previous attorney, Richard Berman, has papered her with countless motions. “The people are frustrated,” she said.
“Welcome to my world,” Conklin replied.
In making his ruling, Conklin told Gong and Nuttall it was not his intention to blame anyone for the delays. He just wanted the case to proceed to trial.
But before that happens, Nuttall filed two motions, he said.
In one, he asks for new trial on whether Baker is competent to stand trial. If that motion is denied, he wants the jury’s verdict that found Baker competent to be tossed out by a judge.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin, who presided over Baker’s competency trial last month, will hear the two motions Jan. 23.