CORRECTION 10/29: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identfied Malinda Margiotta as the late Sara Margiotta's Mother. Malinda Margiotta is Sara Margiotta's stepmother. Martha Margiotta is Sara Margiotta's mother.
BARSTOW • Periodically a group of 20 or more people clad in purple T-shirts make their presence known in the Barstow courthouse. They are supporters of Malinda Margiotta, whose 10-year-old stepdaughter Sara Margiotta was killed in a boating crash in Needles on August 4, 2007.
More than three years later, Michael Brandon, who is charged with vehicular manslaughter and operating watercraft under the influence in connection with Sara's death, still awaits trial.
Brandon's trial has been delayed 32 times for a number of reasons. Although many criminal court cases are settled without a need for a trial, those that do go to trial can be delayed for years.
Gary Roth, Chief Supervising Deputy District Attorney for the Desert Region in San Bernardino County, said that prosecutors try to avoid continuances but that they are often inevitable for a variety of reasons.
"We try to limit continuances, but it's beyond any one person's control," said Roth. "We have to wait until witnesses become available, wait until defense attorneys become available, there are a number of factors."
Roth said that in his opinion the amount of money budgeted for courts in San Bernardino County haven't kept up with population growth in recent years.
"The judges (in San Bernardino County) are doing the work of two judges, and it's a similar situation with the public defender's office. The government doesn't have all the resources."
San Bernardino County Presiding Judge Douglas Elwell agrees. He said that San Bernardino County is the most underserved county in the state in terms of cases per judge, with 71 full-time judges and 13 "assigned" judges who are retired and work part-time for a total of 84. A recent study called for 156.
Defendants in a criminal trial have a right to a trial within 60 days, but there is no such rule for the alleged victim of a crime.
Elwell said it is often a good idea to give defendants time for new evidence to be examined, as it allows for faster closure of a case in the long run.
"The case could came back on appeal and (the defendant) will say, 'Why didn't you allow this?'" said Elwell. "The judge has to be aware of what is going on in front of him, they only want to do this once."
Malinda said that she has hope that her case will go to trial soon, with a readiness calendar hearing set for November 10. Malinda has created a website and charity called Sara's Way, with donations going to help fund boater education and training activities. Donations can be made at www.sarasway.com.
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