Is Gregory Taylor the Jean Valjean of Los Angeles?

Gregory Taylor
"A hungry, homeless man is sent away for 25 years to life for trying to break into a church so he could eat some food he thought the church would be glad for him to have." California Court of Appeal Judge Earl Johnson

Lubomyr Prytulak
Ukrainian Archive, www.ukar.org

11 December 2002

Gary Klausner
Supervising Judge, Civil Division
Los Angeles Superior Court
111 North Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA
USA     90012

Re: Rambam v Prytulak   BC271433   James R. Dunn

Gary Klausner:


An editorial in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin titled Dark Ages Sentencing attributes the original Jean Valjean metaphor to California Appeal Court Judge Earl Johnson:

The appellate court's dissent came from Judge Earl Johnson, who compared Taylor's plight with that of Hugo's fictional character.  Johnson lamented the fact that "a hungry, homeless man is sent away for 25 years to life for trying to break into a church so he could eat some food he thought the church would be glad for him to have."
Editorial, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 25-Apr-1999 starbulletin.com/1999/04/28/editorial/editorials.html

The allusion to Jean Valjean, of course, was to Victor Hugo's fictional twenty-five-year-old tree pruner who stole one loaf of bread for his hungry family (consisting of an older sister who had raised him and whose husband had died, and her seven children ranging in age from one to eight years), and for which he received a punishment that stands as the archetype of severity:

Jean Valjean was pronounced guilty.  The terms of the Code were explicit.  There occur formidable hours in our civilization; there are moments when the penal laws decree a shipwreck.  What an ominous minute is that in which society draws back and consummates the irreparable abandonment of a sentient being!  Jean Valjean was condemned to five years in the galleys.
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Isabel F. Hapgood, Collins, London and Glasgow, first published 1862, this edition 1955, p. 110.

To be fair to French justice, one has to keep in mind that Jean Valjean's conviction was not only for theft, but also for "breaking and entering an inhabited house at night," because in order to get at the bread, he had struck the grated front of a bakery hard enough to make a hole through which he could insert his hand.  Militating against him also was that in his off hours, he was a bit of a poacher.  His sentence was later extended for escaping.


Gregory Taylor in an undated photograph, convicted by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury of trying to break into St. Joseph's Catholic Church kitchen in July 1997, and sentenced by Judge James R. Dunn to 25 years to life.
And what, more precisely, was Gregory Taylor's crime?

To hear two security guards tell it, thirty-seven year old homeless drug addict Gregory Taylor's crime advanced no farther than using a board to try to pry open a screen above a church kitchen door to get food.  Taylor himself, however, appears to deny even that limited crime:

The arresting police officer later testified that Taylor said he "was trying to go in the kitchen to get something to eat."  Taylor continues to deny the whole thing.  "I would never go into that place to steal," he says, adding that the break-in was concocted by one of the guards who had argued with him over sleeping in the church alcove.
Martha Bellisle, 25 years to life for petty crime: California's 'three strikes' law imposes harsh penalty on man caught trying to steal food www.s-t.com/daily/07-99/07-18-99/a02wn007.htm

It is unfortunate that press reports paint an inconsistent picture, with one account crediting Taylor not with employing the board to gain entry into the building, but only to reach inside the kitchen, which must lead to the reflection that reaching into a church kitchen with a board is a most ineffectual crime, and unlikely to net much of a haul:

He was convicted of burglary, for using a board to reach inside the church in an attempt to commit theft.
Bob Egelko, Court gives hope to man serving life for food theft, 22-Jul-1999 aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives/Jul99/0095.html

The prevailing view, as expressed below, appears to be that Taylor never did gain entry to the kitchen, though nothing in the present letter would change even if he had gotten inside:

Taylor, 37, was arrested in July 1997 after being caught trying to pry open a screen over the kitchen door of McCoy's church in July 1997.
Jennifer Auther, Homeless man's case sparks debate over 3-strikes law, CNN.COM, 29-Apr-1999 www.cnn.com/US/9904/29/food.thief.3strikes

Following California's Three Strikes Law which permits two "serious or violent" felonies followed by a third felony of any sort to call down a sentence of 25 years to life, Judge James R. Dunn felt that Gregory Taylor met all requirements: fifteen years earlier, he had snatched a purse containing $10 and a bus pass from a woman on the sidewalk, and fourteen years earlier, he and a buddy had tried to rob a man on the street.  No weapons were used in either of these earlier felonies, and no one was hurt.  Prying at the kitchen door was the third felony.  Prosecutors speculated that Taylor may have been planning to steal church valuables, such as chalices or alms boxes, but their conjecture lacked evidentiary support.

The kitchen door that Taylor was trying to pry open belonged to St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church on 12th Street, a few blocks from the Los Angeles fashion and flower districts, where Taylor found part-time work.  Taylor knew the church well, as he was allowed from time to time to sleep in its laundry room or in an alcove, and occasionally did volunteer work feeding the homeless, or worked as a guard at church weddings.  Taylor also enjoyed a nine-year friendship with the church's Franciscan priest, Father Allan McCoy, who talked to him, fed him, or drove him to his mother's house in South Los Angeles.  Sometimes McCoy gave Taylor money to stay at a hotel.  "He was like a father to me," Taylor says.

Lois Taylor, Gregory Taylor's mother, talks to a reporter outside her Los Angeles home about her son's conviction and stiff sentence.

Father Allan McCoy, a Franciscan priest at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, expresses incredulity at Gregory Taylor's conviction.

A question that haunts me is why Steven Rambam dragged his complaint all the way from New York, where he lives, to California, where he has no substantial ties.  And why particularly to Los Angeles?  And why did he lay that complaint before Judge James R. Dunn?  Perhaps the following observations take a step toward answering such questions:


What the accumulation of evidence in my letters to you so far leaves us with is that James R. Dunn is one-of-a-kind in two respects:

  1. There may not be another judge in the United States capable of treating a defendant as prejudicially as James R. Dunn has treated Lubomyr Prytulak namely, refusing to evaluate personal jurisdiction of non-resident litigants over an interval of eight months, blocking normal clerical feedback to Lubomyr Prytulak, spoliating eight litigant submissions helpful to Lubomyr Prytulak, and most recently neglecting to provide Lubomyr Prytulak with a minute order summarizing the hearing of the Prytulak Motion-to-Quash-D of 25-Nov-2002.

  2. At the same time, there may not be another judge in the United States capable of mustering quite the same zeal for inflicting damage as James R. Dunn, who even in the most punitive state in the nation, and in the most punitive county in that state, has managed to stand head and shoulders above his colleagues by transforming a homeless man prying at a kitchen door into the Jean Valjean of Los Angeles.

Whether Judge James R. Dunn's simultaneous extremity on both of the above dimensions is causally related is difficult to say, though the possibility is called to mind, which is to say the possibility that in addition to Steven Rambam dragging his sham law suit to Los Angeles because Los Angeles vies for the distinction of harboring the most corrupt judiciary in the United States (as documented in my earlier letters to you), he drags it to Los Angeles also because it offers the most inflictive judiciary in the United States (as documented above).

Any who might subscribe to the Friedrich Nietzche recommendation to Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful would be assisted in learning exactly who most to distrust by the Los Angeles Superior Court publishing the number of applications of the Three Strike Law that each LASC judge can take credit for (along, of course, with supplementary statistics which would permit some drawing of inferences).


What would be the effect of Gregory Taylor inflicting all three of his felonies on me, if he had the worst intent that has been imputed to him, and if he carried his felonies to completion?  I would on two occasions be relieved of the cash that I was carrying on my person, and on a third occasion would have the back door of my house jimmied, and lose, say, my TV set.

The consequences of James R. Dunn's single Rambam v Prytulak plan being carried to completion would not have been as trivial.  His plan was to entangle me in litigation at ruinous cost, pauperize me for life with a $1.55 million judgment, erase my writing of five years, and discredit me in the eyes of the public.

Gregory Taylor would be acting alone, employing the small power available to him to win an infinitesimally small partial redress of the imbalance in our respective fates.  James R. Dunn would be usurping the power of the state to strangle free speech, to bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and to shower ruin upon an individual over whom he lacks jurisdiction.

If it came to a decision as to which of the two better deserved to sit behind bars for 25 to life, it would be James R. Dunn.  Society has less to fear from Gregory Taylor being free to walk the streets than from James R. Dunn being free to sit on the Los Angeles Superior Court.  America is less threatened by the homeless who are driven by hunger than it is by the powerful who have cast off the restraint of law.

Lubomyr Prytulak