The alleged ringleader of a marijuana and money-laundering scheme refused to leave his jail cell Thursday to appear in court for a scheduled hearing.
Prosecutor say Joshua John Hester illegally sold thousands of pounds of marijuana at two dispensaries in San Diego and used the proceeds to buy a $2 million home in Rancho Santa Fe, where he allegedly grew pot in a secret room.
Hester is one of 12 defendants charged in the case. He was arrested in Los Angeles earlier this month and made his first court appearance last week in federal court in San Diego. While he was scheduled to appear again on Thursday, for unknown reasons, he refused to leave his cell at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Veteran criminal defense attorneys said it is highly unusual for a defendant not to appear in court. One lawyer said that hard-core gang members and accused killers sometimes boycott their hearings in state court, but it's very unusual move for a drug defendant with a case in federal court to do so.
Attorney Charles Rees, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in this case, said skipping a court appearance sends the wrong message to the judge and could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect by the defendant.
Hester's lawyer, Marcel Stewart, would not discuss his client's decision but predicted it would not have any impact on the case. Stewart also said that he just got the case and needs more time to prepare for a hearing. He said Thursday's hearing would have been delayed anyway. Stewart also urged the public not to accept the government's case against his client at face value. He said the allegations against Hester are just one side of the story.
Federal Magistrate Anthony Battaglia set a new hearing date for next week.