San Diego

5 of 2018's Biggest Court Cases in San Diego

2018 was a big year in San Diego courthouses; from a federal indictment trial against a sitting congress member to a mom who used her daughter to sell drugs to high-schoolers, here are five of the biggest court cases to happen in San Diego County this year, many of which you'll want to watch in 2019. 

Rep. Duncan Hunter, Margaret Hunter Indictment Trial

East County Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, were indicted in August with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to finance family trips to Italy and Hawaii, golf outings, fast food purchases and more.

The 48-page indictment said the Hunters attempted to conceal the eight years of spending in federal records, while their household budget was awash in red ink.

Rep. Hunter has appeared in court four times this year, the latest of which confirmed the pair's trial will begin in September

Despite his indictment, Hunter won re-election in U.S. House 50th District, though the margin between him and Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar was the slimmest the congressman had faced since his tenure began in 2008. 

Each time, the couple has arrived to U.S. District Court separately and with their own lawyers, to a crowd of protesters, which, on at least one occasion, chanted with signs, bunny suits and hazmat inflatables. 

Both Rep. Hunter and Margaret Hunter pleaded not guilty to the charges at their first court appearance on Aug. 23. 

"I've done nothing wrong and I say bring the trial now. Let's do this," he told the media shortly after the charges were brought against him.

The congressman has been adamant that he will be cleared of all wrongdoing and, at one point, appeared to throw blame at his wife, who managed their campaign finances. He later told NBC 7 that he wants prosecutors to leave his wife alone, contradicting his previous remarks.

The Hunters appeared in court twice in September for two brief status hearings before his trial date was set at a hearing on Dec. 3. 

Adam Shacknai Found Liable in Rebecca Zahau's Death

In 2011, Rebecca Zahau was found hanging from an outdoor balcony at the Spreckels mansion on Coronado Island, prompting years of speculation around the circumstances surrounding her death, despite a decision by the San Diego Sheriff's County Department and a medical examiner that her death was a suicide. 

Five years later, her family filed a civil lawsuit against the man they thought responsible for her death, Adam Shacknai, and a jury agreed, according to the verdict in a civil trial that concluded in April

Adam Shacknai is the brother of Zahau's former boyfriend, millionaire Jonah Shacknai, and was the last person to see Rebecca alive.

Jurors were asked to answer two questions in this civil trial: Did Adam Shacknai touch Rebecca Zahau before her death with the intent to harm her? The jury's vote was yes 9 to 3.

For the wrongful death verdict, did that touching cause the death of Rebecca Zahau? The jury's vote was also yes 9 to 3.

They determined Shacknai owed Zahau's mother, Pari Zahau approximately $5,167,000 in damages.

Shacknai said he would continue to fight the false allegations against him. 

After the trial, SDSO said they would look at the evidence presented and determine whether a new investigation should be launched. Their review concluded in early December and the investigators upheld their determination that Zahau's death was a suicide. 

"There are many theories out there (about Zahau's death), but all the evidence points to one logical conclusion, and that's a suicide," one SDSO investigator said. 

Mom Used Daughter to Sell High Schoolers Drugs

When Kimberly Quach was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison -- the harshest penalty possible per her plea agreement -- the judge called her conduct "sickening and criticized her for teaching children how to become drug dealers. 

Quach pleaded guilty to charges of selling illegal drugs to minors in May, including one charge that she used a minor, her daughter, to sell marijuana to students at Cathedral Catholic High School.

Her boyfriend, William John Sipperley, faced similar charges and was sentenced to six years and four months in prison. 

Quach and Sipperly were caught when investigators uncovered text messages between the pair that discussed paying Quach's daughter a percentage. 

In a tearful testimony at her sentencing in August, Quach said, "I have no words to express the remorse that I have for my actions." 

Former NFL Player Kellen Winslow Jr Sex Assault Trial

Kellen Winslow Jr., the son of former San Diego Chargers great Kellen Winslow Sr. who had an NFL career of his own, now stands trial on sexual assault charges alleging he raped or attempted to rape at least four women over the age of 50.

He is also accused of raping an Escondido High School student in 2003.

Winslow has pleaded not guilty to all allegations against him. If convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison as his trial continues next year.

In jarring pre-trial testimony, the woman accusing Winslow of raping her while the two were teenagers said the assault was "imprinted in my head." 

She recalled seeing a man standing in front of her while Winslow had sex with her, she testified. A third person was filming.

The other charges against Winslow stem from a series of rapes that occurred from March to June 2018 within a two-mile radius in North County, according to charges filed against the former Pro-Bowler. 

One of the alleged victims told the court that she was choked and told she would be killed if she screamed.

Winslow's lawyer, Defense attorney Harvey A. Steinberg said Winslow looks forward to being vindicated.

Former Deputy Faces Accused of Assault by More Than a Dozen Women

Former San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Fischer will stand trial next year on charges of assault and battery by an officer, oral copulation by force and burglary stemming from allegations from more than 15 women.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges and has said "obviously I wouldn’t be fighting this if I was guilty of any of these charges."

Throughout the year, more and more alleged victims of Fischer came forward to accuse him of sexual assault while he was on duty and in uniform.

Many say they called 911 or were in custody when Fischer inappropriately touched them. Some alleged incidents stemmed as far back as 2015, according to charges against him. 

There are currently two criminal cases against the deputy and he faces several other civil complaints. 

Fischer was placed on unpaid administrative leave in February 2018. 

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