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Bird Rock ‘Bandits’ murder arraignment is rescheduled

A scheduled arraignment for the five men accused in the beating death of professional surfer Emery Kauanui has been postponed until June 27 at 10 a.m. after it was announced that one or more defense attorneys in the case may need to be replaced. Judge John S. Einhorn held a status conference June 16 with just the attorneys present; another will be held June 23 with the defendants present.

On June 10, an attorney for one of the accused said that a settlement agreement was being considered. Experienced court observers suggested that a conflict of interest might exist for one defense attorney stemming from a pending lawsuit by a defendant. It is also possible that one or more of the defendants can no longer afford private council and will need to either switch attorneys or turn to the County of San Diego Public Defenders office.

Bringing on new representation could delay the case by as much as 10 months. It is expected that if a deal can be worked out by June 23, a plea will be entered and sentencing passed on the defendants. If not, there will be an arraignment on June 27 followed by a trial.

Seth Cravens, the defendant accused of delivering the final blow to Kauanui, filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court on May 23 against the Pacific Law Center, which initially represented him. Cravens’ family is seeking reimbursement of $175,000 in legal fees, claiming that Pacific Law Center made false and misleading statements, misused attorney fees and conducted unlawful business practices.

Kerry Steigerwalt, who is currently representing Matthew Yanke, another defendant in this case, is the managing partner of Pacific Law Center.

He said, “It was the old Pacific Law Center, not the new entity, that is being sued.”

Cravens is being held on $1.5 million bail. He is the only defendant still in custody.

Three of the five men accused in the case have private attorneys. All of the defendants are in their early 20s with no means of support.

Criminal defense attorney and former Deputy Attorney General Samuel Spital said that a murder case in San Diego can run anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million, depending on the skills of an attorney, the legal issues involved and the complexity of the case. If a defendant who claims financial inability to employ counsel is found eligible, the court can appoint an attorney. Typically that would be the public defender or the alternate public defender’s office.

After a preliminary hearing which lasted eight days last month, Einhorn ruled that the defendants should stand trial for murder but dismissed allegations that the attack was gang related. The judge said he wasn’t satisfied that he had a “clear, factual, resulting picture of what happened” the night the victim was injured. Einhorn has also expressed concern about the case being filed as a murder charge. He concluded that it was best left for a jury to decide.

The defendants are all charged with second-degree murder and if convicted could face 15 years to life in prison.