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The People v. Joanne Rose Fawcett et al

July 25, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. 09F09147)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Duarte , J.

P. v. Fawcett



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

The evidence at trial showed defendant Joanne Rose Fawcett faked a knee injury to obtain an insurance settlement, and her husband, defendant Steven Gerald Fawcett, lied about her physical abilities.*fn1 The jury convicted Joanne of two counts of submitting a knowingly false insurance claim and one count of presenting a false statement as part of an insurance claim, and convicted Steven of one count of presenting a knowingly false statement. (Pen. Code, § 550, subds. (a)(5) & (b)(1).) The trial court sentenced Joanne to two years in prison, but suspended execution of sentence for Steven and placed him on probation. Both defendants timely appealed.

On appeal, Steven first contends the trial court should have instructed the jury on aider liability, and second that no substantial evidence supports the conviction. As we shall explain, we reject these claims as the People's theory was that Steven personally made knowingly false statements on a particular date, and substantial evidence supported the resulting verdict.

Joanne's attorney has filed a brief raising no issues. (See People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436 (Wende).) Joanne has filed a supplemental brief raising a number of issues, but, as we shall explain, each lacks merit.

Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgments.


People's Case

Dr. Jason London, a trauma surgeon, testified that on April 3, 2007, he drove to a gym in his sedan. As he backed up slowly to park, he "felt a slap on the back of the car" and saw someone sitting on the trunk. A woman told him her leg had been hit by his car. She did not seem to be injured and "was pleasant, but forceful." Both went inside the gym, but about 20 minutes later, the woman told him her leg hurt too much to exercise, and she left. Several months later, after the woman contacted him and said her knee was hurting and she had seen doctors, Dr. London referred her claim to USAA (United Services Automobile Association), his insurance company.

Dr. Peter Sfakianos, an orthopedic surgeon with extensive experience, testified that he examined Joanne on January 20, 2010, at the request of USAA's legal counsel, and had reviewed her medical records dating back to 1986. He focused on her left knee, although she mentioned other issues. She reported that knee was swollen and painful, and she had fallen during "collapsing episodes" as recently as two weeks before the examination. She reported that at the time of the "subject accident" she had been disabled due to "her back condition, her hand conditions, and her right elbow condition" and remained disabled since the subject accident. He reviewed pre- and post-accident MRIs of her left knee, and found no evidence of trauma, only "normal wear and tear" and "chondral calcinosis"--also known as "pseudo gout"--which is not caused by trauma. He opined it was unlikely her knee was altered by the alleged incident.

Paulette Rhyne had been an assistant manager for Homepointe, a property management company. For about six or seven months, Joanne and her husband contracted to clean apartments and do "hauling" for Homepointe, via a company called "Craftsman For U." Joanne never complained of any knee problems, and Rhyne never saw her limping or using a cane. In February 2008, Joanne cleaned Rhyne's own unit at 9032 El Cahon Way; Rhyne saw her there, scrubbing a window sill on her knees, and saw that some items to be hauled had already been moved onto a truck.*fn2

Eileen Stearman, a division manager associated with Homepointe, knew both defendants, and testified that company records showed they did 17 cleaning jobs for Homepointe between February 29, 2008 and May 14, 2008. Joanne never mentioned any left knee problem.

Daisha Jackson was an accountant at Burmaster Real Estate, also a property management company. Joanne and her husband worked with Burmaster to clean properties, and company invoices reflected that they did 23 jobs for Burmaster between November 2007 and March 2008. Joanne never said she had a problem with her left knee.

Maureen Metcalf, the property manager for Burmaster, saw Joanne about 16 to 20 times, and Joanne claimed her husband "ran the accounting . . . and she did the work." Joanne was "adamant" that no payments be recorded under her name. Once Metcalf saw Joanne at a property, alone, carrying a cleaning bucket after climbing stairs, and Joanne said it would take a couple of hours to finish the job. Joanne never mentioned any left knee problem, and Metcalf never saw her limping or using a cane.

Jeremy Essex, an investigator for USAA, testified Joanne asked for the policy limits of $100,000 to settle her claim. When she returned a release for USAA to access her medical records, she modified it to limit the release to records pertaining to being hit by a car on April 3, 2007. Essex interviewed Joanne on April 1, 2008, at her home, and Steven was present. Joanne claimed "constant severe pain" in her knee, which caused her to limp, prevented her from mounting stairs without Steven's help, and made it hard to enter and exit her van. She had not worked in "a few" years and had been on disability; because of the accident she could never work.

On July 3, 2008, Essex conducted a telephone interview of Steven, during which Steven stated Joanne had not worked outside the home for "probably" more than a year, that she had trouble entering and exiting the van, needed help mounting stairs, and had trouble doing housework.

James Papastathis, a private investigator, watched Joanne on seven dates in February and March 2008, and videorecorded her activities. These recordings showed her loading and unloading her van and moving a ladder and cleaning supplies. (RT 241-244) He did not ...

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