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Summit Fire Defendant Gets New Lawyer

Former attorney Michael Hingle withdraws from the case, new public defender to be appointed to Channing Parker Verden's case.

The Los Gatos contractor accused by Cal Fire of the May 22, 2008 Summit fire has been appointed a public defender and the case is now returning to court in four weeks on March 14.

On Wednesday, Channing Parker Verden's previous attorney, Michael Hingle, filed a motion under seal, which Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd said he hadn't seen.

"Basically, he couldn't get paid," Boyd said about the change in counsel.

Boyd said the parties will return to court in a month for a trial-setting date, but he explained there are several reasons why the start of the tribunal matter could be continued such as the need to give Verden's new lawyer enough time to properly prepare for the case.

Other arguments for continuing the trial date could be conflicting attorney schedules who might be involved in other important legal matters, witness schedules and court room availability.

In the Summit Fire case, Boyd indicated several Cal Fire firefighters are witnesses and they're stationed throughout the state. Coordinating their schedules with the prosecution's schedule, will be a challenging task, he said.

Boyd said the case's next hearing was set in a month to allow the new public defender to actually study the case's "discovery" to allow for proper review and be allowed to tell the judge in March when he or she could be ready for trial.

Cal Fire has said the Summit fire burned 4,270 acres, began at 5:17 a.m., destroyed 35 residences, 64 outbuildings, caused 16 injuries and cost more than $16 million to fight.

A Google map on Cal Fire's website shows how the inferno engulfed many mountainous areas in Los Gatos and came dangerously close to Highway 17, 10 miles roughly from the center of town, according to Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Cal Fire investigators allege Verden left burning piles of debris at a home located at 31000 Summit Road owned by Los Gatos resident Andrew Napell, causing the fire.

Boyd said Verden has been charged with unlawfully causing a fire that causes an inhabited structure or property to burn, an allegation of causing multiple structures to burn and a misdemeanor health and safety code violation alleging negligently causing a fire.

If convicted, Verden could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison or receive probation or no jail time, Boyd said.

It's possible, however, that Verden could receive probation. "It's not likely that any court would find this offense for which probation should not be granted," Boyd said. "If he's convicted, I suspect most judges would give probation."

Hingle has repeatedly declined comment on the case and has not returned recent phone calls.

Wednesday's hearing, an "identification of counsel," was presided over by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rise Jones Pichon, in department 24 of the Santa Clara County Superior Court house in San Jose.

Jim Thrall February 17, 2012 at 05:21 AM
So much property destroyed. Its quite senseless. What a shame. Now we keep spending public money to get some sense of closure on this. Its hardly going to pay anyone back, but its something. I hope this man gets proper counsel and faces his victims and if guilty, apologizes and serves his penalty. Let's get this over soon.

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